It took Namco quite a while, but they’ve finally released a new Ridge Racer game. The previous one, Ridge Racer V, was in fact a PlayStation 2 launch title, and we all know how long that has been. With this PSP release, Namco wants to give their franchise a fresh new start. Have they succeeded or is it just another futile attempt?
Ridge Racer for PSP is actually a ‘best of’ collection of the previous games (Ridge Racer, Ridge Racer Revolution, Rage Racer, Ridge Racer Type 4 and Ridge Racer V). There aren’t any new tracks, but only the most amusing and challenging courses remain.
For those of you not familiar with Ridge Racer’s gameplay mechanics: the game is about as arcade as an arcade racing game can be. Just floor it and never -ever- use the brakes. Speaking of which, the brake button in Ridge Racer is just about the most useless feature in videogame history. If you want to go trough corners, let go of the accelerator and go into a powerslide.
Powersliding also earns you nitro. The higher your sliding speed, the quicker your nitrous tanks will fill. Once filled, you can unleash a boost to overtake some of your opponents. Beware though, as you’ll bleed speed while powersliding, it’s best not to use them in light corners. This also implies you’ll have to find the balance between high-speed cornering and filling your nitrous bars.
There are three handling models, STD, MLD and DYN, and all of the cars respond accordingly. MLD cars don’t drift that easily, but are very easy to control, while DYN does just the opposite. Although the latter are a bit tricky to master, they can earn you lots of nitro, real quick. STD falls somewhere in between and I think most most people will use that profile.
The meat of the game is comprised of the World Tour mode, but you can also spend time in Time Trial, Quick Race or the excellent Ad-Hoc multiplater. Completing races and making progress will grant you access to new cars and tracks, as is akin to the genre. There are 6 different classes, totalling about 40 different cars (each one available in 25 different colours). The first 30 or so races are pretty easy, to get you accustomed to Ridge Racer’s simple gameplay, but afterwards it gets more challenging.
Although the analog stick allows more precise steering, I preferred using the directional buttons. Maybe the relatively low position of the stick had something to do with it. The races themselves are pretty short and the eleven competitors make sure they stay interesting. Basically, the races are too short to get bored. And that’s a positive thing.
The game also looks great. The environments are detailed and very colourful and feature exquisite lighting. Just look at all of the garish advertising or go through a brightly lit tunnel and you’ll know what I mean. The car models look better than the ones in Gran Turismo 2 (on the venerable PSOne), even now, when developers have only begun to tap the PSP’s potential. The car reflections also look fine. While they’re still far off from current-gen quality (leave alone next-gen), the reflections are stunning on a handheld. Ridge Racer would have easily been the best looking PSP racing game out there, were it not for Sony’s superb WipeOut Pure.
The music in the game is your typical dance/elektro fare -nothing special here- and it gets repeated way too often. The cars, however, sound really good and when you use a nitro boost, sound comes out distorted, which is a nice touch that further improves Ridge Racer’s already impressive sense of speed.
With this PSP release, Namco put their long-lasting series back on track. Ridge Racer for PSP is the best Ridge Racer in ages -probably even the best Ridge Racer, period-. The controls are solid, its sense of speed is impressive and it hardly ever feels stretched. Add great graphics to that and you get yet another very solid PSP racing game. Highly recommended.