They say that the only certain things in life are death and taxes, but you can just as easily add Ridge Racer popping up alongside the launch of a new system to that list. It seems that whenever new hardware is made available, Namco Bandai is there to take advantage of the opportunity to be in the launch lineup. This time around, they're offering up Ridge Racer 3D, which manages to be a competent, entertaining title that takes full advantage of the 3DS' signature gimmick.
The setup of Ridge Racer 3D will be instantly familiar to those who follow the series, as the title continues the tradition of providing racers with a collection of non-licensed cars to take out on a series of classic tracks, as well as a few new ones. The game also retains its arcade-inspired stylings, putting high-octane nitrous boosts and huge drifts through ridiculous corners front and center. Those who want a touch of realism with their racing need not apply, but anyone who's familiar with the Ridge Racer lineage already knows exactly what they're getting; there's no reason to come down harshly on a game that is only staying true to its identity. Indeed, the sideways racing and super-powered rocket cars are a refreshing break in an era when most games strive for inordinate amounts of realism.
Ridge Racer 3D sports the most impressive use of the new handheld's signature three-dimensional effect. The tracks feel much more lifelike as they whiz past at breakneck speed, and fun little touches such as cherry blossoms or droplets of water flying into (and very nearly out of) the screen add a great deal to the experience. While some games don't seem to understand how to properly take advantage of 3-D presentation, Namco Bandai has really hit the nail on the head with this title.
It's disappointing then that the rest of the game's visual palette falls so flat. Turn off the 3-D effect (or even look past it at the game itself), and you'll find a lot of blocky tracks and ugly cars that don't really measure up. The title can't compete visually with even early handheld titles in the series, which is a bit of a surprise. It seems that the development team might have used the inclusion of 3-D as a crutch, focusing all their efforts on making that effect pop so as to draw attention away from the other, less-impressive aspects of the game's presentation.
Another 3DS-specific feature Ridge Racer 3D capitalizes on is the StreetPass function, allowing users to wirelessly pass ghost data to one another. It's very cool to start up a race and see the doppelganger of another competitor pop up on-screen. Obviously, one's ability to take advantage of this feature is contingent on finding other Ridge Racer-playing 3DS owners, but those who do will be in for quite a fun treat.
Another feather in the game's cap is the extensive amount of content, as the Grand Prix races alone can easily soak up 15 hours of your time. Races start off simple and restricted to one car type, but over time, players will unlock a stupendous selection of tracks and vehicles of many varieties. Add single races, versus match-ups and more, and you've got a very rich experience that will keep players entertained for a very long time.
Though many of the franchise's more positive traits have made it into the latest game, some of its more negative aspects have come along for the ride as well. Chief among them are the grating, irritating announcers that seem to exist for no other reason than to tempt you into hurling your brand-new $250 handheld in frustration even when you're winning a race. The overly peppy female commentator is particularly vexing, as she'll often chide you for not driving fast enough the moment the race starts. I suppose in the Ridge Racer world, cars are supposed to go from 0-100 in 0.0003 seconds.
The game's soundtrack, while nowhere near as problematic as its announcers, is quite underwhelming. The series is known for some very catchy tunes and incredible rock anthems, but none of that really shows up here. Instead, we're left with generic guitar rock that is equal measures bland and predictable. The music may be inoffensive, but it's also quite boring.
The last issue which may irritate some players is the fact that since this is an arcade-style racing game, it's absolutely chock full of rubber-band AI to make competitions feel more exciting than they have any right to be. Don't ever expect to pull away from the pack, as there's always someone on your tail, and the game seems to weirdly forget about all the other cars in a race aside from the one you're battling at that exact moment. It almost feels like when you pass someone and get clear of him, he just ceases to exist.
When it comes down to it, Ridge Racer 3D is a familiar comfort that new 3DS owners can turn to if they want a safe launch game that they're likely to enjoy. The action is virtually unchanged from every other game in the series, but it's still quite fun, and the added 3-D effect is extremely impressive. If you want to show off the cool 3DS tech to friends, then this is a game where you can't go wrong. In spite of its flaws, Ridge Racer 3D is definitely one of the bright spots of the 3DS launch lineup.
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