Retro Respawn – Ridge Racer 64

Seeing as I played a Nintendo 64 game last week and didn’t have the best of times, I decided to head back to Nintendo’s fifth gen console and play a game that looked promising in the form of Ridge Racer 64. The Ridge Racer series is often more associated with the PlayStation as it was one of the earliest releases for Sony’s indomitable grey slab and had been a big selling point for those considering giving the fledgling games console a look due to its arcade quality graphics and sound.

If you weren’t around at the time, I don’t think I could truly convey to you just how mind blowing a game like the original Ridge Racer was when it came out in the mid 90s. At the time, the idea that you could have genuine arcade quality action like that in the comfort of your living room, on a games console of all things, was almost revolutionary. Released in 2000 as a joint venture between Nintendo and NAMCO, Ridge Racer 64 came out quite a few years after the original Ridge Racer had caused jaws to hit the floor, but it’s still a decent attempt at translating the Ridge Racer experience to Nintendo’s console.

When it comes to graphics and audio, Ridge Racer 64 does its PlayStation relative justice, for the most part, with the race courses looking nicely detailed and some impressive lighting effects really adding an additional sheen to everything. There were moments playing this where I genuinely had to stop and do a double take because I was so impressed by some of the lighting, especially when driving through tunnels where the light would creep in. I perhaps shouldn’t be as surprised because the N64 was a generally powerful console from a pure nuts and bolts perspective, but the limitations of having the game on a cartridge as opposed to a CD often meant that N64 ports would look lesser when compared to their PlayStation counterparts.

Ridge Racer 64 fares quite well in the sound department as well, with all the assorted thuds and engine noises accompanying the action, along with some high tempo beats playing in the background. The music isn’t CD quality, of course, but it doesn’t sound overly muffled like music on the N64 could sometimes sound like, and it suits the racing action well. Overall, the presentation of Ridge Racer 64 is top notch, and it does a solid job of recreating the feel and aesthetic of what made the Ridge Racer series so popular to begin with. Now, what about the gameplay?

All in all, the gameplay in Ridge Racer 64 fares pretty well, with arcade action favoured over a more straightforward simulation. This becomes all too clear when your car hits the race course barricades at speeds over 120 miles per hour, only to come up with nary a blemish on the paintwork. Ridge Racer 64 utilises courses from the first Ridge Racer game and Ridge Racer Revolution, as well as some included specifically just for the N64 port. Each car has its own stats, with some handling more smoothly than others, whilst yet other cars have higher top speeds or acceleration. What car you select will ultimately have an effect on how you tackle each course.

From a gameplay perspective, the game mirrors the PlayStation Ridge Racer games, although sometimes the cars in Ridge Racer 64 can feel a bit “floaty”, in that it can feel like the car is hovering rather than driving. Overall though, the game plays well, with the only real blot in the copybook being some frankly awful hit detection when you collide with rival racers. Making any contact with another racer will almost always seem to slow you down whilst rarely causing any issue to your opponent. In fact, should you collide side-to-side with another racer, it’ll usually cause them to seemingly teleport forward in a physics-defying act of madness.

As a result of this, it can become incredibly stressful when you try to tackle a tight pack of 4-5 other racers, especially on the more narrow courses, as any contact with another racer can immediately destroy the race for you. It’s so frustrating as the driving experience in general in Ridge Racer 64 is both polished and enjoyable, but sometimes a race will just be unwinnable because you simply won’t be able to get around the other racers because even so much as grazing them will fire them forward whilst you languish behind.

The two main modes in Ridge Racer 64 are Grand Prix and Time Trial, with winning races in Grand Prix unlocking further courses, as well as opportunities to unlock other cars in Car Attack. By defeating the other car in a one-on-one race, you will be able to add it to your garage and then use it in the other two modes. I personally found myself enjoying Time Trial mode more as it’s just a battle of you against the course, with the reward being your name on the leaderboard for getting the best time. Grand Prix is the main single-player mode, but you can only advance forward in that by winning races, which can sometimes prove overly difficult due to the other racers getting in your way.

Sadly the poor hit detection prevents Ridge Racer 64 from being a genuinely great game, which is a shame as there is a lot to like about it. It got review scores of around 70%-80% back in 2000 when it came out, and playing it now, I feel that’s a reasonable category in which to stick it. Ridge Racer 64 is by no means a perfect game, but it’s generally fun to play, and it looks great for a cartridge game. Even though it took five years for the eventual Nintendo port to finally happen, Ridge Racer 64 is mostly worth the wait and exists as a positive example of a game getting ported from Sony to Nintendo.

 

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