Review: Ridge Racer 3D (Nintendo 3DS)

Ridge Racer 3D
Genre: Racing
Developer: Namco Bandai Games
Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
Release Date: 03/22/11

The Ridge Racer franchise has transitioned from being one of the most notable arcade racing franchises on the market to being a franchise that helps launch new consoles, with the unfortunate caveat being that this is most likely the only reason anyone would buy the games since nothing else is available. It’s not that the more modern games are bad so much as it is that they’ve basically become lazy. After Rage Racer and Ridge Racer Type 4, Namco basically abandoned the path of trying to massively evolve the franchise and instead focused on offering pretty visuals and lots of cars, and their few attempts to try something different have been met with indifference (R: Racing Evolution and Ridge Racer 7). Namco Bandai looks to be trying to reinvigorate the franchise, with the recently announced Ridge Racer Unbounded, featuring an all new development team and a multi-platform launch. In the meantime, they’re following the standard trend with Ridge Racer 3D, launching the game alongside the newly released Nintendo 3DS. Like its predecessors, Ridge Racer 3D is focused on arcade racing action over anything else, but it also comes with some tweaks and modifications from its predecessors, along with the added benefit of 3D visuals, courtesy of the handheld console in question. As an arcade racing experience, Ridge Racer 3D shows that Namco Bandai knows how to put together a fun and fast paced product, but as a part of the series, it also shows that Namco Bandai doesn’t have too many ideas left in the tank.

Racing games in general aren’t particularly known for their gripping narratives, and Ridge Racer 3D is no exception, so let’s talk about the game modes instead. The game offers you a fairly robust amount of single player options, from a lengthy Grand Prix mode where you can compete in various tiered races for cash prizes and new cars and options, to a Quick Tour mode that allows you to customize a series of races based on how long you want to race and what kinds of courses you want to take on, to multiple single race varieties. You can just jump into a normal race, a One-Make Race where every racer uses the same machine, a Time Attack race where you race against the clock and/or a previous ghost, or a StreetPass Duel, where you can race against a Duel Ghost earned through picking up information from the StreetPass system on the 3DS. You can also take on up to three other players in local versus play, check out your records, watch replays as you listen to various tunes in the game, and check out your available cars and upgrades in the Garage. If you have friends available locally to play against you can have some fun with the versus play, but the game does not offer an online play option, unfortunately, so you won’t be able to challenge anyone who isn’t available in your local area. If you don’t have any local friends with the game, though, you’ll still find that there’s enough variety to the game’s single player modes to make it worth playing, but if you’re looking for multiplayer options you might be a little let down.

This being a first generation title, it’s hard to have a basis of comparison for Ridge Racer 3D‘s visuals, but all in all, they’re rather solid. The cars themselves are higher resolution than something you’d expect to see on the DS, and look like they’re about on par with something the PSP would generate, as they show off reflections well and look nice in motion, but have some pixilated stickers and emblems on them here and there. The environments are also rather nice looking and are well animated, and have some solid draw distance, and the frame rate is consistently smooth with no slowdown. On the other hand, car designs are re-used somewhat frequently in the same class and between classes, though this is common amongst Ridge Racer titles. Aurally, there’s lots of great music to listen to as you race, which is another common staple of the series, and the music is heavy with electronic beats and fast paced tunes to keep you into the races. The sound effects are outstanding, featuring some great engine sounds and collision effects, and the smattering of voice work for your announcer and your encouraging female associate (which I suspect is supposed to be series mascot Reiko Nagase) sound clear and are generally high quality.

Also, in absence of a Miscellaneous section, let’s take this opportunity to discuss how the 3D comes into play. This being a racing game, as you’d expect, the 3D is presented in a fashion that allows you to feel like you’re moving into the track, basically allowing for the background elements (and other vehicles) to look like they’re coming right at you, and in this respect, it succeeds well. Your car and the cars of your opponents have a good amount of depth to them and showcase the 3D abilities of the console rather well, and this effect really makes the racing feel right in a way 2D racing games don’t match. That said, having showed it to several other people, the universal complaint I got was that it inspires motion sickness if you play it too long. While I can’t say that I felt this thing (though I did get some mild headaches, which I attribute more to the tech than the game), those who suffer from this thing may wish to be aware of it. Ridge Racer 3D does take good advantage of the technology, that I can say for a fact, though if you’re easily bothered by the simulation of movement, well, you might want to take breaks every so often from the 3D effects, at least.

