Ridge Racer (1994)
By: Namco Genre: Racing Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: PlayStation
Also Available For: Arcade, PlayStation 2 (as part of compilation)
Every now and then, you’ll get an arcade game that takes the world by storm. Everyone, everywhere is talking about it, playing it, or talking about playing it. Ridge Racer was one of these titles. When it was announced as a launch title for the PlayStation, its fans went into hysterics. “We can now play the best racing game of all-time in the comfort of our own homes!” they all exclaimed with glee. It arrived – they all bought a Playstation and a copy of it, played it for a couple of hours, and realised that Ridge Racer was far from the best racing game of all-time, after all. A valuable lesson to us all then, that good arcade games do not always make good home console games.
Okay, maybe that’s a slight exageration, but it’s true to some extent – at least as far as some of the games that don’t receive any or many substantial improvements / additions are concerned. That unfortunately, is where this port of Ridge Racer falls down. Of chief concern is the number of courses on offer here: one. Okay, it’s a good course, and a pretty big one, but even for an arcade game, one course just doesn’t cut it. Some fans of this game defend its appalling number of courses by claiming that Namco had a very short amount of time to develop it, having to rush it out in time for the PlayStation’s launch. This may be true, but I don’t think it’s the real reason – Ridge Racer Revolution – the sequel to this game, is not a significant improvement, after all, and Namco had plenty of time to get things right with that one.
As mentioned though, the course is more than half decent in itself. It is quite a large one and takes you from the city over bridges and through tunnels past such views as a construction site, mountainsides and a beach. Before racing on it, you must choose a car, and there are four available. Actually, one nice feature of this conversion is that while it is loading, you can play a single-screen version of Galaxians. If you manage to shoot all the aliens before the game loads, the quota of cars is trebled. Regardless of how many cars are initially available (all of which are fictional), each has differing attributes – acceleration, traction, handling and top speed all vary from vehicle to vehicle, and the usual manual or automatic transmission can be selected. With the car selected, it’s onto the race.
Races are contested against eleven computer controlled opponents (you always start at the back of the grid, of course), with the difficulty level you select determining the number of laps of each race and the top speed of the computer-controlled cars. The highest difficulty setting also sees night races introduced and adds a small, more challenging section to the main course, and later on, some races are also contested over mirrored or reversed versions of the course. In the last race, you’ll have the opportunity to race the mysterious black ‘Devil Car’ which is the fastest in the game. Beat it and you’ll have completed the game, as well as having gained access to the black car yourself. The only other play mode is the time trial where you must try and beat the best lap times for the course in its various configurations.
Graphically, Ridge Racer is impressive for an early title. Aside from a slight reduction in background detail and polygon count, it’s damn near arcade perfect. A helicopter follows your car around the course as you race, and after the race, you can watch a replay of your performance as seen from the helicopter. Races start at different times of the day like sunrise, midday or dusk, so some nice lighting effects and colours can be seen throughout, and the cars look nice, though they can’t be damaged. The in-game view can be switched between a front bumper mounted camera and a behind car camera. The ‘techno’ music selected for the game will probably be awesome or terrible, depending on your taste. It consists of six ‘bangin choons’ which you can choose from before racing. I suspect though, that even if you like this kind of music, they will begin to grate after a while. The composer obviously thinks highly of them though, as there’s a ‘music player’ feature on the option screen which shows cars racing around while the music of your choice plays. Luckily, the music featured here is not mandatory. In a fairly innovative feature, you can put your own music CD’s in your PlayStation and listen to them for a while instead. Sounds effects are completely forgettable and the engine sound is awful (lawnmower?), and unfortunately, an annoying commentator rambles on throughout each race too, saying the same stuff all the time (such as “Wow, what a start” regardless of whether you made a good start or not!).
As for the gameplay… it’s a bit of a mixed bag really. The cars handling style has obviously been retained from the arcade version, i.e. ultra loose and power slidy. In fact, this game may well be the inventor of the now famous and much copied power slide, but it sure as hell didn’t perfect it first go! It’s hard to explain, but when grip is lost the car will most often start pivoting left and right around a central point of the car until your speed decreases substantially and you can start accelerating away again. It’s ridiculous, annoying, and completely unrealistic. Yes I know this is an arcade racer and realism is not the order of the day here, but some sort of basis in reality wouldn’t go amiss. Another annoying aspect of gameplay is that contact with other cars or the side of the course, even if it’s slight, results in a severe reduction in speed, and once you’ve hit one once, particularly as far as the roadside barriers are concerned, it’s very easy to keep bumping them, thereby ruining any chance of a decent finish. This obviously gets very annoying after a short time. Having said that, the challenge on offer here isn’t really befitting a game with one course – you’ll win the first race within your first three attempts to very little fanfare. But those (fairly major) points aside, Ridge Racer, as limited as it is, is very enjoyable for a day or two before it becomes boring. Of course, a two-player split screen mode would help matters, but there’s none of that here either!
Overall, Ridge Racer was an enjoyable arcade game, but is unsuitable as a home game without a radical overhaul, which this conversion has not received. There really is very little to return to here, after the first few days – the desire to improve lap times is something that prolongs the lifespan of most driving games, but when that game only has one course, it’s not nearly as attractive a proposition. When this first came out, I’m sure it had a big ‘Wow’ factor – after MegaDrive and SNES racing games, it was a genuinely impressive sight, but it didn’t take long before there were some decent alternatives – Gran Turismo, Colin McRae, Total Drivin’, Test Drive 4 & 5, Toca Touring Cars, Porsche Challenge, Need For Speed and many others are much more enjoyable driving games, and much more worthy of your time. It’s a shame too, there was real potential here. If Namco added just a few more courses, this could’ve been a half-decent game. If they tinkered with the car-handling, it could’ve been even better. Later games in the Ridge Racer series showed what was possible on the PlayStation – the stupidly-named Ridge Racer Type 4 has 8 courses and a two-player mode, for example, and is a great racing game. This original is not.
RKS Rating: 4/10