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Ridge Racer Review Rewind


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On 09/09/2015 at 10:15 AM by Jamie Alston

Shifting the 32-bit generation into high gear.
RECOMMENDATION:

For anyone who likes a simple arcade racer with an awesome soundtrack.

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again-- a new video game console is only as strong as its launch titles. Such was the case of the PlayStation when it was released stateside on September 9, 1995. As Sony’s first video game system to go toe-to-toe with Nintendo and Sega, the PlayStation came out swinging with Ridge Racer. Developed by Namco and ported from their arcade machine, the game was early proof that the PlayStation was capable of providing a convincing arcade-like experience at home in a way that simply couldn’t be done on the Super NES, Sega Genesis, or any other 16-bit console. Ridge Racer sent a clear message-- the 32-bit generation was going to be awesome and the PlayStation would lead the way.

For me, it started in the spring/summer of 1995 when I went over a friend's house. He loaded Ridge Racer into his newly-acquired PlayStation and it immediately resonated with me once I saw that polygonal goodness for the first time. But I know what some of you might be thinking-- “why all the fuss over a game that has long since been surpassed by prettier, more robust racing games out there”? -- In short, because the game is still fun to play today.

There are only 4 courses in the game, but they’re enjoyable while they last. The beginner course is a short 2-lap race around the beach with a little bit of mountain scenery. The intermediate course is the same as the previous one, but with 3 laps instead of just two. The expert course is 3 laps with an extra section added on to it with some tight lanes and tricky s-curves to throw you a surprise if you're not familiar with the layout. Finally, there’s a time trial course which is simply a 1-on-1 race with the CPU. With each successive course, your car’s top speed increases as well.

Racing along with you are eleven other cars. Of particular note is the yellow rival car (or red if you chose the yellow car). This is the one you’ll have to look out for while you’re vying for 1st place with everyone else. The rival car is a fairly worthy opponent and can easily overtake you if you miscalculate a critical corner or two. Beginners getting used to the physics of drifting in this game will likely have a hard time staying ahead of the rival in first. But as your skills improve, the rival car will eventually be little more than an annoyance you keep at bay.

Ridge Racer provided a more immersive racing experience with its small, but effective, nuances. The sound of your engine echoed slightly when entering a tunnel. The scenery seamlessly changed from daytime, to dusk, to night, and then back again. Smoothly maneuvering through tough hairpin turns and s-curves garnered a compliment from the announcer watching the competition. Now and then a helicopter swooped in to capture footage of the race as you sped by. After crossing the finish line, you’d see a replay of highlights from the first lap with smooth sweeping camera angles and aerial shots. Best of all, the game ran velvety smooth. It had all the wow-factor it needed to make a lasting impression long after we stopped playing for the day.

While there is much to like about this game, the honest truth is that it still has its fair share of flaws. First and foremost are the “bumper car” physics. It’s all too easy to clip another car from the back or side, which will catapult your opponents ahead by a few feet and force you to lose precious speed and momentum. It totally ruins your strategy when attempting to position your car on tricky turns when there are several cars anywhere near you. It’s a problem that also plagued some of the sequels until later in the series.

Then there’s the lackluster AI. All the CPU cars follow the same predetermined path. They make no real effort to block your approach or seriously outpace you; the only exception being the rival car mentioned earlier. This takes away from some of the challenge and makes it ridiculously easy to reach first place (or close to it) well before the race is over. To be fair, the racing courses themselves become noticeably more challenging when playing the reversed “extra” races. Certain hairpin turns seem to sneak up you since you’re approaching them from the opposite angle of the regular courses.

And while there are 12 cars total you can drive (plus 1 hidden bonus car), only the first four really differ in terms of performance. The other eight just have stats that mimic one of the original four -- made all the more disappointing because the additional cars had interesting designs and decals. It would have been nice to have a richer variety of performance statistics. Fortunately, none of these faults hinder your overall enjoyment of the game.

