Retro Respawn – Ridge Racer Month Part One – Ridge Racer

Ridge Racer is one of the most well-known racing titles on the PlayStation, seeing four official releases during the life of Sony’s much revered grey slab. I have recently acquired all four of the PlayStation Ridge Racer games, so I decided I would play them all and make a feature of it. So, for the next month, we’ll be looking at all of the Ridge Racer games for the original PlayStation in chronological order, with my buddy Adam jumping in for a tandem article at some stage as well. So, without further ado, let’s apply our finest pair of driving gloves, set the radio to the most pumping of tunes and hit the road with Part One of Ridge Racer Month!

Backstory

I think it’s hard for people who weren’t around at the time to comprehend just how big a game the original Ridge Racer was when it came to the early days of the fledgling PlayStation. Released as a launch game for the system, Ridge Racer originally started life as an arcade release in 1993, and the near perfect port to the PlayStation was a huge statement of intent from Sony and was essentially the moment a whole generation of video game enthusiasts finally got an arcade-quality experience in their living rooms/bedrooms. Of course, there were home machines out there, such as the SNK Neo Geo, that could match the quality of arcade cabinets, but they were mostly expensive niche products that a lot of people either didn’t know about or couldn’t afford. The PlayStation was a much more affordable machine on the mainstream console market, so Ridge Racer had a much more profound effect on the gaming populous and rode the zeitgeist in a way that something like Fatal Fury on the Neo Geo did not.

Ridge Racer having fully 3D graphics and CD-quality audio made it as a game and the PlayStation as a console stand out from the games and consoles found during the fourth gen. Good as consoles like the Super Nintendo and SEGA Mega Drive were, neither of them would have been able to recreate what could be found in Ridge Racer. The 32x might have had a bit of a shot on the visuals but wouldn’t have had a chance with the sound, and the SEGA CD wasn’t around long enough to attempt it itself. Thus, Sony had a game that displayed just what their new machine was capable of, and by doing so, showed that they had the chops to hang in this video game thing despite having less of a rep than SEGA and Nintendo did.

Certainly as a young video game enthusiast myself, seeing something that looked, sounded and played like Ridge Racer on a home console was mind bending, especially as the previous racing game I’d been playing had been Super Mario Kart on the Super Nintendo which, though a very enjoyable experience, couldn’t hold a candle to what Ridge Racer was doing from a presentation perspective. Going from 2D to 3D was a gigantic jump, and I don’t think any other generation is going to experience such a seismic experience in the way video games both look and feel ever again, unless someone is finally capable of really nailing virtual reality. It was beyond huge, and without Ridge Racer being able to so faithfully recreate that arcade experience, the PlayStation and even the fifth gen itself could have easily stuttered right out of the starting block.

Gameplay

Regardless of its cultural significance when it came to presentation though, it would have all been for naught if Ridge Racer was a chore to play, and thankfully, it isn’t. Don’t get me wrong, Ridge Racer isn’t an insanely deep driving experience. It plays like an arcade game that’s been ported to the home, and it’s a perfectly playable arcade-styled racer. It’s not going to change your life if you come to it as a modern player who wasn’t around when it was culturally significant, but at the same time, I’d struggle to see how you could hate this, unless racing games of any kind really weren’t your jam.

Ridge Racer only has one track but three differing difficulty levels, with the track changing each time depending on what difficulty level you choose. A standard race sees you going up against 11 other racers, with the goal being to finish first. There’s also an additional Time Trial mode that sees you going up against a special car, with victory seeing you unlock the car in question. There is an option to “drift” by taking your finger off the accelerator, but I found it hard to master and instead nursed the brake button on the more difficult corners, pressing it at just the right time to ensure accuracy when going around corners whilst also maintaining enough speed in order to remain competitive in the race.

Controls are pretty standard, with cross being accelerate and square being brake, with triangle allowing you to switch between a first-person and third-person view. I personally preferred playing in the third-person view, but it’s nice that you’re given an option. As Ridge Racer is more about quick paced arcade thrills, the cars don’t really handle like real race cars might, but if you prefer the arcade style over the simulation style like I do, then that isn’t a problem. If you can master drifting, then you can work your way through some of the jagged turns whilst maintaining maximum speed, but steering on the cars with better handling is usually responsive enough that, provided you brake at just the right time, you can get away without needing to drift and still win the race.

