Ridge Racer for the Sony PSP

permalink         categories: video games         originally posted: 2005-04-08 10:08:32

I got a PSP on the day they came out. It's been a lot of fun.

Initially I got Wipeout Pure, Twisted Metal Head-On, and Ape Escape: On The Loose. I quickly discovered that Ape Escape was a port of the original Ape Escape for the PS1. Well, I played six years ago. And actually re-played a year or two ago when I got Ape Escape 2.

So I exchanged it, plus $20, for Lumines. Everything you hear about Lumines is true; it's fun, it's addictive, the music is great. I had been playing a lot of Lumines. But it's started to wear on me. Every new game (in "Challenge Mode") starts on level 1 and proceeds through the levels in the same order. So, while Silence is a great song, I've heard it... enough times. And I was never fond of the second song.

I switched to Wipeout Pure for a couple of days; it's a great game, and deserving of my time and yours. It's beautiful, and the gameplay harkens back to good ol' Wipeout XL, and the new "turn powerups into energy" is a wonderful change to the game. But I kept reading people's positive reviews of Ridge Racer, and regretted almost immediately not buying it when I had the chance.

Early this week Toysaurus got it back in stock, and I went down and picked up a copy. The reviews are right; it is the most impressive-looking game on the PSP right now. Which is saying something, as Wipeout Pure is so gosh-darned pretty too.

The fit and finish of the game is stellar. My jaw dropped at the presentation in Tour Mode; it has a little silhouette of an airport, and a little plane flies by and leaves a contrail, while this neat airport-ambience-techno plays and it gives you an update of your progress in tour mode. Just lovely.

As for the game itself—it plays like every other Ridge Racer game. I played the hell out of Rage Racer back in the day, with the neGcon if I remember correctly. (I haven't really played a game from the series since; R4 didn't appeal, even with the JogCon, and Ridge Racer V just felt cheap somehow.) The big thing with Ridge Racer is that it is really arcade-y, not at all realistic. Part of the point of the game is to have fun drifting around curves and corners, and the whole game is designed to make that easy and fun. It's a real blast to drift around a corner just right at 130mph.

I was surprised to see some of the tracks I remembered in the new game; I guess they just keep dragging those old tracks on into each game. Not that there's anything terribly wrong with that. But one of the classic failings of Ridge Racer is the paucity of variety. I understand there are only eight tracks total, though the official count is sixteen—they count "playing the track in reverse" as a new track.

One new feature is the "nitro". You have three little "nitro" meters, and you can fill them by drifting and skidding. When one is full you can use the "nitro boost" to temporarily speed yourself up a little. It's not a major change to the gameplay, simply because the nitro isn't all that powerful or long-lasting. But it adds some variety, and rewards you for playing the game well, a game mechanic I always like to see. (I wonder if the designers played any Burnout...)

Really, the biggest problem with Ridge Racer is the same as it ever was: it is fundamentally unfair. When I play a game of Project Gotham Racing or Wipeout, all the vehicles start behind the starting line, and when the game says GO everybody drops into gear and races off. If someone gets ten seconds ahead of you, it's because they did a better job racing.

Not so in Ridge Racer! Here, you can only see two or three cars from where you start. What happens is, the lead car is dropped onto the track way ahead of you, and you spend the whole race trying to catch up. If you ever play Ridge Racer, you'll notice a little mini-map in the upper-right of the screen. During the race, it shows you two moving dots: a blue-white one, which is you, and a red-white dot which is the lead car. Pay attention to it right at the beginning of the race. As soon as you cross the starting line, the red-white dot blinks into existance—sixteen to twenty seconds ahead of your current position. You must now spend the rest of the race gnawing away at this 16-second handicap. As for the rest of the cars, they get more-or-less spaced out evenly between your current position and the lead car.

That brings us to the AI... what there is of it. I realized when playing Rave Racer that there were two kinds of cars; I called them "sheep" and "wolves". "Sheep" are really just gameplay padding; they provide no challenge, other than whatever handicapped lead they got on you. They tend to just cruise around the track like little slotcars. "Wolves" are smart; they'll fight with you, and bump you, and if you race past them they might ever catch up with you and pass you. (Sheep never do that.)

And speaking of bumping! Again, so little has changed since Rage Racer came out in 1997. If you rear-end another car while going, oh, 5-10mph faster, what would you expect would happen? Well, that's not what happens here. Here, you lose 15-20mph, and the car you bumped gains 15-20mph. The result is they go zooming off into the sunset. Now, if it's a sheep, you'll be able to catch it pretty easily. If it's a wolf, you have more work to do. If it's the lead car, you may have just boned the whole race, depending on the skill level at which you're currently playing. Meanwhile, you don't similarly benefit if they bump into you. It's unfair, and ultimately it's frustrating.

In spite of the above complaints, the game is a blast to play and gorgeous to boot. Yes, the challenge is pure artifice, but it's still challenging, and you can have a lot of fun trying to beat it at its own unfair game. Recommended.

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