We recently received a new work-in-progress version of Ridge Racer DS from Namco and spent the past couple of hours test-driving it to bring you our early impressions of this latest build. Like its numerous predecessors, Ridge Racer DS is an arcade-style racing game in which you'll take the controls of a generic sports car to battle it out with 11 opponents. Incidentally, each of your opponents starts the race with a significant head start. Naturally, the goal is to be the first one across the finish line. Ridge Racer DS places the same emphasis on powersliding around sharp corners as previous entries in the series, and how successfully you accomplish a powerslide will almost certainly be determined--at least initially--by which of the game's three control schemes you've opted for.
Ridge Racer DS offers three different control setups, and, unlike most titles, they're used to determine the difficulty of the game. Well, at least Namco acknowledges that certain controls are far more difficult to employ than others. The "easy" control option, for example, is the only one that allows you to use the DS's directional pad for steering. The "hard" and "expert" settings will have you attempting to steer your car by using a large steering wheel that appears on the touch screen using the handheld's stylus or wrist strap finger pad respectively. Playing with the stylus still feels quite unnatural to us, so it's hard to imagine that many will take advantage of the feature once the novelty has worn off, which may occur after two or three races, perhaps. The wrist strap control setup (which basically has you using your thumb on the touch screen, with a piece of plastic to prevent the screen getting grubby), on the other hand, works surprisingly well. Furthermore, we found that it afforded us a level of analog control that simply wasn't available when playing with the directional pad.
The single-player modes of play (which are all we've been able to play, since we only have one copy of the game at this point) on offer in Ridge Racer DS include quick race, grand prix (a series' of three races), time attack, and car attack, where you'll go head-to-head with cars that you've unlocked in the grand prix mode in an attempt to add them to your garage. It's also worth mentioning that you can totally customize the color of your car before each race by simply sliding a bar along a color chart. We found that the car hood camera is the easiest one to use when playing, so changing the color of our car was pointless. However, the option to change your car's color should definitely make things a little more interesting for multiplayer races.
Many of the circuits in Ridge Racer DS are taken from previous games, and, as such, you'll often find that the same stretches of track appear in multiple courses. You'll know exactly what to expect from all the circuits if you've ever played a Ridge Racer game before. So plan on anticipating lots of bridges and tunnels, roads that are cut into the sides of cliffs, sharp turns that can only be negotiated at speed when sliding, and, of course, helicopters that fly overhead every now and then. The soundtrack will also be familiar to fans of the series, and you'll have the option to select your favorite track as you sit on the starting grid while waiting for the green light to start each race.
Ridge Racer DS is currently scheduled for release in early December, which is just a couple of weeks after the launch of Nintendo's new handheld. We'll bring you more information on the game as soon as it becomes available.