The Ridge Racer series is most often associated with Sony's PlayStation, but the series made a trek onto the Nintendo 64 back in the year 2000. That trek combined tracks from previous Ridge Racer games and tossed them onto the N64 with some slightly altered handling. At the time, it was the best thing on the N64, as far as racing games were concerned. Now, Nintendo and Namco have reteamed to deliver the same game--with a few minor updates--to the new Nintendo DS. While it's certainly a competent racing game, Ridge Racer DS's awkward driving and collision models feel very dated by today's standards.
Ridge Racer is an arcade-style racing game with a heavy focus on drifting. The game is broken up into four different components. The main mode is the grand prix mode, where you'll take on the game's tracks one at a time. When you finish a series of tracks, you open up another stage in the game's car attack mode. Here, you'll race on the same tracks from grand prix mode, but you'll only face one opponent instead of 11. Winning here unlocks another car. Time attack mode lets you try to beat your best lap and race times. Finally, multiplayer lets up to six players race at the same time and only requires you to have one game card, though your course and car selection is limited unless everyone has their own copy of the game.
Regardless of your mode choice, the game plays roughly the same. Your goal is to finish first. Racing games live and die by how well they handle and, really, how fun it is to actually drive the cars. Here, Ridge Racer DS is a little muddy. The game's extreme, over-the-top driving physics are good for a few laughs, but at the same time, they're a little too crazy. Drifting around corners is the key to easy victory, but the way the game handles these controlled losses of traction is a little too insane. When going around a sharp turn, you can let off the accelerator to start sliding. At that point, the car control is practically turned over to the CPU, which puts your car on a line that slides you all the way through the turn (or turns) without any input from you. Your job is to make sure that your car is pointing in the right direction when the skid ends, so that you don't regain traction and bounce into a wall or end up facing the wrong direction. The "on-a-rail" mentality to the skids means that you can basically do 360s around any sharp corner and still come out just fine. For those familiar with the N64 game, this is the Ridge Racer 64 method for drift control. While the original game had options for this, as well as drift styles from the first two PlayStation games, this one locks you into this new, ridiculous style. It's sort of stylish, funny, and cool all at the same time, but the lack of actual control around turns means that you really don't have to think much to play this game well.
The other crazy physics display in Ridge Racer DS is its collisions. Wrecking into other cars is about as unsatisfying as it could possibly be. You never cause the opposing car to deviate from its set line through the course, yet you're always left at a disadvantage. Even more annoying is that if you managed to get clipped in the rear quarter panel by another car, that car will usually just warp right up in front of you. This is also the new collision system that was introduced for Ridge Racer 64, though unlike that game, you don't have the option of turning on the old style. To be fair, though, the other collision style certainly wasn't perfect, either. The collision detection in Ridge Racer DS can also be a bit of a mess, as it lets you drive through about two-thirds of a car before it registers a hit and knocks you back.
Control in Ridge Racer DS defaults to the D pad and buttons, something the game calls "easy" control. If you so desire, you can get analog control by using two different touch-screen modes, one designed for use with the stylus, and another designed for use with the thumb pad that's attached to the system's strap. The only real difference between the two touch-screen schemes, though, is that the D pad is set up to handle acceleration and braking in stylus mode, but it's disabled in thumb strap mode, making stylus mode friendly to both left- and right-handed players. For some weird reason, the X button is used for gas and the B for brake in these modes, which is totally unintuitive and makes for some difficult transitions from one pedal to the other.
The game uses most of the bottom screen to display a steering wheel, and the idea is that you move left and right on this screen to steer. While the thought of true analog control is a nice one here, the results are sketchy. You don't really have time to concentrate on the steering wheel graphic or anything else on the bottom screen, so you're sort of left hoping that you're steering properly. Given all these caveats, the game's D pad support is the best way to go.
While the easy drifting and poor collisions are things you can get used to, the game's lack of variety is difficult to accept. There are plenty of races but only a few tracks. The Ridge Racer series invented the concept of opening up and closing off specific portions of a track to make it seem at least somewhat different (thus counting as a whole new track), but only those nostalgic for these old tracks will get a thrill out of them here. Sticking to these sorts of conventions only serves to make the game feel like a relic.
Conveying a good sense of speed is something that most racing games do pretty well these days. While Ridge Racer DS's top speeds feel like you're moving pretty quickly, anything less than that feels like you're standing still. When you're doing 80mph, it really feels more like 25. The game does manage to keep its smooth frame rate up most of the time, though you'll see it chop up a little bit here and there. The textures for the cars look pretty good, but the trackside texture work leaves a lot to be desired. When you get up close to some objects, the textures just look big, blocky, and ugly. From a distance, though, the game looks decent.
The audio presentation in Ridge Racer DS is adequate. The game contains a good variety of digitized electronic music that fits the action. However, the music is usually drowned out by droning engine noises, which are a little too monotonous for their own good. Collisions also rear their ugly head here, as there is approximately one sound that's used when you crash into another car or object. Again, these are things that could fly four years ago, but here they only serve to make this game seem, well, four years old.
It's safe to say that a lot of the players that are at least thinking about picking up Ridge Racer DS never actually played Ridge Racer 64 back on the N64, and even those players will most likely think that some of the gameplay mechanics and design work in Ridge Racer DS are from another time. It simply doesn't feel like a modern game, and while it may be a decent remake of an older game, it doesn't stand up to today's standards especially well. Even though players will get a kick out of the game's ludicrous take on drifting, Ridge Racer DS has too many flaws to stand out from the pack.