Ridge Racers Import Hands-On

It wouldn't be the launch of a Sony system without a new Ridge Racer game, now, would it?

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To date, all of Sony's game platforms have launched with a new Ridge Racer game from Namco, and the new PSP is no exception. The latest game to bear the Ridge Racer name is called Ridge Racers, and it delivers an experience that should feel very familiar to fans of the series. This drift-crazy driving game looks amazing for a portable game, handles well, and appears to be packed with a lot of content.

At the start of the game, you have only three cars at your disposal, and most of the game's tracks are locked away. To unlock new objects, you'll have to play the world tours mode, which combines the game's tracks together in a variety of ways, and requires you to finish each race in a certain place or better to proceed. Completing a world tour will give you some new things to play with, like faster cars or more track variations. Including backward versions of tracks, the game appears to have 24 tracks in all. The first track is Sunset Drive, which is the track from the first Ridge Racer game. Tracks from Rage Racer, R4, Ridge Racer Revolution, and Rave Racer are also included in the lineup.

The cars are visibly rated in two different categories. Top speed is self-explanatory. Drift type lets you know how much traction you can expect to get when powersliding. Standard type tends to stick to the road a bit more--you can break it loose around corners without much trouble, but the car tends to regain control fairly easily, which can make extreme drifts a bit tougher. Drift type DYN is the most extreme of the three types, trading in traction and turning radius for extremely wild slides. MLD is the medium drift type, and, as you'd expect, it strikes a pretty good balance between the two others, giving you controllable turns while still drifting enough to give you a good amount of nitrous.

Wait, nitrous? Yes, Ridge Racers adds a speed boost to the standard Ridge Racer gameplay. Every time you break the wheels loose around a corner, your nitrous meter will fill up a little bit. You can store up to three boosts, and each one will give you a burst of speed for a few seconds. It'll tack an extra 20mph or so to your top speed, and it'll also help you accelerate back up to top speed pretty quickly. Your opponents also use nitrous, usually saving them for when you get right up close and threaten to pass. This makes the other cars a little more difficult to pass in some situations, but Ridge Racer fans shouldn't have any trouble adapting to the action.

The control handles roughly like that of the previous games in the series, whether you use the D pad or the control disc. The D pad seems to add turning degrees gradually, preventing you from having to tap your way around turns like you did back in the PlayStation days. The control disc takes some getting used to, but it's also an acceptable control method. It feels roughly like an analog stick, but there's a slightly wider dead zone than you'd expect, and it's also a little difficult to get very slight turns out of it. Still, since you'll usually be wildly breaking loose around turns, subtle motions aren't exactly required to succeed.

Aside from the world tours mode, Ridge Racers contains single race and time attack modes, letting you choose from any of your unlocked cars and tracks and then go at it. Wireless battle takes advantage of the PSP's wireless connectivity feature, and lets up to four players race simultaneously.

Graphically, Ridge Racers seems to fall somewhere between R4 and Ridge Racer 5. It looks better than a PlayStation game, but not quite as good as a PlayStation 2 game. The textures used for the track environments are sharp, and the polygonal environments are very, very crisp. But the cars themselves have slightly blurry textures. However, the cars do have a nice level of reflection on them, which makes them look great, overall. On top of all that, the game runs at a clean, smooth frame rate that handles the sense of speed really well. This is a nice, fast-moving game.

Like the track selection in the game, the audio track selection is a mixture of old and new. The music is broken up into a handful of different playlists that include two new lists, a remix option that plays new remixes of old Ridge Racer favorites, like "Rotterdam Nation," and a classic list that plays some of the old Ridge Racer music as it was originally played back in the day. If you don't want to select one list, a "super shuffle" option lets you make it all random, or you can limit the random selection to any one of the game's playlists.

The game's sound effects fit very well within the context of the series. You've got a Ridge Racer-style announcer, saying very Ridge Racer-like things, like, "This is the final stretch! Keep going!" The game's engine noises are nice, and the squeal of tires on the pavement is also prominently featured.

As one of the more technically impressive PSP games, Ridge Racers has been the subject of much speculation regarding the system's battery life. While the battery has been rated for six hours of gameplay, that number seems to drop a bit when playing a game like Ridge Racers, which chews through battery life more quickly. Though battery life is something that can be difficult to gauge, it seems like Ridge Racers could chop that six hour number in half, or worse. Ridge Racers also has some noticeable load times that crop up when you're booting the game, and entering or exiting a race. Though, while you'll notice the load times, they don't seem excruciatingly long.

Ridge Racers appears to be one of the more-impressive launch games for the PSP. The game looks great, controls really well, and mixes old and new Ridge Racer content together in a way that should definitely please fans of the series. The game is out now in Japan, and it's expected to be one of the first games available in North America when the system comes home next year.

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