As with all Ridge Racer games, if you’ve ever played any racing game, you’ll be right at home with Ridge Racer 3D. You can (and probably should) remap the controls from several different defaults, but you’ll be given an accelerator and brake, of which you’ll use the former a whole lot and the latter not so much. As with prior Ridge Racer games, you’ll also have two buttons assigned to upshift and downshift for manual transmission driving, as well as two buttons assigned to your Nitrous usage. Basically, you’ll have different Nitrous options for each car you can drive, with different options for using them, but for the most part, you can press one button to use one bar of Nitrous, another button to use two bars of Nitrous, and both buttons to use three bars of Nitrous. If you use automatic transmission for your shifting, you’ll also be offered a button specifically for using three Nitrous bars, as well as an easy Drift button for simplified drifting. Drifting is how you’ll earn your Nitrous, and it’s easy as taking a turn at any point in the race. Essentially, drifting is a controlled form of sliding, as you’ve likely seen in similar games, where you’ll slide through the turn, losing minimal top speed and taking the turn in a way that positions you to rocket out of it to take the lead. By performing successful drifts, you’ll build up Nitrous into whatever bar is presently empty, which you can deploy as your chosen Nitrous system allows. The more Nitrous you use at one time, the longer the burst and the faster you go, so you can use it in small or large bursts, depending on your personal need at the moment.

Ridge Racer 3D has a few other tools up its sleeve to make it more than just another racing game. For one thing, Ultimate Charge makes a comeback in this game, which allows you to generate additional Nitrous if you engage drift while you’re coming down from using Nitrous, though you’ll need to keep a consistent drift and not adjust in order to keep it working. For another, you’ll now be able to choose different Nitrous options for your car as you complete the various Grand Prix races. Each race unlocks new cars and Nitrous layouts, from automatically charging layouts to layouts that allow to use it whenever you want to those that break it down to two or four bars and beyond, depending on your racing style. You’ll have to buy these upgrades, of course, as well as some new vehicles to race with, as the game now pays you for race performance, allowing you to unlock new car types and Nitrous upgrades as you want. You can also dump those points into race starting bonuses, allowing you to rocket off the starting line faster or come into the race with up to three Nitrous bars fully charged, though you’ll be paying a fairly high price for this boost, relatively speaking, so you’ll only want to use it if you really don’t feel confident in your skills, as it’s a one-and-done power-up (though it will carry over between races in a series). The game also places emphasis on slipstreaming a good amount, which is the act of riding behind another racer to reduce your own wind resistance and improve your speed. As you do this, a slipstream gauge will fill up in the corner, indicating how much benefit the slipstream is giving you, so you know how close you are to the racer and how well you’re coasting in their wake. You can use this for a quick burst of speed to pass by other racers, though they can also use it against you. While racing, the top screen shows you the racing action, while the bottom screen shows you a map of the race and allows you to change the camera perspective or the zoom level of the map at a simple touch, so you can also set up the displays as you see fit to help you get into the best racing position you can be.

You’ll spend the vast majority of your time playing Ridge Racer 3D carving through Grand Prix mode, as that’s where all of your unlockables are located. By cutting through the various groups of races, you’ll unlock different courses to race on and cars to purchase, in normal and upgraded formats, as well as their Nitrous upgrades, though purchasing these options once unlocks them over the entire class series of vehicles. Each tier of Grand Prix series comes with new and upgraded car classes to work with, which are mostly similar to their older car classes, but improved in the speed department – sometimes dramatically so from one class to the next. The challenge of each Grand Prix series also raises as you play, gradually, both because of the increased speed of the cars requiring you to adjust to track changes quicker and because the racers become smarter. In early races, racers will often make big mistakes and refuse to use Turbo, but as you progress they’ll become better about keeping their race lines small and using their turbo effectively. This means you’ll have to keep improving as a racer if you want to complete. The Grand Prix courses generally require you to rank in a certain place to progress to the next race or series, though the game isn’t horribly punishing about this, as you can restart a race at any time if you feel you made an error in judgment and you can come back to the series later with your wins intact if you need to bail out halfway through for some reason.

