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Ridge Racer 64

Back in the 32-bit era the thought of Ridge Racer or any Namco property appearing on a rival platform was pretty much blasphemous. Their partnership with Sony was one of the most lucrative in history but in the waning years of the generation there was nothing to lose in experimenting with a new user base. Ridge Racer 64 was born out of a collaboration between Nintendo and Namco and while it was yet another racing game on a system drowning in the stuff, come on, it’s Ridge Racer. The game was awesome and one of the best pure racing titles for the console.

Ridge Racer 64 is not a straight port of the original arcade game nor is it a completely original title. Much of its features and content are cobbled together from numerous titles in the series, most notably Ridge Racer and Ridge Racer Revolution. The decision to pull from those two games in particular is odd as Ridge Racer 4 was the most recent game in the series. For a game released in early 2000 it comes across as a polished throwback more than something new. Regardless of its content choices the game is generally excellent and has the RR feel which is even more impressive considering NST (Nintendo Software Technology) and not Namco were the game’s main developer.

The game offers a wealth of options to cater to fans of all prior games in the series. The game’s handling can be changed to mimic the original, Ridge Racer Revolution, or you can give the new RR64 variation a spin. If you liked the slippery drifting method of classic Ridge it’s been replicated here perfectly, down to the same collision detection and everything. For my money NST did a bang up job with their own method of drift as it feels the same as Namco’s but is more forgiving. You can recover from spin outs pretty quickly and even ramming into other cars is not as punishing. Pulling off insane power slides and 360 spins to gain speed is simple but not so easy that anyone can do it on their first try. It’s so well done in fact that I found it hard to go back which is a high complement.

Beyond just drifting the controls in general are incredibly tight. Depending on the vehicle tire grip is incredibly taut or loose and the differences between cars are tangible. Unless you choose classic settings there are far less spin outs and such, allowing you to focus on just reaching first place. The game is fast, especially in the latter stages of the Grand Prix where some skill at advanced driving techniques is necessary to progress. Don’t let the Grand Prix fool you into thinking this has simulation elements, the game is an arcade racer through and through.

The game’s single player content is extensive and gated; The Grand Prix groups its tracks in pairs of three and you must place first in each to progress. At the end of each grouping you are given the option to participate in a single race against a rival car that becomes available if you win in Car Attack. These races are definitely challenging at first since you are limited to the starting four lineup but with each new set of wheels you unlock further challenges become easier. In total there are 32 cars, with the last 8 requiring special conditions be met to unlock such as completing the Galaga minigames or even hitting the helicopter that is filming the race.

Although the game proudly displays how many courses it has in the Grand Prix mode in reality the track selection is the weakest element of the game. What appears to be twenty is actually simply three tracks; one from each Ridge Racer game and a completely original one for this game. Each comes with numerous different variations that somewhat approximates the feel of a new course but doesn’t always work. Changing the time of day is not anything new but reversing the tracks does genuinely give them a unique feel. The problem is you’ll get sick of what is available in short order not just in Grand Prix mode but because you’ll have to race on the same tracks in Car Attack to unlock new vehicles. The game does have a decent amount of stuff to unlock but the paltry number of tracks means you’ll be done with the game in short order which is a bummer as everything else about the entire package is well done. You could lobby the same complaint about most prior games in the series but by 2000 games like Gran Turismo 2 were practically overflowing with content putting efforts like this to shame.

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For its time this was a great looking game with an amazing high frame rate and clean presentation. The car models are incredibly detailed with numerous specular highlights giving them a nice reflective sheen. The frame rate isn’t quite 60 but it rarely dips which is a feat unto itself given the hardware. The tradeoff made to keep it so high are blocky environments and less impressive lighting effects. The game definitely lags behind Ridge Racer Type 4 but some of that has more to do with the ported over tracks. The soundtrack does its best to ape the thrashing techno the series was known for and while it is decent it is forgettable in my opinion.

