Namco’s Ridge Racer series and I have a long history.
Nearly 16 years ago, I played Ridge Racer for the first time on an import PlayStation unit at an independent game store. I was hooked almost instantly. It’s not that Ridge Racer necessarily did anything different than other racing games that I’d played before, but it was colorful, fast, and the music stayed in my head long after my play session came to an end. I knew from that night on that I would be spending $300 on a PlayStation come September 9th, 1995… and that was only the beginning.
I’ve played almost every Ridge Racer game since. Ridge Racer Revolution was decent but felt more like an extension of the original when it debuted in 1996. Rage Racer followed in 1997, and it was a stark contrast to the earlier games as earning money for winning races and choosing the right car for each race were much different than the straight arcade style that the Ridge Racer games were known for previously. Ridge Racer Type 4 made tweaks yet again with the Real Racing Roots ’99 campaign, improved visuals (like taillight streaks), and a jazz-infused soundtrack that still rates as one of the best around. I still own all of these, save for the original Ridge Racer, which I’m hoping makes its way onto the PlayStation Store at some point.
When I bought my PlayStation 2 in 2001, Ridge Racer V was one of the games I got at the same time, along with NHL 2001, SSX, and Swing Away Golf. Ridge Racer V was a big jump in terms of graphics for the series, and the return of the original Ridge Racer course with a new coat of visual paint was amazing to behold. The lighting effects blew me away and the framerate had been greatly improved over the 30fps from the original PlayStation title. These visual improvements didn’t get in the way of classic Ridge Racer gameplay, which was very important. The interesting story mode was gone, in favor of a return to a more arcade-style feel, but Ridge Racer V felt like a return home for a franchise that had undergone changes for the previous two installments– and that was fine by me.
Getting an Xbox 360 and a PlayStation 3 over the course of this console generation, I bought Ridge Racer 6 and Ridge Racer 7, respectively. I wasn’t initially a fan of the new focus on drifting and gaining nitrous boosts, but it grew on me. The visuals were improved once again, and seeing Ridge City in high definition was– and still is– jaw-dropping. I still own all three of these games, as well. As with Ridge Racer V, there were nostalgic nods to previous games in the series. Music tracks from past games were available for download. The infamous Ridge Racer helicopter looked better than ever, as did the original Ridge Racer course– which was beautiful in its familiarity. Ridge Racer 6‘s World Explorer mode was an interesting way to approach single-player racing and the accent on collecting cars was reminiscent of Ridge Racer Type 4. I prefer Ridge Racer 7, if only because it feels like a more complete version of Ridge Racer 6 and the ability to adjust and tune vehicle parts was welcome.
When I found out that Ridge Racer 3D was going to be a launch title for the Nintendo 3DS, I knew that I had to have it… even though I really didn’t know what to expect from it. Screenshots weren’t exactly promising,, but I was still excited. The prospect of Ridge Racer in 3D was admittedly pretty cool, and I had faith that we wouldn’t see a disastrous effort like we’d seen with Ridge Racer DS… which was a sloppy port of an already-weak game in Ridge Racer 64. In a sea of average launch titles, I had hope that I could count on Ridge Racer 3D to be a good complement to Super Street Fighter IV.
Then… I played it. A lot.
Ridge Racer 3D won’t win any awards for technical achievement. The frame rate returns to the the PlayStation’s familiar 30fps and lots of visual touches that we’ve been accustomed to seem to be missing. The game really doesn’t do much to break the mold that was set by the others in the series, but it’s still a fantastic experience and was meant for me, the Ridge Racer fanatic. It’s all about fan service, and Namco delivers it in spades with this game. Bits and pieces of many of the games that I mentioned earlier are here: classic race circuits, classic music, and classic gameplay. Car models aren’t all that detailed, but seeing them approach (or blow by you) in 3D is pretty amazing. Seeing tracks from Ridge Racer Revolution, Rage Racer, and even variations of tracks from Ridge Racer 6 makes me smile. Music tracks from older games join with new creations to fill the soundtrack, and the built-in psuedo-surround effect from the 3DS’ speakers adds to the quality. The Grand Prix progression is a cross between Rage Racer and Ridge Racer 7 as points are used to buy new vehicles and upgrades. The gameplay is pure Ridge Racer, no matter whether you use the D-pad or the analog disc, as you tear around the track and deftly drift through corners and hammer the gas to straighten out. There is an option to drift “on demand” with a button press, similar to Tokyo Highway Battle, but series veterans not only won’t need this… but they won’t want it.
The formula feels similar to what Namco did with its Ridge Racer release for the PSP, but with a 3D coating. The experience is pretty long; a couple of hours into the game, I’m only just now unlocking the second tier of cars with more power and speed. I’m aiming to turn in a review for Gaming Nexus, but may do one here as well. What I can say, even at this early stage, is that Ridge Racer 3D is already my favorite 3DS game and looks to stay that way for at least a few more weeks.
Thank you, Namco, for giving me the game that I didn’t know I wanted.