Namco’s Ridge Racer series has often been criticised for being a relic of a bygone era, a driving game that clings to outmoded arcade sensibilities and refuses to step into the super-realistic world inhabited by the likes of Forza and Gran Turismo.
The irony is that when Namco Bandai attempts to take the franchise in a fresh direction – as it’s doing with Ridge Racer Unbounded – the uproar is deafening. Perhaps that is why this 3DS outing sticks with the familiar, and offers a reassuring – albeit unadventurous – homage to past glories.
The world of Ridge Racer is one that should be instantly recognizable to all but the very youngest gamers. Tuned with instant gratification in mind, the game eschews modern trappings such as licensed cars, vehicle damage and even realistic physics to offer up the kind of experience that happily guzzled coins back in the mid-90s, when 3D driving simulations like Daytona USA and Sega Rally were doing the rounds. Ridge Racer 3D happily continues this tradition.
Ridge Racer 3D is the type of game where the brake is rarely used. Instead, to negotiate the tightest bends you simply lift your finger off the accelerator and then slam it back down again, forcing your insanely powerful sports car to kick out its back end, triggering a tire-screeching drift. However, unlike Gran Turismo – where such a manoeuvre requires expert timing and more often than not causes your vehicle to careen into the nearest barrier – you’re able to exercise complete control over your spinning car, almost as if it were on rails.
Ridge Racer 3D maintains these other-worldly physics, and is none the poorer for it. Namco Bandai knows that its most famous racing series is practically built on these ridiculously enjoyable drifts, and the intoxicating feeling of elation they engender when you’re locked in a tense battle with rival drivers. The fact that the formula remains unchanged after almost two decades is a testament to its enduring popularity.
However, while Ridge Racer 3D undoubtedly manages to capture what makes this lineage of titles so great, it refuses to take steps forward in other areas. For example, the standard Grand Prix mode sees you participating in various races, unlocking additional tracks and cars. It’s the closest you’re going to get a career mode in Ridge Racer 3D, but in truth it follows the exact same progression that we saw way back in Rage Racer, which hit the track in 1996. You’ll also find that the majority of the tracks are lifted straight from older Ridge titles – not a bad thing if you’re a fan of the games, but disappointing if you were expecting an entirely fresh group of locations.
This lack of evolution could be forgiven if Ridge Racer 3D had boasted more robust multiplayer options, but sadly it only features local play. After trading blows with players from all over the globe in Capcom’s excellent Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition, we were bitterly disappointed that Namco didn’t see fit to include net play here.
As it stands, racing against friends is still good fun, but it’s hard enough trying to find one other person who owns a 3DS at the moment, let alone three. Fingers are firmly crossed that any future Ridge titles on the format will allow you to take your race online.
Ridge Racer 3D also gives a reasonable indication of the kind of visuals we’re going to be seeing on Nintendo’s new machine. It’s an appealing game, with bold colours and circuits that have been designed to look great from every angle, but to be honest there’s nothing on show here that couldn’t be achieved on Sony’s PSP. The only aesthetic element that is wholly new is the 3D effect, which actually takes some getting used to.
While Street Fighter IV adopted a more subtle impression of depth, Ridge Racer 3D takes it to the extreme. Distant bends and trackside objects look convincingly far away, but this seems to put additional strain on the eyes. While we didn’t experience anything that prevented us from playing the game for countless hours, becoming acclimatised to Ridge Racer 3D’s use of the auto-stereoscopic display seems to take longer than for other games on the new system.
Namco Bandai has played it very safe with its 3DS debut, picking an established series and creating a game which feels like a celebration of previous efforts rather than an entirely new chapter. This is of course no bad thing – Ridge Racer is one of those perennial greats that is well worth rediscovering – but the lack of innovation and absence of online multiplayer curb the long-term appeal of the game. There will unquestionably be better racers on the 3DS – heck, we’d be willing to bet that there will be a superior instalment of Ridge Racer within two years or so – but for now, this will prove enough to keep dedicated petrol-heads contented, so long as expectations are kept to a reasonable level.