You can pretty much clear out all of the static single player modes in around fifteen hours, maybe more if you have to repeat a few races, but you don’t HAVE to clear out all of the Grand Prix races if you just want to clear the mode, only if you want to unlock all of the upgrades. The other single player modes are mostly included for goofing around and, in the case of StreetPass Duel, for challenging downloaded ghosts if you’re into that sort of thing. The lack of online multiplayer hurts the long term value a bit, as without friends who own the game there’s not a lot of options for playing against other people, unfortunately. If you do have local friends with the game, however, you’ll find the versus racing will add some replay value to the experience beyond the single player elements. For the most part, though, unless you’re a huge fan of racing games, once you clear out the various Grand Prix races and unlock everything there is to unlock, you’re not likely to come back to the game too often, as there’s not a lot to see beyond those unlockables, and the game doesn’t change much outside of that.

That lack of variety is a bit of a hindrance for Ridge Racer 3D, not just because the game essentially comes across as a retread of ground its predecessors have covered, but also because it means that, in the long run, the game kind of begins to blend together. It’s great fun for a while to blow out other racers, and if you have friends who own the game you’ll likely have fun smoking each other on the racetracks, but Ridge Racer 3D is otherwise a standard, no frills arcade racing game with a 3D bent. That’s not a bad thing by any means, but it’s not an exciting thing, either, and if you’re a fan of the series, you can play a race with the 3D on, go, “Yup, that sure is Ridge Racer game alright,” and turn it off fully aware of how the game is going to go from there. There are no options to tinker with the cars, no options to change up the mechanics in any significant way, just a bunch of cars you can race against a bunch of other cars on a bunch of tracks, occasionally with other local friends if you have any to play against. The game lacks any of the interesting gimmicks of something like Blur or Burnout while also lacking the customization, impressive presentation and fun online play of something like nail’d, and while the 3D element is neat for a little while, it doesn’t do anything to make the game more interesting by proxy. It’s a neat visual gimmick attached to a game that essentially only features minor additions from the last several games in the series, and while it’s fun for a while, it’s not a long term experience in any way, shape or form.

The Ridge Racer series went from being an impressive looking long term franchise with some neat ideas and attempts to advance to being a franchise Namco rolled out whenever a new system came around to try and make some money off of a launch title, and while you’ll likely have some fun with Ridge Racer 3D, it’s generally not noticeably different from its predecessors in any way that matters. There are plenty of single player modes to have fun with if you’re looking for that, and there’s local multiplayer support for two to four players if you have friends who have the game. The game looks solid enough for a first-gen release and the sound is great, and the game makes good use of the 3D technology, enough so to be worth a second look for that alone at least. The game is easy to play and fun for a while, as the arcade racing mechanics are simple to learn but there’s some depth to the systems and the balance is nicely done all in all. However, the game really does nothing significant beyond the numerous Ridge Racer games that have come before, and while you can unlock new cars, tracks and turbo setups, the new cars are just reskins of the old cars, once you unlock everything there’s nothing to bring you back, and there’s no online play to keep things interesting in the long term. Ridge Racer 3D is a better game than, say, Ridge Racer V or Ridge Racer 6, and the 3D is nice, but it’s still a fun, entertaining, and very lazy game, and it makes no argument to own it unless you’re a heavy fan of the genre or the series, aside from the 3D visuals and launch title status.

The Scores:
Game Modes: MEDIOCRE
Graphics: ABOVE AVERAGE
Sound: GREAT
Control/Gameplay: GOOD
Replayability: ABOVE AVERAGE
Balance: GREAT
Originality: WORTHLESS
Addictiveness: GOOD
Appeal: ABOVE AVERAGE
Miscellaneous: GOOD

Final Score: ABOVE AVERAGE GAME.

Short Attention Span Summary:
There was a time, years ago, when I counted myself a fan of the Ridge Racer franchise, but after Ridge Racer V set the template for the following games almost exactly, I gave up, and Ridge Racer 3D does nothing to convince me I made a bad call. It looks, sounds, and plays perfectly fine, and the 3D effects are very nice for a launch title, all in all, but it’s basically the exact same game Namco-nee-Namco Bandai have been releasing for years with a couple of (very minor) tweaks to the formula. It’s not a bad game by any means, but it’s an exceptionally lazy game, and no amount of nice 3D will mask the fact that the game is functionally identical to Ridge Racer 6 save for the option of changing your Nitrous system and the lack of online play, and that game came out almost five and a half years ago. Someone who’s looking for a game that makes good use of the 3D mechanics of the console, or looking for some no-frills racing action, will find those desires fulfilled by this game, but for anyone looking for something beyond driving around in circles for hours with no variety to speak of otherwise, Ridge Racer 3D is a rental at best.

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