Ridge Racer Vita Review
Sony PS Vita
Riiiiiiiiiiidge Raaaaaaaaceeeeeeeeerrrrrrrrr! - Go Kaz. Hirai-san, the man who would be King, or at least will become President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Sony Corporation in the very near future. This quote is from E3 2006 when announcing to games media and the consumers exactly what potential PlayStation 3 owners needed to hear. Ridge Racer was to be a launch title. It has been present on day one of the Nintendo 3DS, and now PS Vita’s lives, too. Ridge Racer screams new console to pretty much anybody who’s experienced a few, yet in recent times it’s not really lived up to its elevated and lofty status; decent but not special. With the Vita title what Namco have provided is possibly the most infuriating of games.
The presentation is some of the finest seen in this generation of handhelds and home consoles. The front end is so slick, so gorgeous and so fluid that you do just want to touch it, and of course, in this case you can do. You are invited to sign up to a team of your choosing (all suspiciously designed around each of the four PlayStation face buttons) and then access a variety of menus overlaid on top of a female racer laying down. Here you can choose your car, sort out your paint scheme, watch replays, look at your trophies, find a race online or off and more. The trophies are really well integrated - when you get one the in-game TV network announce this and describe to you what it is and why you won it. Small touches, sure, but it all adds up to make the game a pleasure to progress through.
Once you get over the extremely cool light blue colour scheme and make your way to a race the choices are not earth-shattering. Race against seven AI cars aiming to move from last to first in three laps. Time attack versus a single lap or an entire race. Go online to play real people, or tackle some ghost data obtained from friends or people met via near. Earn credits, earn experience points and repeat until numb.
The racing itself is going to be of zero surprise to Ridge Racer veterans but that’s no bad thing. The cars move like you’d expect, slipstreaming is key and drifting is the way to move around any bend. You can vary the extent of drift the car will have to fit your driving style. The cars themselves, of which there are only five, do not behave dramatically different to each other but they do look different and some are just cooler than others. You’ll definitely find a personal favourite! The way to differentiate your vehicle from other AI and real cars is by the upgrade path you choose.
Credits obtained in races allows you to buy upgrade kits and you can assign any three at one point in time. These upgrades could be as simple as the ability to execute a double or triple nitrous rather than having to do them individually. Upgrades are done for the player and will be attached to whichever vehicle chosen for a given race. It’s challenging to complete the upgrade map and provide all available upgrade options given the expense in acquiring them. For every one race won, a quarter of an upgrade or thereabouts can be obtained. It’s a slow process to get to the bigger and better cars.
But you’ll want to get to the bigger and better cars if you want to extend the life of this game. In a quite bizarre strategic decision Ridge Racer is a low price game (good so far) with the intent being that it has less content and the rest will be available via DLC allowing the end user to choose which tracks and cars and events maybe they want to add into their game. But there are only three tracks! Old tracks! Only five cars too! Five! This is it. The intent of the game is to play these races over and over in order to get enough credits to fund upgrades and experience points to speed up your cars (quite how this works, aside from some magical effect, is unclear). This takes the idea of grinding to a new level. Games like Gran Turismo are notorious for grinding but at least they allow for some variation in how that’s done. The only alternatives to the races around these three tracks in these five cars is to do a time trial or go online. Yes, some early purchasers will get extra tracks and cars via DLC obtained using an in-pack code but this is time and copy limited.
Time trials are fun and everything but until you’re at the level the guys near the leaderboard’s top are then you’re always going to place somewhere very insignificant. Yes you collect trophies as you unlock upgrades and rise in experience level but the encouragement to get there is non-existent. Why there isn’t some form of career structure or narrative (however cheesy that may have been) is the apt question. Alas, there is no good answer. Only the option to repeat each race over and over and over again.
Online would be a good way to bide the time and grind away in a semi-interesting way. You can search for, or create, lobbies for same level opponents. But finding a lobby is always difficult and if you do and you try to enter it you then find out it’s locked, or the owner kicks you out and then you get dumped right back at the very front end, rather than automatically searching for another lobby. About one in ten times a match was made and a race run. The loading times getting there are just not conducive to fun. Online Ridge Racer is just not fun.
This is why Ridge Racer infuriates so. It handles fantastically. It is presented superbly. As you gain level and the speed of your cars go up the races do get more interesting and you do feel a little something inside thanks to the improvement in lap record and the like. But before you can truly compete the game will be switched off and forgotten about. For some it will be an automatic purchase and it will deliver an insane amount of joy. It’s a great racer packaged in a beautiful way (although the in-game graphics are probably some of the least appealing of all Vita titles to date) with no substance. If you are okay driving the same cars around the same tracks all day, albeit in a very good way, then this is for you.