I wasn’t originally planning to cover the PSP titles in the Ridge Racer series, but after being well and truly glued to them for the last week there’s no way I can’t say something about them.
Known as Ridge Racers in Japan, the two PSP games are almost identical to one another, so we’ll be taking them as a single “unit” today. The main difference between the two releases is that the confusingly named Ridge Racer 2 has more tracks than its PSP-launching predecessor — most notably incorporating all of Ridge Racer Type 4’s circuits instead of just two — plus a few additional single-player modes, including the return of a “checkpoints and countdown”-style arcade mode of the type that hasn’t been seen since Ridge Racer Revolution.
Other than that, they’re pretty much the same game. It’s fortunate, then, that they’re pretty much the same brilliant game.
Both PSP games follow series tradition by opening with a playable classic Namco arcade game — in this case New Rally-X. After that, we’re treated to a cinematic intro sequence in which Reiko Nagase puts in her first appearance in the series since her short hiatus for Ridge Racer V, and then we’re into the game proper.
The meat of the two PSP games comes in the form of World Tours mode. Here, each of the series of tours you’re presented with gives you a set of tracks to play through, with the qualifying position required to clear them gradually increasing as the tour progresses. By the end of each tour, you’ll have to come in first place, though in the earlier stages you can generally get away with fourth or a podium finish depending on the overall length of the tour.
The “Chances” mechanic from Rage Racer, Type 4 and V has been abandoned, so failing a race just allows you to immediately retry as many times as you wish. You can also choose to abandon a tour partway and pick up from where you left off later if you so desire, and since the game features non-linear progression, generally unlocking several new tours at a time, you can take on another challenge if you find yourself, say, stuck on the final race of a particular tour.
These games are some of the most handheld-friendly games ever created. A typical Ridge Racer race takes no more than six or seven minutes tops, even on the longest courses, and the fact you can stop playing a tour partway through is eminently friendly to those playing on the go. But the convenience doesn’t stop there; it also incorporates an excellent “Custom Tour” mode in which you tell the game how many minutes you want to play for and which “class” of cars you’d like to drive, and it will then pick a selection of tracks for you to fill the time you have available. Genius — and a great way to give the game longevity once you’ve finished its structured content.
Completing tours generally unlocks new cars for classes ahead of where you are, and much like in the later Ridge Racer 6 and 7 they are split into three main types according to your preferred driving style: Dynamic cars are hard to control but allow for rapid directional changes; Mild cars are the opposite, proving harder to throw into a drift and handling somewhat like the old “Grip” type cars from V and earlier; Standard cars are somewhere in between, with the handling following the model established in V, where releasing the accelerator as you steer around a corner causes you to slide your back end gracefully out.
Handling in the races is absolutely sublime, even when using the PSP’s digital D-pad in preference to that horrible analogue nub. Drifting around corners is an absolute delight, and much like the later Xbox 360 and PS3 titles, rewards you with nitrous that you can unleash when you’ve filled a “tankful”. As in the subsequent games, the nitrous acts more as a means of increasing your maximum speed than a burst of acceleration, and does not mean you sacrifice control; on the contrary, it’s surprisingly easy to blast dramatically around corners even when under the full influence of a nitrous charge.
Perhaps the most notable thing about the PSP Ridge Racer games is how damn good they look, especially given the relatively modest capabilities of their host platform — and particularly given that the first game was a launch title for the handheld. The frame rate sticks at a solid 60fps at all times, there are some lovely lighting effects such as sunlight glinting off the road surface and glare, and the smooth, slick performance contributes to the whole thing just feeling delightful to play, exactly as Ridge Racer should.
The gorgeous visuals are complemented by an excellent soundtrack that incorporates a diverse selection of new music, a virtual disc of remixed music from classic Ridge Racer games, and the ability to play some of the original music from those older games. The new songs are fantastic, often incorporating live instrumentation, driving beats and some catchy melodies, while the remix “disc” is worthy of singling out for special praise purely for the fact that it makes even the most cacophonous and obnoxious of the early games’ ’90s techno actually listenable, even enjoyable at times.
One of the most interesting things about the game for a longstanding fan of the series is how it allows you to compare the different games’ approaches to track design — and the improvements the series has seen in handling over the years. Ridge Racer Revolution and Rage Racer’s tracks benefit the most from the latter; whereas both felt overly aggressive and quite difficult to control in their original incarnations, here their tracks fit right in and are just as enjoyable as their counterparts from later games.
It’s also fascinating to contrast the original Ridge Racer’s relatively simplistic course design with the long, intricate routes you’re expected to follow on the Rage Racer tracks and the rather charming emphasis on picturesque scenery seen in Type 4’s circuits; while the series has remained true to its roots over the years, it certainly hasn’t stood still, with the track design standing as testament to that. And on top of all this, the PSP games also offer the first ever opportunity for players at home to enjoy the courses from Rave Racer, an arcade-only installment in the series originally released around the same time as the console-exclusive Rage Racer.
Naturally, there are plenty of unlockables to acquire throughout both games, including a series of “special” cars that are rather more outlandish than the vehicles you spend most of your time in, including a take on the car from New Rally-X in the first game. The second game stratifies these into “type 1” special cars, which are high-performance supercars such as the notorious Soldat Crinale (“13th Racing”) and Kamata Angelus (“White Angel”) from classic installments of the series, and “type 2” novelty vehicles such as a Pac-Man car/plane hybrid that has a terrifying top speed. These unusual, thrilling cars provide good incentive to play through the game as well as potentially making for some entertaining matchups in the ad hoc multiplayer mode — assuming you have a friend with a PSP, of course.
So the big question hanging over the PSP versions is, I suppose, whether or not it’s worth picking up both of them — and if not, which one to go for. Completionists will want to pick both up, of course, but for those just looking for a high quality portable racing fix there’s really no reason not to go for Ridge Racer 2. The only thing not in Ridge Racer 2 that was in the first PSP game is the New Rally-X car; in exchange, you get considerably more tracks, more cars, more music and more modes. It’s the same core game — they didn’t even bother to make a new interface for the main menus — just more of it.
The only reason to potentially favour the PSP version of Ridge Racer over its sequel (other than the New Rally-X car, if that happens to be something you feel particularly strongly about) is if you’re a North American player; for some reason, Ridge Racer 2 didn’t get a native release in this region, instead remaining confined to Europe and Japan. This is only a small issue, however, since copies from both regions are still readily available at the time of writing for reasonable prices, and the PSP system itself is region-free, meaning you won’t have to do anything special to get it running.
Whichever route you decide to take, if you are or have ever been a Ridge Racer fan and you have some form of access to a PSP or equivalent, you are doing yourself a disservice if you don’t play at least one of these games. They are some of the very best in the series, packed with things to do and content to unlock, plus potentially limitless fun in the ad hoc multiplayer mode if you know anyone else who owns a copy.
Handheld versions of popular franchises often lag behind their siblings on TV-connected consoles and home computers in terms of performance, depth and graphical fidelity. Ridge Racer and its sequel for PSP show that this by no means has to be the case; in many ways, given their compilation of tracks from previous installments up to V, they in fact offer the definitive way to experience the franchise’s classic tracks, with the only real thing missing in my book being the narrative content from Type 4. And when the rest of the experience is this good, it’s hard to be too upset about that.
Look, just play Ridge Racer for PSP in some form or other, all right? That’s certainly what I’m going to be doing for a good long while yet.
More about the Ridge Racer series
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