Ridge Racer has been a title that’s graced console launches since the original PlayStation, but this installment didn’t come out until a month after the First Edition PlayStation Vitas released. I’d also care to wager that long-time gamers know the potential danger behind a delayed release: the game will either be improved or terrible. The fellows at Cellius delayed the game release a couple weeks for a reason, but was that reason a good one or a bad one?
Ridge Racer features a fully-touch menu system throughout, and it’s for the better. Having that level of sophistication in a portable game is wonderful, and the main screen even glides left and right for accessing all of the modes; Cellius even included a full-bodied picture of Ridge Racer stapled mascot Reiko Nagase in the background, and the picture follows along with the layout of the menu. This menu system works incredibly well, showing off the earned Trophies, the garage, and the racing modes in one easy-to-access formula.
Most of this game really is online. The concept of it feels like it should be good, but it’s only mediocre. What ices this badly-thought-out cake is that, though this game mostly requires online gameplay, no online matches can really be played on the go. I’m referencing specifically to the 3G functionality: no races can be played on 3G. It’s not out of the ordinary for this feature to go neglected, but since the game fully requires online connectivity, the ability to play on-the-go in all of its forms would be something of a life-saver.
At the initiation of Ridge Racer, players are prompted to pick a team from the four listed teams, and this choice serves as a means of online competition. Each team has a rival, and beating a rival racer grants more credits – which is the game’s form of experience – than any other defeated opponents.
Game modes are simplistic, and they only range from ghost, online, and face-to-face matches to dueling a rival racing car controlled by the CPU (which is also incredibly overpowered early on in the game). Gamers level through playing matches, and the most credits are yielded by playing against real players; currency can be earned from Duel Races, but it takes a very long time to even be in the same league as those CPU drivers. What may have saved this game is the ability to earn currency in the smaller game modes, such as Time Attack and Spot Race. Unfortunately, those modes are meant only for one’s discretion and don’t really serve a purpose outside of practice. Which, once again, wouldn’t be that bad of additions, but the overall experience isn’t varied enough for that.
Graphically, this game is great, showing off the PS Vita’s ability to render full three-dimensional vehicles both in motion and functional. The gameplay is also the same as it’s always been, allowing for drifts to irrationally curve in the wrong direction as the car triggers a sort of “track mechanism” that allows the vehicle to drift around corners without thought outside of remaining cognizant of straightening out at the end of a curve. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never really hated that mechanic, since the point of Ridge Racer is to be more of an arcade-style game, so it works well. But this mechanic doesn’t get any justice served when the rest of the game feels unvaried.
The soundtrack fits well into the ambiance of a racing game, and Cellius has executed this feature well. On top of that, the vehicle effects sound perfect in an arcade setting, giving that slight drift sound instead of it being one of those elaborated drifts heard in racing movies. Point being: the sounds fit well into an arcade racing game. To add to the feel, Cellius included an Interview system that allows for user feedback when a milestone is achieved. For instance, after gaining a level or earning a Trophy, the game asks the player how he or she feels, and the game allows for a comment and an emoticon to be chosen. Writing that down made it feel less appealing than what I experienced, so please take it with a grain of salt. Thinking out loud and delving too deeply into the lack of features in this game only makes it worse, I’m afraid.
This portable outing of Ridge Racer has my favorite menu system, but the rest desensitizes the experience. Finding matches was difficult, since, I’m sure, most players that still have this game are at the maximum level. So, even though RR allows for players to search for same-level matches, finding matches and filling lobbies is both time-consuming and challenging. The online experience is top-notch, however, with smooth gameplay that looks like it’s taken from one of the game’s few, almost pointless offline modes. My recommendation is to bring a friend if playing this handheld version is intended.
On the inside, Ridge Racer for the PS Vita looks to be a failure, but it has a lot of things going for it. Unfortunately, those things are decorated in a bunch of contradictive functions. The menu is streamlined and innovative, and the online experience is all but bad, but this outing doesn’t have much curb appeal and owners don’t want to invest in something that, to stay with the housing metaphor, feels like it’s a one-bedroom apartment. I truly hope that Cellius takes its mistakes with this game and gives the next portable release the full functionality that this series is keen to having.