When Sony launches a system you can rest assured that Namco will be releasing a Ridge Racer
game alongside it. It was one of the key titles that brought the original PlayStation to the mainstream, one of key titles at the PS2 launch and now, the
game to have for the PlayStation Portable.
In case you’re not familiar with the franchise, Ridge Racer is an Arcade racer with a heavy emphasis on drifting. Terms like “apex” and “braking” really aren’t applicable to this title; it’s all about hitting the turns as fast as you can and letting the momentum carry you through. Namco realized this and decided to go with the least complex control scheme possible; X is the gas, square activates the brakes, triangle and circle shift gears, L changes cameras and the R button activates the nitro. Vehicles can be controlled with either the analog nub or the digital pad; we found that both methods of control were highly effective with the nub getting a slight advantage.
From the moment you step into a race you’ll know this is the real deal. Before Ridge Racer, portable racing games had been in the Stone Age, essentially putting players on a turntable in front of a blue screen. With RR you’re actually on the track and the recreation of the sport as well as the sensation of speed is just amazing. When the game says that the car is going 150mph the images on the screen convey the same message. This is where the game really succeeds, providing a sense of exhilaration that was never possible before in the handheld realm.
For a portable racing game there’s a surprising amount of depth. The core means of progression is the worldwide tour mode. Placing highly in these races will unlock more tracks and more cars that are available in other modes. There are more than 20 different tracks available from the various titles in the franchise, even the underappreciated Rage Racer
. All of the tracks have been beautifully replicated, from the drastic changes in elevation to the hairpin turns, each one is more memorable than the next.
From the moment the game starts up you’ll say to yourself, “wow, portable games aren’t supposed to look this good.” But believe it, this game is key in positioning the PSP as the dominant force in the handheld market. Just compare it with the significantly inferior DS version and you begin to get an idea of not only the power of the system, but the system in which Namco’s focus resides. If the crisp textures and the roadside architecture doesn’t amaze you, the polygon-heavy vehicles and real-time reflections most certainly will. And there’s always something going on around you, whether it’s a helicopter taking off or a plane flying overhead, the developers do an amazing job of delivering an environment that is filled with life. Throw in some excellent special effects, such as sparks when the chassis hits the ground and an amazing blur effect, and you have an impressive game that really demonstrates the graphical prowess of the PSP.
But it’s not just all bells, it’s whistles too. Put on a pair of headphones and you’ll be treated a portable racing experience like never before. Thanks to the PSP’s multi-channel capability, you’ll hear opponents creeping up on you as they crawl into your rear view mirror. The engine sounds are clean and the rest of the audio is excellent with the exception of the announcer who does his best to annoy the gamer. The soundtrack is comprised of music from previous RR games so if you were a fan of those you’ll love these as well.
One of the parts where the game suffers is in the AI. All of your opponents adhere to the old “runnin’ on rails” theory that was all the rage in Mario Kart
on the SNES. Luckily things change quite a bit when you’re matching up in the Wi-Fi mode as you can take your game against seven other players. Gameplay is only available through Ad-Hoc mode (local system to system wireless) although we’re sure that online gameplay is available through some Wi-Fi tunneling.
We’ve played our share of portable racing games but none of them have ever gone this far to command our attention. After playing Ridge Racer we can never look at portable racing games the same away again. It’s official, the next generation of portable gaming is here.
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