How can Ridge Racer on PS Vita be 10 years old? A full decade. It is noteworthy for being the last Ridge Racer to launch with a new PlayStation console. PS1, PS2, PS3, PSP and PS Vita all had a Ridge Racer to enjoy on day one, but this game ended that trend, and you’re about to see why it fell out of favour so spectacularly.
But I feel I should point out that a flawed diamond is only objectively worthless. Subjectively it can still bring joy. You just have to ignore the zeitgeist and give yourself permission to see its beauty. When everyone’s telling you it sucks, that’s not easy to do, but I’m pretty sure I can decide what I like, and you know what?
I like Ridge Racer on Vita.
I worked at GamesRadar at the time of the game’s release, and while personally, I was sitting at my desk, eagerly playing my next-gen handheld and its pretty Ridge Racer, colleagues from different publications would walk by and look over my shoulder. They’d be surprised by my enthusiasm, and even that I’d bought it myself on launch day… and then leave, unconvinced.
It was almost like everyone wanted it to fail, which baffles me. I thought it was awesome.
But while I evidently found the then-new generation of 2011 more exciting than most, I can take off my nostalgia goggles; it’s time for some real talk. Starting a new game in 2021, unlike the full-fat offering on PSP a generation previously, Vita’s Ridge Racer is diminutive, to say the least. In its cartridge and original download form, it’s only got four tracks to race around.
To make up for this, the game was a mere £20, perhaps encouraging everyone to buy into it and then upgrade their game with add-ons, which were (and remain) reasonably cheap, most coming in at around £1.19-£1.99. Normally at this stage, I would point to Sega Rally Championship, Daytona USA (the car from which is available here as a DLC purchase!) and, yes, the original Ridge Racer and say: “three tracks is plenty, if they’re good enough”.
But while three tracks is plenty if they’re good enough (damn it, I still said it), even I have to admit it’s too few here. What there is simply isn’t memorable enough or varied enough, even by Ridge Racer’s own standards.
The DLC tracks’ quality is also quite plainly lower than that of the included trio. Southbay Docks has some pretty snazzy special effects and feels like a clear step-up over the previous generation, but DLC tracks like Redstone Thunder Road are demonstrably bland and empty. It just doesn’t feel finished, and every new track release brought disappointment instead of progress.
The game is intended to be played online, but unless you’ve been grinding away and got the top machines, you’re simply always going to lose because someone’s inevitably always got the best car. At least… that’s how I remember it. 10 years on, while the servers are still up, nobody’s on them. It’s a ghost town. So you really are just left to play Spot Race and Time Attack, which isn’t particularly appetising when you’re hungry for a proper meal.
Even so, limited to spot race one-offs, there is merit to the game’s design. Being so based on Ridge Racer 7, similar hidden depths reveal themselves as you start to learn where to boost in order to end the speed rush at the start of a big drift corner to fill the bar straight up again with residual speed. There’s also some surprisingly close racing to be had, if you don’t plump for the DLC cars straight away and instead work your way up through the upgrades map.
It’s grindy, yes, but the grind is lessened by drip-fed progress that tangibly affects the way the game moves and feels.
Speaking of which, unlike the PSP games before it, this game doesn’t run at 60fps. It doesn’t actually even manage 30fps consistently, which means you’re getting a small, technically flaky game of varying quality across its diminutive track selection.
You do get some real-time depth-of-field frippery going on, but it’s rather ham-fisted (literally on/off at a set point in the distance) and only succeeds in making the game look blurry. Sounds disastrous, doesn’t it? Well, yes, on paper it does. So it was easy for everyone to slam the game at review, dampening enthusiasm for PS Vita in general.
And just like the Vita itself, Ridge Racer should have been better supported post-release. Sure, it received two tiers of season pass, but these still didn’t change the game in any meaningful way. It’s also rather telling that the vast majority of the DLC list is just music tracks.
Ridge Racer has always sounded cool, so they’re welcome, but it does mean visits to the PlayStation Store feel like you’re perusing the last of the Quality Street box at Christmas, sifting through empty wrappers looking for one last Strawberry Delight – in this case, a decent racetrack to savour.
More tracks, 60fps graphics, some kind of career mode… that’s all Ridge Racer needed. But that list of should-haves is all that people could see, and they couldn’t see past it. Never mind that it’s actually (whisper it) fun to play. Fast, exciting, challenging and still smoother than most. That’s inconvenient and people don’t want to see that. They see the flaw, not the diamond. It’s too small, too rough, too cheap.
But it is still a diamond.