It’s 1993 and you see a red race car hurtling through a tunnel, before climbing from a suspension bridge through a rocky gully. Racing over the ridge (aha!), the back kicks out into a trademark powerslide before the road opens out into a romanticised view of a beachfront and seaside town complete with palm trees, lighthouse and jet plane soaring overhead.
But then the skies darken and the scenery melts away to reveal Covid-drenched 2021 where we haven’t had a numbered entry in the Ridge Racer series for literally 15 years. Record scratch. Freeze frame on my bewildered face.
Yep, that’s me. You’re probably wondering how I got here. You and me both, mate. You and me both.
I know the Ridge Racer name became a joke at one time because of that trainwreck Sony E3 presentation, but that moment didn’t kill the entire series. But something clearly has.
Indeed, all we’ve had in recent years are rumours of a Ridge Racer 8 on Switch which was quashed pretty quickly, and news of some new trademarks filed much more recently by Bandai Namco, which included both Ridge Racer and its arcade oddity spin-off, Rave Racer.
But why has the release schedule dried up so spectacularly? The games were always good… weren’t they?
Well, actually that’s one of the problems. Ridge Racer’s quality had dipped by the time Unbounded was released nine years ago, at least if Metacritic is to be believed. Personally, I saw nothing majorly wrong with the Vita’s diminutive launch title (and I said so when I reviewed it for GamesRadar), yet it sits at 44 on Metacritic, compared to the previous generation’s launch title Ridge Racer at 88.
Other outlets’ reviews cite a lack of tracks and cars – something that rarely bothers me if the racing’s good enough, and I should point out that there was only really one track in the original Ridge Racer and that’s still fun almost 30 years later.
I don’t think even the harshest critic would pass up the opportunity to have a go on the arcade original today, simply because it’s still awesome. So it’s fair to say some of the magic was lost along the way. Let’s just open the hood and have a look.
The series had always raised eyebrows when it came to its controversial on/off drift mechanism, but by Ridge Racer 6 and the two PSP titles (which are actually the same game with different boxes if you want my opinion), the entire game was based around the drift system.
Slide to earn boost, earn boost quicker by sliding while at full speed… basically boost, drift, boost, drift until the finish line. That takes skill if you want to maximise its potential. But the drifting? The drifting removes almost all cornering skill. In fact, on PSP you can literally kick the car into a drift and then face left as you inexplicably follow chicanes both left and right.
I have to say it: That’s not a good enough mechanic to build a game around. Yet that’s exactly what Ridge Racer did for years.
So there’s the problem. Am I going to tell you what made it great in the first place? You bet your Assoluto I am.
Classic Ridge Racer is simply exciting to play and yet it doesn’t actually move that quickly. Like Sega Rally Championship, you get a sense of speed thanks to the proximity of the camera to the track surface, but the scenery itself lounges in your view, allowing you to savour moments, vistas and exquisite track design. There are jumps, tunnels, helicopters overhead and closely fought races against gorgeous-looking supercars. In that sense, it’s incredibly pure.
Then there’s the setup of the races themselves. Short races, timed checkpoints and an overly-enthusiastic announcer are commonplace in the series, whereas that sort of arcade immediacy has died out in rival racers. A mixture of musical genres are loosely collected under a coverall term of ‘dance music’, and the idea of a radio station – Ridge FM – broadcasting these sounds across the intertwining routes of the city in Ridge Racer V is really cool.
Just like in Burnout Paradise, it feels like you’re actually there in the city, a true part of a special, city-wide event. That rocks.
It’s still larger than life, certainly, but it could feasibly happen. And if it did, I’d sure as heck want to be a part of it. But hey – just imagine how that sunny day in the city atmosphere could look on PS5 or Xbox Series X/S.
Ray-traced skyscrapers reflecting the cars racing below, gorgeous sunsets and rippling water in the bay, and 4K60 resolution would be the ultimate Ridge Racer experience. Right from the first instalment, the Ridge Racer series has always showcased super-solid environmental visuals and that would translate immaculately to the current generation of machines.
Heck, there’s even room for the series to find a new home on Switch. Ridge Racer is no stranger to Nintendo consoles, having seen Ridge Racer 64 on N64, Ridge Racer DS on DS, and Ridge Racer 3D on 3DS. A Switch-based collection of Ridges 1-5 would be super-cool, especially if it included an arcade-perfect port of the original – which at this stage is a complete mystery as to why it’s never seen a standalone digital release.
But I think what I really want if nothing else is an HD remake of Ridge Racer: Type 4. It’s clearly one of the absolute best racers ever made, up there with Sega Rally Championship and Daytona USA. The atmosphere from the first race to the final midnight at the dawn of the new Millennium (complete with fireworks!) is wonderful. You can feel the heat from the sun-drenched tarmac at Phantomile and the cool of the night air by the airfield at Edge of the Earth as your taillights leave trails under the bright windows of the buildings.
Ridge Racer 4 represents everything the genre’s forgotten. The announcer, the restricted car classes (dressed up to look like hundreds of cars – very clever) and a complex handling system that rewards patience and effort with pixel-perfect driving when you get it right. The music is unforgettable but comparatively understated at times, again adding to that incredible atmosphere.
Indeed, from the slow pace of the CG intro with Reiko Nagase sitting in her bedroom to the optional blur filter on the replays, there’s a mix of supreme excitement with luxurious laziness. The city’s sleepy, but the Ridge Racers are tearing it up. You can imagine the dust on the tarmac and the smell of burnt rubber mixed with hi-octane fuel.
Why is it that now we have the technology to effectively play that CG intro in real time, nobody’s bothered to make it? Only the original Race Driver GRID looks like late ‘90s era CG in real time gameplay, and one game in 20 years is just not good enough.
Who wouldn’t want to play that? Why are we having to wait so long for a new Ridge Racer?
If anybody’s reading this in the offices at Bandai Namco, I’d suggest it’s about time we had an astonishing new arcade racer for the Series X/PS5 generation. Don’t try to push the envelope with an open world, or focus on the weird drift-to-boost system. It’s not what Ridge Racer should be about, and I’m sure it’s why many people lost interest.
Ridge Racer is about the joy of driving around beautiful racetracks in cities, countryside and by the seaside, with ultra-solid driving physics and drift-happy racing cars. So give us that. Just once more. Please?