Release Date: March 21, 2005
Buy 'RIDGE RACER': PSP
A Ridge Racer title has been available with the release of every Sony system, becoming a tradition of sorts. The version for the PSP lives up to the expected quality for Namco and Sony, as well as showing off the abilities of Sony's new handheld toy. Ridge Racer is the trendsetter for the new generation of handhelds.
Ridge Racer is a graphical treat, coming as a wonderful surprise for new owners of the PSP. From my previous experience with handhelds from Nintendo, I never expected quality to match this, and I believe that all but the most ardent Nintendo fan boy will accept the superiority of the PSP over the DS. Seeing the sunshine on the road at sunset as I drifted through the turns sometimes caused me to spin out of control due to the sheer beauty of it.
Containing new material and classics from earlier versions of Ridge Racer, this game rocks hard. The music has a wonderful selection of driving tunes, making me wish for copies to play while I drive my car to work, avoiding the temptation to drift through the corners. (I live in NASCAR country, and we like to draft all the way to work.) Add in the screeching tires and the wise-cracking voice of the announcer, and we have a wonderful audio experience for any driver out there. The game allows the player to set a particular musical number for each race track. The music is grouped together into records, which have a random play per each record, as well as random play for all of the tracks. Players can also select any of the tracks right before a race starts, in addition to the ability to play songs while watching cars race. It would be nice if the player could change songs during a race, though.
While the graphics are excellent and the background music is wonderful, how does the game play? Ridge Racer is a well-rounded racer, especially for a handheld system. The controls are about average and are slightly better on some of the alternative configurations. The PSP suffers from the control buttons being too close together, which can affect the enjoyment of the title. Playing with the shift controls being the shoulder buttons is a better option, but that still seems a little cramped. However, I did think that the original Xbox controllers were just the right size, so perhaps the PSP's button configuration won't have the same effect on you.
There are two ways cars are defined in this title, by their class and drift qualities. The class refers to their speed, ranging from one to six and a "special" class. As the class number goes up, so does the top speed of the car. Meanwhile, the drift qualities are mild (drives like a brick, good at low speeds), standard (decent, middle-of-the-road), dynamic (very good at high speed, but easy to mess up), and special (something like mild at low speeds and dynamic at high). The special class has its own rules and takes it little practice to get used to, but hands down, the best car has to be the Pac Man car.
Driving the cars has a slight learning curve, mostly with figuring out how to drift through the corners; drifting is really important to this game, with the nitrous boost tied to it. Furthermore, the driver can help mitigate the loss of speed through the curves with some skill. The factor that a player has to watch out for, however, is hitting things because although this title does not utilize a damage model, the speed loss will hurt the player significantly. Worse than that, hitting one of the opponents' cars will cause a speed transfer. So, if the player is going 100 and the opponent is an old lady in a walker going 0.5mph, then after a collision, we have a really fast old lady.
With 12 reversible tracks, there is a decent level of playability for a handheld, and the nice thing is that the races are relatively short, clocking in at about five minutes each. The tracks vary from pretty straight runs to races with more twists than a pretzel factory.
There are four modes of play: World Tours, Single Race, Time Attack, and Wireless Battle. World Tours have their classes (beginner, professional, and expert), with each class consisting of two to six races. The great part of the tours is that if the player loses a race, it does not require the player to beat the previously won races, which is nice. Also, the races within the tour require a certain position to be achieved in order to move on to the next. The later races tend to require a lower position, like the last race of the tour requiring a first place finish. Single Race requires little explanation, Time Attack is like running a race without any competing cars, and Wireless Battle is a race against other players with PSPs. Additionally, the game has the original Rally X arcade game as a mini-game, which I remember from the arcades back in '86.
Ridge Racer is a great driving game for the PSP, and I would recommend it to any owner. Connoisseurs of the genre will love this title, but most players will respect and enjoy it. Ridge Racer is one of the must-have handheld titles, and the fast action, driving soundtrack, and wonderful graphics are a real treat.
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