We get extensive hands-on time with what could be one of the best portable racing games coming out this year.
I've seriously been considering wrapping duct tape around my head, because every time I sit down and play Namco's Ridge Racers for the PSP my jaw hits the floor. It's been a huge problem but I just can't help it. The game is just so !@#$%^& gorgeous I lose all self control, but its visuals aren't the only reason why I'm so giddy about Namco's latest. This high-octane arcade racer is one heck of a trip, a virtual speed demon that's extremely addictive and, come launch day, one of the must-have PSP titles.
Ridge Racers is essentially one big tasty stew that contains the best from the entire Ridge Racer universe. There are tracks and music from Ridge Racer, Rage Racer, Rave Racer, Ridge Racer Revolution, and Ridge Racer V, so if you're a fan you'll be in for a treat. It's also sweet because the PSP's insane processing power and 16:9 screen elevates the game to a high point that games like Ridge Racer DS can never reach. Simply put, the game is beautiful.
Featuring graphics comparable to Ridge Racer V on the PS2, the game sings on the portable hardware, and the wide screen gives you an excellent view of the road. I seriously had to pinch myself when I first booted up the classic track Seaside Route 765. It's just amazing, and boy is this game fast! At first things are kind of slow because you initially have access to the lower end cars, but once you start unlocking vehicles such as the Sheonite Bisonte type-S you'll feel the wind tickling your hair.
Everything clicks so fabulously that it's more of an experience than a game, and this is made possible by the excellent controls. The PSP lets you steer with either the d-pad or analog disc and both work great. While there is a slight learning curve, the analog control works remarkably well. In fact, I'm going to say that this is the best controlling Ridge Racer game yet.
Another cool thing about this game is the ability to use nitrous. You have three tanks on the left side of the screen, and you fill them by power sliding all over the place. When one tank is full you can give your car a serious boost by tapping the right trigger. It's a cool option that not only produces this slick blurring effect but also adds an extra layer of strategy to the gameplay experience. I've been in plenty of situations where I was about to overtake an opponent and, right before I activated my nitrous, the AI used its own and really burned me. You just have to learn the best times to use it.
While you can jump into a single race or challenge the clock in Time Attack, the heart of Ridge Racers is World Tour, an expansive trek into the Ridge Racer universe where you can unlock new cars and tracks to be used in all game modes. This is done by placing in events, and the position can differ. Sometimes all you'll need to do to advance is come in second, but if you really want to unlock more cars first place is a must.
Thankfully, it's a lot easier to win than in Ridge Racer DS. The AI isn't as crazy, and because the game controls better there's less of a chance where grazing a wall will pitch your car about the track. However, while the AI won't break your back, it's a little disappointing that the game seems so easy.
Of course, if you want to really challenge yourself you can wirelessly compete against up to eight other PSP users. It's very easy setting up and hosting games, and Ridge Racers runs just as smoothly as it does offline.
Ridge Racers is without question one of the premier titles for the PSP, a glorious collection of what's made Namco's racing series great. It's a marvelous technical achievement because everything about it, including the tight control, the cool graphics, and classic RR tunes were painstakingly crafted. The result, is pure racing bliss, and we're looking forward to giving this one a full review when it releases in March.