Inside Pulse 12

Review: Ridge Racer (Sony PSP)

Genre: Racing
Platform: Sony Playstation Portable
Rating: E (Everyone)
Publisher: Namco
Release Date: 03/22/2005

Sony has launched every system to date with a Ridge Racer game, and the PSP will be no exception. On PS1, the original Ridge Racer was part of Namco’s 1-2 punch to power Sony’s early dominance, and it was followed by three sequels. When PS2 launched, Ridge Racer V was on board, although it wasn’t as revered as its predecessors. Now with the PSP, Namco is making a play to return the series to prominence. And from the looks of it, this portable version could revitalize the series.

Ridge Racer for PSP is a graphically impressive game that combines classic Ridge Racer gameplay elements from the series and adds new tracks and gameplay touches. From start to finish, players will find a whole lot to love in Ridge Racer and not a whole lot to complain about.

When you first fire up Ridge Racer on your PSP (and I recommend Ridge Racer as the first game you play), you will be greeted by a small 80s-style racing game that is used during the initial loading screen. It is a fun little game that might actually pull you in for longer than you expect!

Once you get into the meat of the game, you’ll realize that Ridge Racer doesn’t appear to have much of a story at all. Unlike some modern racing games that incorporate story or cutscenes that progress the game along, Ridge Racer is at its core an arcade racer, and the races themselves are the story. Fans of the series would be happy to know that Reiko Nagase, the CGI mascot of past Ridge Racer titles, is back for the portable ride.

The selection of tracks in the game is quite vast, especially for the Ridge Racer series which is traditionally known for skimping on tracks. Of course they do the regular mirror and reverse stuff to make the track listing seem more vast than it is, but even without such tricks there

Story Rating: 5/10

Ridge Racers might be the most graphically impressive game to launch with the PSP. Just the overall presentation and racing look are enough to impress right from the get go, but as each race begins and more of the game is revealed, the quality and depth of the graphical presentation is revealed.

Each of the tracks has its own look and feel, including a time of day which impacts how everything looks. On some tracks, there are sprawling bridges or helicopters in the sky. Longtime Ridge Racer fans will be disappointed to hear that the billboard found in console games (that shows the actual race in progress) has been replaced with a looping animated billboard, likely due to PSP loading limitations.

The cars and environments are extremely well crafted, with crisp clean textures and silky smooth framerate. There is a wide variety of cars to choose from, and as the game progresses, you’ll have the ability to buy better and cooler cars. The cars themselves are modeled well and animate nicely on the tracks.

In terms of motion, the sense of speed in Ridge Racer is really amazing, and does a remarkable job of mimicking a driving experience on a handheld. The odd placement of the analog nub does get some getting used to, but once you settle in and get moving, you’ll find that at high speeds, the game feels super fast – and adding a nitro boost gives an added sense of urgent speed.

Overall it will be tough to argue that any other PSP launch title look better than Ridge Racer.

Graphics Rating: 9/10

For whatever reason, the music and sound effects “pop” extremely well on Ridge Racers, and out of all the launch games for PSP, the audio impact in this game might be the biggest. The music is perfectly suited for the game, and the crisp and clean sound effects give the experience a very authentic feel. Moving to headphones and playing a number of races in a row allow you to lose yourself in the game, and unlike Need for Speed, everything integrates together seamlessly.

Sound Rating: 8.5/10

The Ridge Racer series has always toed the line between simulation and arcade style racing, always with a huge bias towards power sliding. The latest console version, released on all three consoles a couple years ago, was more of a simulation, offering up 100s of cars and tons of options.

In a move likely to please almost all fans of the series, Ridge Racers PSP goes back to the series arcade roots, with gameplay that more resembles the early Ridge Racers than the last few. The focus is on speed and power sliding, with each car drifting into a slide easily and regularly. You don’t even need to use the brake or hand brake to begin a slide, simply removing your finger from the gas gives you a decent slide.