Maneuvering your car is pretty straightforward, but it does feel a tad bit imprecise when negotiating steep turns due to the drifting physics. If you’ve gotten used to playing more realistic racing games like the Gran Turismo or Forza Motorsport, then you'll need to “reprogram” your brain a bit. Many newcomers will likely find it tricky to smoothly ease off the accelerator, drift through the turn, and resume accelerating again. It’ll take some trial and error before you get it right. You'll also notice that you won't be braking very much around the corners. In fact you really don't need to brake at all. Instead, you'll be drifting through most of the hairpin turns at well over 100 MPH. Is it unrealistic? Sure. It is fun to do anyway? Yes...yes it is.

Granted, playing this on a modern HDTV will make its visual presentation less than praiseworthy-- which for some was still a stretch even on standard definition TVs. Nonetheless, for an early PlayStation game, Ridge Racer featured some impressive graphics with vibrant scenery. You'll first start off the race with a roaring crowd and detailed buildings in the surrounding area. The beach has leaning palm trees, a nice view of the water, and a nearby hotel resort that complements the scenery. You’ll even notice an airplane taking flight now and then throughout the race. There’s also a small overhead highway that rides just above your car as you are nearing the final corner before the finish line. This was all quite impressive for its time. I personally love the smaller details like the billboards advertising some of Namco’s other arcade games.

One final high point for this game was its soundtrack. The music was groundbreaking and unlike anything I had heard on a home console system prior to Ridge Racer. Composed by Shinji Hosoe, all 6 songs well captured the shifting landscape of video game music. Some highlights for me were self-titled “Ridge Racer” track with its Seinfeld-esque bass guitar and airy synths, “Rare Hero” and its buzzy bassline, and “Rhythm Shift” featuring a basic techno beat with simplistic vocals. I’d be remiss not the mention zany gabber track that plays during the replay footage. Granted, these genres of music won’t appeal to everyone, but it can’t be denied that it was perfect for the fast-paced feeling the game conveys.

There is very little that was missed in the overall presentation of this game. It’s fun and not too difficult to master once enough time is spent with it. However, Ridge Racer was more than just a successful arcade port from the talented team at Namco. It was the poster-child for what the 32-bit console gaming experience should be. If you’re a PlayStation fan, you owe it to yourself to get your hands on this historical landmark of a game. And once you've mastered its mechanics, you'll come away feeling like “one genius of a driver.”

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:


All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.


These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.


This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.


Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.


Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.


A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.


 

Comments

Cary Woodham

09/09/2015 at 08:53 PM

My dad really liked playing Ridge Racer when it was first in arcades.  In fact, many years later when I was playing Ridge Racer 64, he walked by and said, "Hey, is that Ridge Racer?"  I was impressed that he recognized the game just by looking at the screen because he usually wouldn't be able to do that.

I didn't get into Ridge Racer right away.  I didn't get a PlayStation until it had already been out for nearly two years, so I missed out on a lot of the launch titles and early games.  But many years later, when Ridge Racer Type 4 came out, I still couldn't get it because i was a poor college student.  But shortly after graduating and getting a little more money, I found R4 really cheap and bought it.  From then on I was hooked.  I got many of the older Ridge Racer games on the PlayStation that came out before it, but not the very first one because R4 came with a bonus disc that had the first game on it with a better framerate.

From then on I would get all other Ridge Racer games, but I would usually wait until the price went down a little bit before getting them.  I love the arcadey feel and the fact that you are drivng cars with Pac-Man, Galaga, Dig Dug, and Mappy on them.  You know how I'm a big Namco classic junkie.  I even find the Ridge Racer lady funny even though she's pretty useless. 

Anyway, very good article. If you get a chance, I'd like to encourage you to read my blog and check out my PAX Prime articles at GamerDad.  I took a lot of neat pictures and played a lot of cool games!

