Ridge Racer Import Review (PSP)
By: Matt C. on April 9, 2005
Note: This review is based off of the Japanese version of Ridge Racer (called Ridge Racers in Japan), but it is basically identical to the American version.
Whenever Nintendo launches a new piece of gaming hardware, there is always some Mario related game to back up its launch. Whenever a new Star Wars film is released, yellow text always scrolls through the screen at the beginning; setting up the plot that is about to unfold for the next two hours. It's practically a tradition. And it appears Sony and Namco has a tradition of their own, because with each new Sony game console, there is always a new Ridge Racer game by its side. Of course, the PSP launch is no exception. How well did Namco's flagship racing game turn out on Sony's portable handheld? Keep reading to find out.
The Ridge Racer franchise is about a decade old, but after all these years, the gameplay has remained relatively the same. If you've never played any game in the series, Ridge Racer is best known for its easy to pickup and play controls, techno soundtrack, and cars (none of them are licensed) with incredible grip that are capable of outlandish drifts. I'm not exaggerating either -- it is possible to whip around every single hair-pin corner in the game without even tapping the brake pedal. Not only does this aspect make Ridge Racer super fun and additive, but it also makes it super easy to play. In fact, I've seen people who rarely play racing titles do very, very well their first time playing the game.
Needless to say, Ridge Racer barely even registers on the realism gauge. The only realistic thing I can find about this game is the fact that your car slows down the longer you maintain a drift, but even that is far-fetched, because you can slide for a good 3-4 seconds and still maintain decent speeds. If this "arcade-like" gameplay bothers you, you should ignore Ridge Racer and wait for Gran Turismo 4 or any of the other numerous PSP racing titles coming out soon.
So, what new features can fans of the series look forward to in the miniature version of Ridge Racer? To be honest, not much. But one new feature that veterans will notice right off the bat is that you can now use nitro. To the left of the screen are three nitro gauges (in other words you can only carry three boosts at once) that fill themselves up whenever you drift around corners. It is very easy to quickly fill up your nitro gauges, so don't expect a huge boost in speed when you use them. And to keep things fair, the computer controlled cars can use nitro as well. In the end, adding boost to the driving mechanics adds a little more strategy to the game.
The typical single race, world tours, and time attack modes are all here in Ridge Racer PSP. In world tours mode, you basically go through a series of races until you win all the events in that series. Once that group of races are completed, you'll earn new cars and tracks for use in other modes, and then move onto the next series. It may sound boring, but you will be compelled to go through each series just to unlock faster cars and new courses.
There are a total of 24 courses to unlock in the game, which are all based upon tracks from the original Rave Racer, Rage Racer, Ridge Racer Revolutions, R4: Ridge Racer Type 4, and Ridge Racer V titles. In true Ridge Racer fashion, sections of certain courses are blocked off to create slightly different courses. Making you race some tracks in reverse also gives the illusion of a new track, but personally, I started to get tired of racing at the same location that just had a slightly different layout. Granted, Ridge Racer games have always been like this, but some totally new courses on top of what is included would have been nice.
Another problem is the basic artificial intelligence. The other cars do very little to prevent you from winning races. They seem to be completely oblivious to your position on the track. If you try and pass a car using a nitro boost, sometimes the other car will fire off a boost of their own, preventing you from blowing past them. Other than that, the AI is pretty basic. All in all, Ridge Racer provides a nice challenge in some of the later stages, but the entire game isn't overly difficult.
I'm just going to get it out of the way and say that as of this writing, Ridge Racer for the PlayStation Portable is probably the best looking handheld game currently on the market for any portable device, although some say that the award should go to Wipeout Pure. Which ever game you choose, there is no way you can denie that Ridge Racer is one stunning looking game for a handheld system. In fact, people have told me that it has PlayStation 2 quality graphics, but I wouldn't go that far.
So, what exactly makes Ridge Racer so impressive? First of all, Ridge Racer shows off some special effects that were previously not possible on portable game systems. When racing, you'll notice some incredible reflections on some buildings and on the roads. You will be blown away the first time you see light reflecting on the road from a nearby sunset. You will also see some cool motion blur effects used in previous Ridge Racers, although some of it is unintentional due to the PSP's screen having a somewhat high response time. Despite all the eye candy, the framerate remains very smooth and you will never encounter any slowdown.
The only visual flaws are the low resolution textures on the cars, which gives them a glossy look when they are standing still (you can't really see it at the car selection screen though). In addition, the game lacks strong anti aliasing, so there are tiny jaggies on cars and on the surrounding environments (they are a lot smaller and less noticeable than the ones you would see in a PlayStation 2 game). It's not really a big deal though.
As with everything else, the techno/electronic soundtrack is back to get your blood pumping during races. You can listen to music from all the old Ridge Racer games, or listen to remixes of old songs. An announcer who provides commentary and status updates during the race is back as well. He speaks full English even in the Japanese version. You can turn him off though if he becomes too annoying.
I've played every Ridge Racer game in existence, so the whole simplistic Ridge Racer formula is starting to bore me. In fact, if this game was on a regular console, I'd flat out give it an average score of 5.5. With Burnout 3 available, there would be very little reason to play a basic racing game like this on the PlayStation 2. However, as a portable game, Ridge Racer is a blast to play once you unlock some of the faster cars and it's a perfect way to pass time when away from home. And that's the whole purpose of a portable game. It's even more fun when using the wi-fi feature to play against people on other PSPs (which runs just as smooth as the single player mode).
With decent load times, perfect controls (not too sensitive, not too sluggish), and a reduced price of $39.99, Ridge Racer is by far one of the best PSP launch titles. Check it out.