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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

Ridge Racer (PSP)


By Michael Palisano

Injecting the PSP launch with an incredible adrenaline rush, Namco's brilliant Ridge Racer features more than 20 different courses from many previous Ridge Racer titles. The game's new World Tour mode offers a stunning amount of depth and challenge. From a visual standpoint, RR-PSP shows off the console's light sourcing brilliantly, with high-definition wide-screen visuals that are breathtaking in their realism and beauty. The gameplay is classic Ridge Racer, with a twist. The new Nitrous boosts add a new level of strategy and keep things feeling fresh. Ridge Racer is an incredible showpiece for the PSP with incredible graphics, addictive gameplay and some clever twists that make it one of the best launch titles for the system.

As players have come to expect from Sony hardware launches over the past decade, Namco has once again provided early adopters with a sterling launch title in the form of Ridge Racer for the new PSP handheld. While not a true sequel, more of a compilation of tracks from previous games with a few new levels for a total of 24 tracks in all, which is the most in the series to date. The tracks include courses from every title in the series, including fan favorites Rage Racer and Ridge Racer Type 4. In addition to the home games, Ridge Racer also includes areas from the arcade title Rage Racer, whose tracks have never been seen in any home console to date until now. While these are old tracks, it's important to note that each of these classic tracks have been re-done and freshly rendered to fully take advantage of the PSP's power, making them feel fresh and new. Players will immediately be drawn in by the game's slick visuals and fast, accessible gameplay, but there's much more under the surface. The first thing veteran RR fans will notice is that the gameplay definitely has the classic Ridge Racer feel, with the tight controls and drift maneuvers that have become the series' trademark very much in evidence. The breathtaking speed and competitive races are also here. However, there's a twist this time in the form of a new Nitrous speed boost system. As the player performs drift moves, the Nitrous indicator fills up, and when it's been completely filled, the player can press the right shift button to give their car a boost for a few seconds. This also causes a cool blurring effect on the screen, which adds to the intensity and dramatic effect. Nitrous definitely changes the feel of the game slightly, but doesn't ruin the balance since the speed boosts are comparatively minor. Earning a speed boost won't automatically win a race, but can shave a few seconds off your lap time, or allow you to overtake an opponent with little effort.

Beyond the new Nitrous power-ups, what really impresses is the opponents' AI and challenge. The aggression level of the rival cars depends on which level you're playing. In the beginning, your opponents are pushovers, while later on, the game offers you very little room for error. While the racing is always exciting, things gradually get more interesting and challenging as you progress with faster vehicles and more challenging opponents. The game balance is excellent throughout, and the little touches make for an addictive game that's quite challenging. For example, passing opponents early on is quite simple since they don't offer a lot of resistance, but more difficult foes will block you and perform evasive maneuvers, making it much harder to move up the ranks. Players will also have to master the layout of each track, with the tracks becoming progressively more difficult with harder curves, and few straights. As always, the track designs are impeccable, offering an excellent balance between technical and speed courses. These kinds of incremental changes in difficulty and aggressiveness are what makes each race so challenging and addictive.

As you'd expect from the series, the controls in Ridge Racer are excellent, with the vehicles' performance and handling superbly translated onto the PSP's controls. Using the standard d-pad offers excellent agility and simplicity that allows for true pick up and play mechanics. The PSP's analog 'nub' is a decent alternative, though to be honest, it does take a bit of getting used to. Once accustomed to it's placement and somewhat quirky feel, he nub's performance is excellent however, and gives the player a decent sense of control. Players can also select from first or third person views. While the third-person view allows you to place your car better on the track and avoid skidding against walls, the PSP's 16:9 widescreen ratio screen allows for superb peripheral vision, making this choice more a matter of personal preference than how these affect in-game performance.

Ridge Racer offers a number of conventional racing modes such as Single Race, Time Attack and Arcade modes. These modes are quite enjoyable, and offer players the chance to really get a feel for the controls and drifting techniques before they move onto more challenging areas. You better be sure to fine-tune your skills in the single player modes, because Ridge Racer supports Wi-Fi play using the connectivity features of the PSP. These modes are called Wireless Battles, and the game supports up to 8 players at once. Signing up and setting up a game is relatively simple - you can choose to play directly against other PSP's close by using the ad-hoc mode, or go online and battle players on the internet in Infrastructure mode. You can choose what racing type you want to join, and what racing parameters that will be used in each race. Once you've located other players, you can race against them in a number of racing classes, courses and modes. This is cool feature demonstrates how easy and accessible online play is going to be for the handheld in the future. In addition, Ridge Racer also has depth and includes an impressive World Tour Mode where you can compete in a series of races that unlock more tours, vehicles, and tracks when won. A super-slick Matrix-style opening explains the basics for those unfamiliar with tournament structures. The game's structure is perfect for a handheld system because it allows you to jump in and out for a quick race, while offering more depth if you are playing for an extended period. Players start the game with a limited number of vehicles and classes, but can unlock more than 50 vehicles in all once they've completed all the World Tour Mode. This gives you a strong motivation to keep playing and success opens up even more features.

Ridge Racer offers everything you'd expect from the series, but what's unexpected about it is the game's unbelievable graphic quality and polish evident throughout. Obviously, Ridge Racer's visuals benefit immensely from the PSP's sharp and amazingly crisp screen which showcases the level of detail and care that's gone into the game. The graphical polish is evident immediately. Beginning with the startlingly elaborate opening cinema and continuing with the sleek menus and interface, everything has a polished, futuristic sheen that gives Ridge Racer a cohesive feel that rivals even the most elaborate console titles. While many of the classic courses have returned, each has been re-rendered and look absolutely stunning with new light-sourcing and vastly improved rendering giving trackside objects a stunning appearance. Beautiful lighting effects give each track a natural, realistic feel with a startling amount of polish. Even though Ridge Racer sports fantasy vehicles, the car models are amazingly detailed, with each sporting a beautiful finish highlighted by excellent reflection and shadow effects on both the cars and the road surfaces. Watching the road glisten is amazing, this is definitely a current generation console-level effect that's all the more impressive considering it's occuring on such a small device.

As players have come to expect from the series, the music remains one of the driving forces of Ridge Racer's lasting appeal. The PSP edition features several dozen tracks, most of which are excellent. The tracks are split into different 'discs' that group the tracks by type and genre. The music ranges from techno to drum n' bass which mostly fit the feel and mood of things perfectly. Players will also find a number of classic Ridge tunes as well as a number of slick remixes. Ridge Racer's hyper announcer is back, but this time he seems to have had a bit of a hip-hop make-over, which when combined with the new Nitrous feature, gives this version of RR a slightly more 'Underground' feel, which contributes to a refreshingly contemporary feel without losing the essence of what's made the series so appealing.

Namco's reputation as one of the premier developers around will only be enhanced when players get their hands on Ridge Racer. This accomplished, highly-polished racer features some of the slickest visuals to date, and actually outclasses the last PS2 installment (the forgettable R: Racing Evolution) in terms of visual splendor Once you get past the eye-candy, you'll discover a surprisingly deep racing title with plenty of engrossing gameplay modes, Wi-Fi support, plus tons of tracks and vehicles to race. Fans of the series will love the updated classic tracks and music, but even if you haven't played any of the previous titles in the series, you'll find Ridge Racer offers one of the best racing experiences on a handheld to date - and even exceeds many console racers in terms of overall quality, addictiveness and sheer entertainment value. This is a brilliant new beginning for the series, and a must-have for any PSP owner looking for a shining example of the handheld's potential.

Grade: A

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