Ultimately, whether you will enjoy Ridge Racer or not comes down to what you find important in a racing game. If hyper realism is your bag, then Ridge Racer is almost certain to be too much of an arcade experience, and you’ll likely hate it or, at the very least, find it doesn’t provide you with what you enjoy from the genre. If, like me, you enjoy the more arcade and fun-based approach when it comes to racing, then Ridge Racer will be far more up your street. There’s no denying that you’re usually one turn away from frustration or exhilaration, especially as other racers will regularly get in your way, and driving into them can spoil a perfect corner more than once. However, if you get everything just right on a run, then Ridge Racer can be all kinds of fun if the arcade style is what you personally enjoy.

Graphics

Ridge Racer looks kind of blocky to a modern set of eyes, but in general, I think the courses look quite good. In the longer races, day will transition into night, and it creates a really strong atmosphere. You feel like the world you are racing in is alive, especially when you see planes and helicopters flying above and other vehicles driving on the freeways as you race underneath. Graphically, Ridge Racer is very much a game of its time, but I have to say that it held up far better than I was expecting it to from a visual perspective. Certainly for a launch game on a new console, Ridge Racer achieved exactly what it needed to when it came to visual representation, and I personally think it looks better visually than quite a few other 3D games from the early days of the fifth gen.

Sound

Ridge Racer has a basic collection of six tracks that play over races, whilst the menu music is ingrained in the brain of anyone who heard it back in the day. I personally enjoy the six tracks and think they complement the racing action well, although some of them don’t last long enough for the longer courses, for some reason. Aside from music, there is an announcer blaring out platitudes, and the cars themselves rev away like the powerful machines they are supposed to be. The music that plays after a race is a tad intrusive to my elderly ears though, especially as I made the mistake of revisiting the game with a bit of a headache! All in all though, I’d say Ridge Racer nails the brief from a sound perspective, and it contributes to the overall atmosphere and presentation well.

Longevity

There’s no escaping that Ridge Racer is mostly just an arcade port with a few additional aspects added in to make the experience stretch a bit more when playing at home. There’s a fun mini-game of Galaxian that boots up before the game starts, and completing it allows you to unlock some additional cars to race with, and there’s also an option to complete the tracks in reverse. One big mark against Ridge Racer is that there is no multiplayer, not even with the aid of a link cable. It’s a huge shame as the addition of being able to race against your pals would have given a lot of extra life to the game.

This can be an issue when you port an arcade game over to the home as the two are kind of diametrically opposed to one another. You might spend between 5-15 minutes at most on an arcade cabinet sometimes, whereas most people expect to get anywhere between 5-40 hours from a game at home, depending on the genre. For 1995 the mere fact that you had an arcade-quality game at home was enough of a selling point to offset the fact that Ridge Racer was still really an arcade game at heart.

Arcade games and console games exist to do different things and tickle different itches most of the time, which is why you normally see additional aspects added in to a home release of an arcade port or an increased focus on the multiplayer aspect. When it comes down to it, you buy an arcade port because you get to enjoy what you enjoyed in the arcade from the comfort of your own home without having to keep sticking coins in the cabinet. In that respect, the PlayStation port of Ridge Racer mostly gives you what you’d expect from the arcade, although the lack of a multiplayer option is a real kicker that hurts it. So long as you know what you’re getting, then it’s not the end of the world, and it’s weirdly poetic that Ridge Racer is such a good port that it almost works against it in some form.

Would I Recommend It?

I’m not going to lie that a big reason why I love Ridge Racer so much is for nostalgic reasons, and I fully accept that if you don’t personally have that same nostalgia, then the game might not have enough to stand on its own for you. That being said, you can get the game for about £5, and for that price, I think it’s worth getting, if even just to say you have it in your collection. I personally still think it’s fun to play and that it mostly nails everything from a presentation standpoint, but the travails of an arcade port at home beset it like it does for other games in the genre.

It comes as a recommended from me, but your own personal mileage may vary (pun only marginally intended).

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