Every Sony system has had a Ridge Racer game at its launch, and the PSP is no exception. Ridge Racer for the PSP features cars and tracks from many of the previous games in the series and even the mascot from Ridge 1-4, Reiko Nagase, is back, which will no doubt please hardcore fans of the series. The gameplay is as solid as ever, but other than the new boost feature, there's not a whole lot new here. If you're a fan of the series, this game is a must-buy, but if the arcade-style racing of the series hasn't struck a chord with you before, it probably won't here.
You can choose from a single race, a time attack, or you can race a series. There is only one series available at the start, and only three cars, but as you win, you'll unlock more cars and more races. The North American version of the game has an all-new Max Tour, which consists of seven difficult tours that will test even the most seasoned Ridge Racer fan. There are 58 vehicles in the game, four of which are hidden, and there are 24 courses, four of which are new. Some of the tracks from previous games are Greenpeak Highlands, Heaven & Hell, and Sunny Beach; and cars from other Ridge games include the Himmel E.O, Assolute Fatalita, and the Soldat Raggio.
The initial races are quite easy, but things can get tough quickly, especially if you don't master the game's drifting system. To earn boost, you must slide around tight turns, and the longer you slide, the better. Some of the slides get a bit ridiculous though, as you'll be perpendicular to the walls, or even backwards, yet you're still going 150mph.
Racing often feels like it's you against the clock since there's rarely more than one car on screen at a time, and the computer-controlled vehicles don't put up much of a fight when you pass them. It's tough to pass opponents because they stick to the best line all the time, and once you pass them they're nothing more than an afterthought, unless you wreck. As a result, the main challenge comes from trying to run a perfect lap, which makes the races feel like a time trial.
The analog control takes about a race to get used to, but once you become accustomed to the stick's range of motion, it works very well. The load times are very reasonable, though they are a hair longer than you'd expect to wait on a console. Since you are racing the same courses over and over again, many of the races are a bit too long, but the PSP's sleep feature allows you to simply put the unit to sleep mid-race, and you can come back later to pick up right where you left off.
The first of many times you'll be blown away with the visuals is the FMV opening, which features Reiko and various close-ups of a car that has small drops of water running down the sides – the clarity is stunning. Another impressive aspect of the graphics is the large color palette that the game utilizes. The cars are colorful, and the levels, particularly the one where the sun is setting, are nothing short of beautiful. Once the game gets moving, you'll notice a smooth framerate, reflections on the cars, and other little touches like planes flying over and large video screens showing the race action as it happens.
Despite the extra space afforded by the 16×9 format, the screen is far too cluttered, as there's a speedometer, a map, and the display that shows your current lap position is enormous. Since the screen is so large, this isn't a horrible problem, but the game would be even more gorgeous if the display was a little less cluttered. The replays are ridiculous – they look phenomenal. If you aren't sold on the power of the PSP, just 30 seconds of the TV-style replays will change your mind. They use dynamic camera angles, show more than one car at once in full detail, and they never stutter at all.
The only issue with the game's visual presentation is that early in the game, there's no real sense of speed. This is primarily because you have the slower cars in the game, but even then 150mph doesn't really feel like 150. Since many of the tracks feature uphill sections, you'll often drop below 100mph, which feels like a slow Sunday drive – something that shouldn't happen in an arcade racer. Once you get the faster cars and you start earning more boost, the sense of speed is impressive, but it will be many hours before you reach that point.
The quality of Ridge Racers' audio, while not perfect, is very good and an ode to the series' longtime fans. There's a wide variety of music, and the clarity is amazing, especially when using a good pair of headphones. The soundtrack features an assortment of new songs, classic tunes from the Ridge Racer series, as well as remixes of familiar themes. There are a few duds in the bunch, but you can select a song before the race, so you're never stuck listening to a stinker. You can't change it once the race starts, which is a small complaint, but it's still disappointing.
Ridge Racers features local WiFi play for up to eight players at a time. The games are quite easy to set up, and the races are flawless. I experienced no lag whatsoever in any of the races I played, and the game really shines when you get to play against human opponents. The races are more intense, and it always seems like there's someone around to make things interesting.
Just looking at the numbers of cars and tracks in the game, you'd think it would be pretty deep, but that's not the case. There are only three distinctly different cars in the game, and many of the courses are the variations of one another, with different paths opened up here or there. This is nothing new to the series, as things have always been this way, but it still warrants mentioning. For fans of the series, there's no question – you need this game. For someone looking for a solid racing game, this looks to be your best option for quite a while, so give it a look; just don't expect a whole lot of variety.