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Review

Ridge Racer (PS Vita)Ridge Racer (PS Vita)

Namcoís Ridge Racer has once again taken its traditional place on the starting line of a console launch alongside Sonyís PS Vita hardware, This edition emphasizes online gameplay with its extensive downloadable content, web-based racing modes and sharing abilities. These features are intuitive, adding more challenging competition to the game. Once you get on the road, it plays very similarly to previous titles, even featuring tracks and cars seen in previous games. Its predictable, but satisfying with excellent production values and visuals. These features create a fairly impressive showcase on the handheld with its traditional gameplay mechanics delivering the solid racing action players have come to expect along with some interesting new features.

Namcoís Ridge Racer has once again taken its traditional place on the starting line of a console launch alongside Sonyís PS Vita hardware, This edition emphasizes online gameplay with its extensive downloadable content, web-based racing modes and sharing abilities. These features are intuitive, adding more challenging competition to the game. Once you get on the road, it plays very similarly to previous titles, even featuring tracks and cars seen in previous games. Its predictable, but satisfying with excellent production values and visuals. These features create a fairly impressive showcase on the handheld with its traditional gameplay mechanics delivering the solid racing action players have come to expect along with some interesting new features.

The traditional arcade racing Ridge Racer provides has proven a reliable staple of gaming over the years and this latest installment doesnít diverge too far from the familiar. You have the usual selection of high-powered sports racing cars, a good selection of classic courses and a number of familiar music tracks to accompany the action. As usual, the emphasis is on speed and drifting, where the strategy is to maximize your acceleration as you race against the clock. Other racers are competing as well and you need to find an advantage. This comes in two forms, the first is mastering the drifting technique, where you drop off the gas pedal, slide around corners and accelerate into the stretch. Doing this builds up your vehicleís nitrous cans, which can be unleashed to give you a quick burst of speed. Ridge Racer on the Vita offers a number of gameplay modes, which include standard races, time attack modes with either lap or full races offered and several extensive online modes. You begin with a fairly standard set of vehicles, which are gradually upgraded in terms of speed as you compete and win races. Players also earn credits that they can use to purchase upgrade kits, such as enhanced nitrous and other enhancements that can be used to increase the vehicleís grip around corners or fill their nitrous quicker. The gameís single player modes are fairly challenging, but the computer AI can become predictable. Once you begin to earn enough upgrades, the game becomes much easier as your more powerful vehicles blow right past the competition early in the race. It makes the single player mode fun, but not as difficult as it could be.

In order to have real competition in Ridge Racer, your best route is to compete with other players online in the Planetary League. This worldwide racing mode is the primary online component in Ridge Racer. This mode allows you to compete against other players either locally using the Vitaís Near function, or online in ad-hoc mode. When you start the game, youíre given a team to join, there are four in all. Each player is then assigned an online card with their stats, game level, experience points and other information that can be called up. When you log in each day, a new competition is unlocked, and you can gain points for your team when you beat these objectives. These can include racing against other team members or joining forces with members of other teams to defeat a rival. Winning individual races also adds to your score, and these can include a variety of modes including standard races, time attack and lap based races. Additional online content includes replays of fast races, interviews with top drivers and updates on tournaments. Setting up lobbies and competitions is a fairly simple and straightforward task that lets you decide the rules, who youíll invite and other variables. Once youíve logged in to the race and begin driving, the competitions generally unfold with little lag, making them equal the intensity of solo races. Overall, the online mode is definitely one worth pursuing and is one of Ridge Racerís high points. It uses the Vitaís functionality perfectly, with a transparent interface thatís easy to navigate and a number of online modes which extend the titleís replay value significantly.

One of the more controversial elements of Ridge Racer is its online downloadable content (DLC) which has annoyed players. The game ships naked with only three playable cars and five tracks, which seems really empty, despite its lower than average price tag. This is kind of a strange decision, but Namco-Bandai has alleviated this somewhat with an online pass that allows you to download a bunch of extra content, including additional courses, tracks and tons of extra music for free. So far, the online DLC has nearly doubled the content that comes on the game card and while it might be annoying, its something players will probably have to accept. Its not the most convenient form of adding content, and unlocking by playing is a preferable solution, but since most of the content available is essentially free so far, the complaints should be minimized. On the subject of the game, it hasnít been affected by this system. Downloading and installing is a fairly automated process that doesnít take too long, so itís a fairly painless way to ease players into what is likely to be an online, digital download future.

Ridge Racer has always been a benchmark when it comes to showcasing new hardware and as a good comparison, we played through the last Ridge Racer on the PSP to make some comparisons. The original game looks a little palid compared to the new one, with the
Vista showcasing vastly improved levels of detail in its textures, giving the game play a far more realistic look on Vita than the PSP. From a special effects standpoint, light-sourcing is much more prominently used on the Vita game and it gives the courses a very good shine. Most importantly, the frame rate is significantly higher this time around and the increased sense of speed between the platforms is immediately noticeable. You canít make to many judgments as to whether the game fully uses the Vitaís powers, since most of its content is derived from earlier games, but its definitely an impressive effort and makes the game a solid showpiece for the new handheld.  

Another key element of the game that needs to be explained are its controls. You can use a fairly traditional interface with the analog stick and button combinations or use some of the PS Vitaís touch features. Pressing on the screen quickly gives you a rear view look on the action, while the back touch can be used to either upshift or downshift when you have manual transmission active. Players can also choose to bypass these controls entirely as well, and use the classic Ridge Racer controls with the d-pad and face buttons, which should come as a relief to those looking for a more traditional interface. The main menus are also fully touch enabled, allowing you to change options and unlock modes with the swipe of a finger, giving at least these elements of the game a modern feel. Overall, Ridge Racerís presentation is very good, but these evolutionary uses of touch screen controls feel more like nods to current technology.

Ridge Racer on the Vita doesnít reinvent the genre it pioneered, but itís still a solid game that delivers the arcade-style action players have come to expect from the series. It has some impressive visuals and its presentation is fairly slick. The lack of levels and cars at the outset is compensated by a fairly robust set of online content thatís currently free to download. While this fact is annoying, those who enjoy this type of game will be pleased to know that its gameplay and mechanics remain solid and entertaining. Ridge Racerís online modes add some replay value to the game, along with upgrade paths for its vehicle lineup. While it wonít win many awards for originality or innovation, the classic Ridge Racerís straightforward racing and mechanics remain appealing after all these years. Despite a somewhat constrained selection of courses and vehicles, itís still fun to play. In the end, the gameplay counts most and this is an entertaining and occasionally invigorating game that shows off the new hardware effectively.

Ė Michael Palisano

Grade: B

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