Thursday, January 13, 2005

Ridge Racer Retrospective feature

I originally wrote this article last year, and thing's have changed a bit in the Ridge Racer series since then. I thought it would be interesting to leave the article as it was and then just add some bits for the latest games in the the series. Here we go:

The Beginning - Ridge Racer (Arcade, 1994/95?)
Way back in 1995 (or was it '94, I can't quite remember), an amazing new arcade game was released by Namco, the people behind such classics as Pac Man, Galaxians and Galaga. It was a fully three-dimensional racing game, and it took the games world by storm. Together with Sega's Virtua Racing arcade cabinet it redefined the racing genre. The game featured cutting edge visuals for the time, a thumping Rave soundtrack, blistering speed and memorable track design. Even though there were only three different tracks, players found themselves coming back time and time again because playing the game was such a thrill.

The Launch - Ridge Racer (PlayStation, 1995)
Sony benefited from Namco's almost arcade perfect port of the machine on the launch day of their PlayStation. For many, the temptation of being able to drive around the tracks without putting £1 every time was too hard to resist. A bit of extra challenge was added in the form of an "Extra" mode, which was simply the tracks in reverse with a slightly trickier opposition and time limit. There were also some bonus cars to unlock if you were quick enough to shoot all the Galaxians before the game loaded up. At the time, it didn't matter that you could finish the entire game within a few hours. Nowadays you can pick the game for around £3, and it's still jolly good fun to pick up and play from time to time.

Ridge Remixed - Ridge Racer Revolution (PlayStation, 1996)
Namco cashed in on the popularity of the original by releasing this remix a year later. All the tracks were new, save for a couple of classics that were strangely only available in the new multiplayer mode. Graphically, the game was very similar to the original, but the handling was tweaked slightly and the challenge was increased. Even so, you could still easily finish it all off in an evening. This game can now be found for the mind bogglingly cheap price of £2, so short as it is it's still damn good value for money.

Ridge Rethought - Rage Racer (Playstation, 1997)
Despite this entry to the series only having the usual paltry 4 tracks, it had a much longer one player game than the games that preceded it due to there being multiple cups for you to win, along with many different cars that could be (and indeed had to be) upgraded. The fastest cars were only available in manual transmission too, forcing automatic drivers to learn how to drive properly. The usual range of tunez was present, but the graphics had a much more subdued, grimy look which looks a bit ugly compared to it's colourful forebears. It also came out a short while before the Dual Shock pad was commonplace, and the digital steering makes it feel older than it is. At the time I thought this game was brilliant, but looking at it in the harsh light of day now it's probably the most dated of all the games featured here. Again, the game can be found on the cheap today.

Ridge Revamped - Ridge Racer Type Four (PlayStation, 1999)
RRT4 had more of everything - more tracks, cars, tunes and some of the best graphics ever seen in a racer on the PlayStation. It was the perfect antidote to Gran Turismo 2, which was about as realistic as you could get. The handling and powerslides were balanced just right and this time the game featured full analogue control and vibration. Although it was very easy to get all the way through the game with certain teams and cars, you could choose a team that was struggling with their finances and have a much more challenging time of it. Many people regard this game as the pinnacle of the series so far, but I still have a soft spot for the original. Expect to pay around £5 for this one.

Ridge Recycled - Ridge Racer 64 (Nintendo 64, 2000)
Although this entry to the series bears the Namco name, it was actually Nintendo Software Technology (NST) that programmed it. It was the biggest version of the game so far, featuring all of the tracks from the original game, Revolution and a handful of completely new ones. The graphics were a halfway house between the look of the original and the shinier cars of Ridge Racer Type Four. The only thing that let it down was the slightly floaty handling. It was too easy to go into a powerslide when you didn't mean to and slam into the side of the track. Prices vary from about £5 to £10 depending on whether you get the box and instruction manual.

Ridge Renaissance - Ridge Racer V (PlayStation 2, 2001)
The Ridge series finally entered the next generation with the launch of the PlayStation 2 and players got more of the same, only better looking and slightly trickier. The soundtrack featured some amazing music from the likes of the Boom Boom Satellites, and gameplay wise the game took the multi-cup approach used in Rage Racer. The classic track from the first game returned along with about 5 other new ones, and the handling was tightened up a bit to produce a very playable racer. The game suffered a bit from a lack of anti-aliasing meant "jaggies" were quite obvious, and the PAL version wasn't optimised leading to huge borders and a noticeable drop in speed over the silky smooth NTSC versions. Not the best arcade racer even seen then, but it can still provide quite a few hours of entertainment for around £7.

Ridge Reimagined - R: Racing Evolution (Multiformat, 2004)
Now we come to the latest entry to the Ridge Racer series, and the first truly radical overhaul the game mechanics have had since the whole thing started. The team behind the PS2 Moto GP series joined forces with members of the Ridge Racer V team to produce this new game, which features storyline elements ala TOCA Racer Driver and an altogether more realistic approach. The cars and circuits are for the most part based on their real life counterparts, and the handling has been steered in the direction of realism and away from the drift heavy feel of old. The story mode is somewhat short and easy, but there are dozens of individual challenges for players to unlock which should last a while. Fans of the series have grumbled that it just isn't the same, but I rather enjoyed this game. Still, I was glad to hear the announcement of...

Ridge Redux - Ridge Racer 6 (Multiformat?, 2004-2005)
Very little is known about RR6 as it's only just been announced, but the name would suggest a return to the series' arcade roots rather than the semi-realistic approach favoured by R: Racing Evolution. If I'm honest I've always felt that the series has had a lot of potential and although all the games have been fun in their own way they've been let down by one key aspect, either the length of the game, the handling or the overall lack of challenge. Imagine what a true next generation Ridge Racer could be like, with properly anti-aliased graphics, perfect handling, dozens of tracks, a weighty one player mode, plenty of speed, the usual thumping music, and maybe even an online mode? Come on Namco, make the Ridge Racer game we've all been waiting for.

Hmm... now we know, eh? So, here's my thoughts on the two newest, handheld versions of the series.

Ridge Renovated - Ridge Racer DS (Nintendo DS, 2005)
This is basically the same game as the N64 version, but the gameplay has been improved quite a bit in the porting process. The frame rate has been increased to a silky smooth 60 fps, there's no slowdown and everything looks nicer on the smaller screen. Handling has also improved slightly, thanks to the d-pad being better suited to the game than the analogue stick was, and there's the option of using the touch screen to steer as well. There's 12 tracks, plus reverse versions, and lots of cars to unlock (only a handful are worth driving though). Not a bad job on the whole, but not the amazing game I was waiting for.

Ridge of Rapidity (sorry, I was running out of words that start with re) - Ridge Racers (PSP, 2005)Now this is more like it. While I haven't played this version yet, all that I've seen and read leads me to believe that it is the best version ever. There's a selection of classic tracks which have all been given a modern day makeover, along with a selection of the best music from previous games and a mammoth one player mode (we're talking at least forty cups of 3-6 races). The Arrange Tour mode sounds good - choose a time from 5 to 60 minutes and the game with create a championship for you that fit's in with your requirements. I shall definitely be picking this baby up along with my PSP in March.

And there's one I missed completely originally...

Rave Racer (Arcades, 199?)
This had a completely different set of tracks, cars and tunes but it still stuck to the familiar Ridge Racer formula. Ridge Racers on the PSP features some of the tracks from this game that many fans won't have seen before due to the limited exposure of the arcade cabinet.

So there you have it, who knows what the future will bring the Ridge Racer series? It's nice to see it have a return to form though.

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