As the first Ridge Racer game to grace a Nintendo console RR64 was a resounding success. Although it could have used a few more tracks what is there is generally good enough to entertain for a few hours and far better than most of the generic racing games that plagued the system’s library.

8-out-of-101

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Ridge Racer

When Sony announced their entry into the home console market many were skeptical due to their less than stellar track record as a third party publisher.  With no notable intellectual properties under their belt the question became who would supply them with the killer app they needed to be taken seriously by consumers.  Battle Arena Toshinden for all of its faults was one but Ridge Racer more so than any game proved that Sony meant business.  For its time the port was near flawless and showed off the PlayStation’s polygon crunching prowess.  As a game its light on content but is still fun even to this day.

Comparing Virtua Fighter and Daytona to Tekken and Ridge Racer shows a distinct split in philosophy that might also partly explain why each respective series was more popular in certain regions.  Where Virtua Fighter and Daytona were more technical in their recreation of the sport Namco took a more arcade approach, lending their games a more relaxed pick up and play atmosphere.

It’s no wonder then that they saw more success in America than Sega, plus it doesn’t hurt that their conversions were handled far better than Sega’s rushed efforts.  The differences in quality between Daytona and Ridge Racer sort of highlighted the gap in technical capability between the Saturn and PlayStation.  You’ll find no massive pop-up or dips in frame rate here, just an excellent conversion of a popular arcade title that gave Sony the ammunition they needed to entice gamers into buying their now legendary hardware.

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Hands down the graphics in Ridge Racer were simply phenomenal.  The resolution of the textures is lower than in the arcade resulting in a slightly pixelated look but still manages to nail the look of the coin op.  There is some minor loss of detail and pop in around particular turns that only the most ardent fans will notice. That’s because the rest of us will enjoy the game’s smooth handling thanks to the rock solid 30 fps.  For its time this was the best racing game money could buy for a home console and spit in the face of Daytona and its massive clipping.

This Ridge Racer occupies a strange middle ground between simulation and total arcade racing hijinks.  The choice between automatic and manual transmission enables the game to cater to fans of either type; I’m an automatic guy myself.  The differences in performance in each of the initial four selectable cars isn’t as pronounced as their stats would suggest with the Yellow Solvalou being the extreme outlier with its terrible tire traction.  As this was one of the first PlayStation releases it doesn’t support the dual shock controller.  I’ll freely admit going back to d-pad control in a racing game is definitely a regression but not the game’s fault.

The main criticism that Ridge Racer has always had to deal with is its dearth of content and it’s a valid point.  There is no Grand Prix or other organize single player mode.  You have your choice of beginner, mid-level and high-level “tracks” from the menu but in actuality the game only has one track.  The only addition to the mid-level course is a higher top speed, an additional lap and more aggressive opponents. The high-level track adds a new section to the last 30% but is otherwise the same.  I’ve made mention in the past of how racing games during the sixth generation usually only featured three tracks and four or five cars but this is even less than that and cost $50 at the time.

There are some unlockables and a few cool bonus features but they don’t make up for the game’s lacking proposition value.  While the game is loading you can play a brief game of Galaga (a feature so cool Namco trademarked it!) and if you can shoot down all the aliens you are given eight more cars to play with.  Placing first in all three courses as well as time trial mode and you get the option of mirror mode which reverses each track.  I’ve never been a big fan of this and find the novelty quickly wears off.  It’s never been a good substitute for completely new courses with new art and dynamics to learn.

Namco is to be commended for producing a sterling conversion of one of the highest end arcade games of the time for only a fraction of the cost.  In doing so however it does highlight the fact that most arcade games are designed for quick pick-up sessions and not lasting appeal, something that Ridge Racer definitely suffers from.  Eventually Namco would load their future arcade ports with tons of additional content but Ridge Racer was released too early to receive such star treatment.  It’s still a solid title even after almost 20 years but has been eclipsed by more feature rich efforts.

7-out-of-10