There was a time when the words “Ridge Racer” would invoke an almost Pavlovian response from a specific gamer demographic. After almost two decades, the Ridge Racer games have become synonymous with the release of new Sony hardware, but more importantly, they were always a safe bet. In fact, there were two things that you could bank on if you were a Sony gamer.
Firstly, you knew that your new hardware was going to be reliable (or at least more so than the nearest competitor), and secondly, you couldn’t go wrong with a Ridge Racer title. It wasn’t going to blow your mind, but at least the arcade racer would help pass the time (while you saved up for a few decent games).
Those who have stomached my rants on Lazygamer.net over the last few years know that I’m a passionate gamer. I ooze gaming from literally every orifice (and while you’re desperately trying scrub that sobering image from your brains); the simple fact remains that if I was a superhero, I’d probably be Captain Gamer. It’s therefore poetic justice (served with a touch of karma) that I was tasked to review the latest Ridge Racer title for the PS Vita. Perhaps, it was subtle payback for the years of trolling and elitist commentary. In truth, while suffering through the mess that is Ridge Racer, a part of me couldn’t shake the image of Geoff and Gav donning derby hats, monocles and laughing maniacally.
The irrefutable and shocking truth is that Ridge Racer is that one game that’ll leave you in a foetal position, rocking side-to-side, while softly murmuring the theme tune to Isidingo. It personifies everything that’s wrong with the industry today. In fact, the core game has been stripped and laid barren, which means there’s barely a skeleton of a functional game left. The lack of content hits you firmly in the jaw, especially after being mesmerised by the gorgeous and futuristic menu screen. The Ridge Racer menu makes full use of the Vita’s touchscreen, but sadly it’s all a ruse. As you flick through the menu, you realise there are only three options: Time Attack, Spot Race and World Race (multiplayer). It’s only a short time later that you realise, “there is no single-player career mode”. But, that’s not all; you only have five cars and three race tracks.
You see, Ridge Racer is Namco’s grand DLC (downloadable content) experiment. To their defence, the game does ship with a free DLC code, which shoots your meagre collection of tracks and vehicles up to six and ten respectively. However, if you’re one of the many South African gamers who only use internet at school, varsity, work, or who find themselves somewhere in the middle of nowhere (like a small dusty Karoo town), your only recourse will be to become intimately and painfully acquainted with those three meagre tracks. It seems that Ridge Racer exists purely as an experiment to see whether gamers will allow themselves to be gouged. Fortunately, Japanese gamers have voted with their wallets, and all indications are that Namco will probably shelf the idea… at least for now.
Apparently, Ridge Racer was intended to be an undeniable tour de force amongst multiplayer-orientated PS Vita games. However, even this aspect will leave gamers, pulling their hair in frustration. There aren’t that many multiplayer modes to begin with and the selection is spartan. There is the ubiquitous ghost battle mode, an ad-hoc race mode (if you have real friends) and an online mode. The online mode does allow for the creation and search of lobbies, but the netcode is ridiculously unstable.
While, fellow South African gamers may be eagre to blame our terrible infrastructure, for once we can take pride that a specific game’s netcode is indeed terrible – everywhere. From our perspective that isn’t very reassuring, because most of the time, we’re dependent on the good graces and high line speeds of our international gaming comrades. However, if you do manage to connect to a race, the lag becomes unbearable. On the off chance that the netcode does behave, it always seems as if you’re racing against higher-levelled individuals who just love to showcase their heavily modded cars. You’d think a game that’s tailored towards online play would at least allow for beginner racers.
It’s hard to look at the PS Vita version of Ridge Racer and come to the conclusion that it has no redeeming qualities. You could argue that the handful of race tracks is fun, but even that is not enough. The awkward reality is that there are other arcade racers for the Vita that aren’t just glorified game demos.
As expected, the controls for Ridge Racer are intuitive and the cars handle extremely well. The AI (in Spot Race and Time Attack) is predictable, but since this game was presumably tailored for multiplayer, it could be excused as a minor faux pas.
Design and Presentation: 4/10
You know something is rotten, when the best part of your new Ridge Racer game is the flashy and gorgeous menu system. This is not the game you take to grandpa to show off what your new PS Vita can do. This is the game you hide in your cardboard box, filled with past regrets.
Shipping with only 3 race tracks and 5 vehicles, Ridge Racer relies heavily on the promise of future DLC. While DLC isn’t necessarily bad, in this case, the effect has been ruinous. Additionally, with the omission of a single-player career mode, all eyes are on the multiplayer modes. However, in this case, the experience is ruined by lousy netcode.
While it’s hardly a showcase for the Vita’s graphical prowess, it is a pity that Namco gutted their own game for profit. The core gameplay is actually decent, and what little remains are complimented by an above-average control scheme. However, the total experience will leave even the most casual gamer feeling bruised, battered and exploited. This is as close to “gutter gaming” as you can come. Fortunately, there are better arcade racers out there, so PS Vita owners should not even shed a tear.