It seems that whenever Sony has a new system coming out, Namco isn’t far behind with a quality offering for those poor souls who have to wait in line for up to twelve hours for their new little toy. They pulled it off with the PSOne and the PS2, and now with Sony’s PSP, Namco has dug deep into their history to present gamers with what they claim is the ultimate version of Ridge Racer. It’s a good thing that they were able to back up their words too.
Instead of all new tracks, Ridge Racers is an ultimate compilation of tracks from previous games in the series (save for the slightly atrocious R: Racing Evolution), including Rave Racer, Ridge Racer Type 4 and more. Fans of the series have been rather critical of the recent Ridge Racer titles, due to their deviation from the roots of the series, which was all about drifting and a crazy sense of speed. Luckily, Ridge Racers brings that all back, and I couldn’t have been happier with it. The first thing I noticed when playing the game was the relative ease I had in drifting, and that made it feel a hell of a lot similar to the first Ridge Racer title. What also reminded me of previous installments was the repetition of tracks. While 12 tracks for a portable system is pretty good (especially for a launch title), the game could stand to have five more tracks to make the lineup meatier. As it stands, the roster is still fantastic, and the feel of each course changes completely depending on the class of car you use. With over six different classes of cars to use in the game, there is no shortage in replayability with the game, especially with World Tour, which splits the game up into three classes: Beginner, Pro and EX. Each level offers the player varying degrees of difficulty, with some of the final EX courses being mind-numbingly difficult. In all, the average player can expect a good 10 hours of play time before they fully complete World Tour.
While the return of the classic drifting mechanics is one reason many people are enthralled with the game, the real pull of Ridge Racers is also due to the superb visuals that Namco has crafted on the system. It’s hard to imagine the PSP cranking out anything that’s more impressive visually than Ridge Racers down the road, it looks that good. The environments that surround each course is what makes the game so appealing graphically. Airplanes and helicopters will hover overhead, cars will automatically turn on their headlights when entering a tunnel, and the landscape is dotted with magnificent landmarks, whether it be skyscrapers or huge bridges. In addition, the soundtrack completely complements the graphics, since they both kick an unholy amount of ass. You can quickly choose any song that’s available in the game while the race is about to start. There are over five discs to choose from, with each disc holding numerous songs from previous games.
Are there any faults with the game? Not really, software-wise. Due to the screen that Sony uses for the PSP, the game can blur at times, and it’s especially evident during the Rally-X minigame before you start the real game (which is an awesome way to pay homage, by the way). The analog pad also feels a little weird with this title, since your hands aren’t symmetrical when using the analog pad. Finally, one slightly niggle I had with the game is that while there are plenty of cars to unlock in World Tour, there should have been more courses. It gets very tired going through the same handful for all three parts of the tour. It’s a minor nuisance, but one that nearly made me drop the game altogether.
Ultimately, Ridge Racers has a feel and atmosphere similar to that of Nintendo’s Super Smash Brothers Melee; an extremely polished game that oozes love. You can tell that genuine effort went into the development game, and while a rather large (for a handheld) budget always helps, the little details in the game - like using Rally-X graphics to display lead times in-race - makes you feel something special inside when drifting through tight turns in the Union Hill District. It’s no wonder that the game is the best selling title on the platform. Come March, don’t be surprised if it’s the game that introduces the rest of the world to Sony’s little machine.