Much like the botched drift that ruins the possibility of a record-setting lap time, Ridge Racer seemed fated for failure. The game’s February release across European territories filled Metacritic with chastising critiques for the Vita title, with many reviewers reprimanding the game for its paltry selection of three courses and five cars and well as a spotty framerate. Namco-Bandai responded with a day-one patch and additional content for early adopters- two perks which have been transferred to U.S. gamers. Tragically, the underwhelming aggregate review score remains, despite the publisher’s best efforts.
As it stands, Ridge Racer is both contentious and competent. Built around the exaggerated cornering mechanic which propelled the 1993 coin-op and subsequent PlayStation title to prominence, the game is the atypical arcade racer which demands the finesse of a stanch simulation. Like every previous franchise iteration, success demands mastery of the drift- a maneuver which places players at the precipice of control, as they slide their way through sharp bends.
Remarkably, the technique remains compelling nearly twenty years later, stipulating a level of precision which contradicts Ridge Racer’s minimal car collision system and non-adaptive AI. Across the game’s trio of default tracks and three downloadable courses (which include Ridge Racer 7’s Old Central, Sunset Heights and Lost Ruins) the title provides plenty of opportunities for meticulous driving, whether players are competing against Wi-Fi opponents, CPU drones, or Near-gathered ghost data. Beyond advancing Ridge Racer’s nitrous boosting system, the franchise really hasn’t evolved, leaving detractors better off piloting Wipeout 2048’s craft.
Likewise, gamers who require a clear-cut racing structure may not appreciate Ridge Racer’s laissez-faire approach. The title’s elegant sliding menu system has options for time trials, as well as the aforementioned competitions against AI, online or local players; however no overarching campaign exists. The closest Ridge Racer comes to inviting long-term dedication is the game’s Planetary League, where four generic coalitions vie for supremacy. Unfortunately, this mode seems underdeveloped- with vague objectives on how individual players can assist their team. With no way of switching allegiance after choosing a team at the game’s commencement and the default league commanding an overwhelming lead, Planet League begs for amendment. Ideally, a contest pitting the efforts of Japanese, European, and U.S. gamers would have made for some stimulating matchups.
One element of Ridge Racer capable of coercing players in the title’s upgrade system. When players first challenge ghosts, these opponents can seem insurmountable, often careening around corners without err. However, subsequent races pay out in-game currency, advancing the capacity of each car. Regretfully, this augmentation also allies to online match-ups, giving more experienced drivers an inequitable advantage. Players accustomed to steady advancement might balk at the title’s petite pay-offs, which force a bit of track grinding. While car choice is largely cosmetic, players can use sliders to adjust the traction and transmission styles of their vehicles. Rear-touch even comes into play, allowing gamers to up- or downshift with the sides of the back panel.
Once the patch is downloaded, Ridge Racer’s sporadic refresh rate transforms into a solid thirty frame-per-second delivery. Although not as sinuous as either recent console iterations or the PSP version, the game is elevated by the Vita’s high-resolution exhibition and stunning lighting. Expectedly, the franchise emblematic graphic flourishes, such as helicopters or fireworks return as does the frantic J-trance soundtrack.
With post-release patch in place, Ridge Racer offers an adequate value; capable of captivating gamers who obsess about shaving milliseconds off of their lap times. For those less fixated on finesse, the package (even with the bundled, supplemental content) can feel a bit like Ridge Racer Prologue than a refined retail release. Hopefully, imminent updates and/or DLC can remedy this sentiment, because barreling around bends during the morning commute has lost little of its momentum.