It has to have been around twenty years since I last played Ridge Racer on the beloved PlayStation. While the arcade original has all the graphics and the framerates and whatnot, it is the PlayStation port (in the form of the Platinum re-release, if memory serves) that I picture when tasked with imagining what Ridge Racer is.
Graceful (ish) drifting, bright colours and patented loading screen mini-games in the form of Galaga... I can't wait to race around some ridges.
There is only one car worth driving in Ridge Racer, though I say that because I don't recall ever unlocking any more cars, and I certainly haven't improved on my childhood performance with this more recent play through.
Cars have different handling stats, and transmission options are available for those who want them, but Ridge Racer really wants you to just dive into one of the many trac- ugh, well, one of the many variations of the same track it has, tasking you with finishing first or losing.
Revving like a maniac from the start isn't a good idea, you remember, as the other cars scream ahead of you from the start grid. The city streets are transformed into a race circuit that has you sweeping down highways, across bridges, along waterfronts and through construction sites. Why there's a perfectly serviceable road meandering through a construction site, I don't know, but it's there.
Different tracks even mix up the lighting from lap to lap, in an early kind of day/night or weather cycle. Sure, it looks a bit garish, but after slogging through the Beginner circuit, the rays of the yellow sunrise bouncing off the entire top half of the screen make you sit up and pay attention - Ridge Racer is a little bit of a looker.
Important to note is that these third person views aren't present in the arcade original, where a low first person view is all you get. It adds to the sense of speed on the straights, but when you start drifting you need to beware of a potential panic on your hands.
I'm not quite sure how to pull off the perfect drift - it mostly just happens for me, though successfully navigating the exit and not immediately hitting the nearest wall is an issue that I need to work on - but it feels fantastic. Seeing your car slide on its own, controlled and purposeful, is excellent, especially when it all goes to plan. I even managed to drift my car model some 110 degrees or so around a corner in the construction site. No idea how that worked, but it was mighty impressive, going backwards around a corner.
Impressive to see, but only when it goes well. Thankfully, Ridge Racer doesn't have crash physics, because I'd have stacked the car quite early on. Instead, I bumped and bounced off nearly every wall there was while trying to get into the grove with the steering sensitivity - probably caused by using an Xbox analogue stick via emulation rather than the digital PlayStation D-pad of the 1990s. That and the lack of practice. And skill. You know all my excuses by now.
Ridge Racer feels a little small, but then I am comparing it to the massive scale of racing games these days, I suppose. With one track and only variations of it to race on, you'll have to stick around and unlock the reverse and mirror-mode courses to breathe a bit of life into the game.
By that point, you'll have some extra cars to play with too, at which point it might be a great little game. For me, though, it's a bit samey. Once you've seen one billboard for Starblade, you've seen them all.
|Eat your heart out, Gran Turismo photo mode...|
The great thing about my fondness for this PlayStation port is that the arcade Ridge Racer is even better. Smoother, faster, more lifelike and more arcadey at the same time. It perhaps doesn't have the legs to keep your interest, unless you really like nailing the perfect lap on the same course over and over again, but in some ways, that's what racing is.
It was a highlight of my early video gaming childhood, but things quickly took off and overtook Ridge Racer, and I can't wait for those games to come up in that list.
When asked what the hardest element of Ridge Racer to port to the PlayStation was, Yozo Sakagami replied 'the experience of driving a car'.
Ridge Racer, developed by Namco, first released in 1993.
Version played: PlayStation, 1995, via emulation and childhood memories.
Version watched: Arcade, 1993 (Fatalita, Skeleton videogame and arcade's channel, VCDECIDE)