Using the analog stick or nub on the PSP is the way to go, as the D-Pad just doesn’t have the same level of precision in the controls. The analog controls aren’t totally tuned yet on PSP, so it will take some adjustments to understand how to driving using the PSP analog vs. PS2 (or other consoles) analog control, but the difference is small and easily overcome.

One major addition to the controls this time around is the arrival of a turbo meter. Each slide done by the car helps to fill up each of three nitro meters, which can then be used anytime during the race to provide a long lasting burst of speed. This adds a new element to the classic Ridge Racer gameplay, not only moving power sliding to the forefront by adding rewards, but also adding the strategy of when to use nitros.

Control Rating: 9/10

A complaint of the Ridge Racer series has sometimes been with the variety of tracks, as early games in the series had very few tracks, using tricks like reverse, mirror and rearrangements to make the game seem deeper. Ridge Racer on PSP collect tracks from every previous Ridge Racer game, along with some arcade tracks and new PSP exclusive tracks. Plus, given how good everything looks and plays, players will likely be interested in replaying the game over and over just to experience it.

Replay Rating: 8/10

The World Tour is the main gameplay mode, and it offers a lengthy romp through all of the tracks of the game, with progressing difficulty and challenge. Most races pit the player against 11 other computer cars, in a 12 car race to the finish over several laps.

Balance Rating: 7.5/10

At its core, Ridge Racers is an amalgam of every Ridge Racer game to date, combining tracks, cars and other features and artwork from the series to date. In that respect, there isn’t much original. However, the gameplay changes, including the nitros, as well as the overall presentation of the game really makes it feel new and special. The graphics and sounds are a perfect showcase for early PSP owners to brag about their system.

The game’s tracks are selected from previous Ridge Racer games, and each have something new or different to make them feel like newer experiences. There are also four totally new tracks created for the PSP version, and those are welcome additions and stand side by side with the revamped classic tracks.

Add together the new tracks, the revamped graphics as well as the addition of power slide-based nitro rewards system, and Ridge Racer is about as original as any 7th sequel is likely to be.

Originality Rating: 8/10

The launch games on PSP all have the wow factor, and many are great games that will keep you coming back for more. But out of all the games, Ridge Racer is the one you’ll think about most when you’re apart from your new PSP. The graphics and sound as a package, especially if you’re using headphones, is an immersive experience in itself, but the silky smooth and intuitive Ridge Racer controls put the game over the top. There is just something about this game that makes you feel like you are truly playing something new.

Addictiveness Rating: 10/10

Much like Need for Speed Underground Rivals, Ridge Racers will draw you in and you will lose several hours of your life at a time. The novelty and fun of playing such a technically impressive and immersive racing game on a handheld is something that will last for weeks or months.

Ridge Racer has a long pedigree and fanbase from over a decade of delivering quality arcade racing. For fans of the series, picking up the PSP version is a virtual no-brainer. For new fans or racing fans in general, most will have no complaints about the quality and controls of Ridge Racer, although some modern gamers will probably complain about the lack of story.

Appeal Rating: 9/10

As with the other launch PSP titles, there is an inherent wow factor of playing a high powered console game on a small portable system with a huge screen. However, Ridge Racer stands tall with not only killer graphics, but fun, responsive gameplay that is sure to please almost all racing fans. Sure the game doesn’t have the simulation gameplay or options of Gran Tursimo – but that’s ok. Thankfully Namco has left that arena to other developers, and they have come back to the tried and true Ridge Racer gameplay. And it works great.

It’s also easy to compare this game with the Nintendo DS launch version of Ridge Racer. That version was a port of the Nintendo 64 Ridge Racer, which itself was a remix of the PS1 launch version. The differences between the graphics, control, sound and depth of the DS and PSP Ridge Racers will likely be an early battleground between owners of both portables.

Misc Rating: 10/10

Final Scores:

Story: 5/10
Graphics: 9/10
Sound: 8.5/10
Control: 9/10
Replayability: 8/10
Balance: 7.5/10
Originality: 8/10
Addictiveness: 10/10
Appeal: 9/10
Miscellaneous: 10/10

Overall Score: 84/100