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

09/10/2015 at 12:29 PM

Hey Cary, much like you, I didn't get my own PlayStation until about two years or so after it was released.  I remember getting the console at around the same time that the DualShock analog controller came bundled with the system and price dropped to around $130.  And I didn't actually own Ridge racer until another year or so after then.  But man I had so much fun playing over my friend's house back it first came out.

Also, Ridge Racer Type 4 is my favorite game in the RR series. I don't think Namco ever quite reached the same level of cool and suave since that game. I remember when my brother brought home R4 and and we saw the opening intro, I thought they gave him the wrong game for a second or two because looked so awesome and I didn't think it was a Ridge racer game at first.

Thanks for reading the review!  I'll be aure to check out your Pax articles too man.

Cary Woodham

09/10/2015 at 08:30 PM

Yeah R4 is still the best.  But I did play a lot of RRV and Ridge Racers on the PSP, too.  And RR64 was pretty decent as well.

VisuaLIES

09/10/2015 at 02:18 AM

Yep, there's a reason that Forza 6 has an homage to Ridge Racer in its new commercial.  The game really brought racing games out of arcades and back to the console.  I still remember the elation I felt when I finally beat the Devil car.  And Rage Racer and Ridge Racer Type 4 were awesome in their own right.

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

09/10/2015 at 12:32 PM

Yes dude...I agree 100%.  I made sure to get every game in teh PSOne Ridge Racer series because each of them are fun to play and few racing game could compare in pure fun factor.  And yes...beating that Devil car was a major accomplishment for me back in the day.  Ironically, I can't seem to beat him now that I'm trying again years later.  Hey, did you ever beat the Angle car in Ridge Racer Revolution?

I didn't know there was homage to Ridge racer in the Forza 6 commercial.  I'll have to check that out.

VisuaLIES

09/11/2015 at 12:48 AM

I either didn't buy Ridge Racer Revolution, or I traded it in shortly after I got it, because it wasn't much different than the first one.  I think I beat the Angel car, though my memory is hazy.  I remember unlocking it, but maybe there was a cheat?

I bought every main Ridge Racer entry except 6, which was Xbox 360 exclusive (and I was a late adopter), and because 7 for PS3 was pretty much the same game I think.  I also skipped the Vita game because microtransactions.  The PSP game was great because it had tracks from all the earlier games..

Matt Snee Staff Writer

09/10/2015 at 07:07 AM

I like that sort of psone era 3D graphics.  makes me nostalgic.

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

09/10/2015 at 12:34 PM

Me too.  I totally don't mind playing these PSOne games on my HDTV.  Just makes me remember the good 'ol days.

SanAndreas

09/10/2015 at 11:16 AM

I always preferred Daytona USA over Ridge Racer, but given the platforms they were tied to, Ridge Racer won out. Same thing with Virtua Fighter (which I preferred) versus Tekken. The former game was a lot more polished than the latter game.

What did impress me about Daytona and Ridge Racer was the sense of speed and smoothness in 3-D graphics. It was like nothing I'd ever seen. Those games were both leaps and bounds over Cruis'n USA, which was Nintendo's/Midway's competitor to Ridge Racer and Daytona (Nintendo's real racing gem, however, was the perfectly competent Wave Race 64).  I kind of miss the days when arcades, primarily through Namco, Sega, and Midway, were proving grounds for home video game technology.

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

09/10/2015 at 12:36 PM

Yeah, times have definitely changed now.  Back in the mid and later '90s, if Namco, Midway, or Sega were behind and arcade game, there was a good that it was awesome and would get a home console release.

Alex-C25

09/14/2015 at 10:37 PM

I even read this very review back on 1up since I think it's one of your older ones.

Great review overall. Definitely wants to make try it and much of the rest of the series since my only exposure so far has been the PSP game, which I think it's pretty good. I also love some of that music.

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

09/15/2015 at 12:41 PM

Yeah, this is one of my ealier reviews from the 1Up days. But I did some heavy editing to make it flow better this time though.

Glad you enjoyed the review.

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