RIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIDGE RAAAAAAA-WAIT A MINUTE! Where the hell's the rest of my game?!
Imagine going into a fast food restaurant and you order a value meal. You're supposed to get everything that's included, but for some reason you have to redeem a code to unlock your box of fries. If you want a drink, you'll have to pay for a separate code to fill up your cup. You grumble, and you pay anyway. Finally, you make your way to the food court, find a seat, open your sandwich box, and there is no burger. Ridge Racer Vita is a digital version of this so-called "value" meal.
Ridge Racer out of the box has literally no content. You are only given three courses and five cars to start out with. Included with new copies is a Gold Pass, which lets you download five additional cars, three more tracks and a bevy of background music songs spanning from the very first Ridge Racer to the most recent Ridge Racer 3DS. In fact, the Gold Pass contains so much content to download, the temporary folder in the Vita cannot hold it all requiring you to boot the game several times in order to install everything the pass has to offer. Do not be tricked by this "generous" offer, though. This is content that should have already been included on the cartridge itself.
If that wasn't enough, for seven dollars you can obtain the Silver Pass which nets you a few more cars and a few more tracks (all of which are not new and are selections from previous Ridge Racer titles), and if you really want to splurge, you can buy an extra song for two dollars and the Hornet from Daytona USA for three dollars. The mere fact that you have to spend three dollars, which is almost half the price of a pass for ONE car is a major slap in the face to any Ridge Racer fan, because this is the type of thing one would expect to race against, beat and EARN in a challenge! In fact, you can only race and beat two supercars, which is the Archangel and the Crinale, and they aren't even used by top tier players. There are no fun, crazy, wacky concept cars to unlock like in the previous Ridge Racers, such as Pac-Man's car (oh, and if you want a Pac-Man skin for the Fatalita, you have to download that, too).
If all this downloading debauchery hasn't deterred you from buying this game yet, then you're most likely in it for the core game, of which Ridge Racer has none of. There is no - REPEAT - no single player campaign. The game is focused primarily on global time attack competitions with other players. That's right, the "meat" of the game is beating other players' ghosts. You start out by signing up with one of four different sponsors, and then you race against other randomly assigned teams by earning points and submitting them daily to increase your team's overall score. It may sound cool at first if that's your type of thing, but once you realize that just about every player only races the same Harborline 765 track, it becomes very boring very quickly. You can, however, partake in offline Spot Races against AI competitors, but without any campaign or event tiers, there is no sense of progression.
This is the ultimate crime of a racing game and is a moving violation worthy of immediate driver's license revocation and vehicle impoundment. If that wasn't enough, the imposed leveling system forces your car to grow faster and faster, and there is no way to downgrade from these advances. If you find yourself needing to practice with slower speeds before you finally start acclimating to Ridge Racer's well-known arcade-style drifting, tough luck. It's literally a crash course for you. You can also earn credits to buy upgrades and customize your racing style, but the amount of credits required to unlock upgrades is ridiculous thanks to a number of wasted spots on the game's skill tree. It's a monotonous grind all the way through.
As of this moment, actual online racing lobbies are pretty much dead, so if you were hoping for some good competition with complete strangers, you're out of luck. You're just going to have to keep battling ghosts, and sadly, it's continuously racing against these ghosts that make the game feel so lonely. You could always grind 30,000 credits to switch teams and start out at level one again, but this takes hours. If you plan on unlocking all the trophies the game has to offer, then it quickly transmutates into decades. It becomes a sensation that is more numbing then a shot of Novocaine to your spine.
The only saving grace of this title is that the feeling of racing is still as solid as it ever was. Mastering the shifting dynamic to slingshot your car through curves at more than 200 miles per hour is still very satisfying. Finding that perfect car and making those final tweaks to get the most out of your track times is still a reward in of itself. The style and presentation of Ridge Racer Vita is probably the slickest of the franchise, but it's just a damn shame that it's entirely muddled by a very poor content structure.
At least the sense of speed is still intact thanks the power of the Vita and its brilliant screen. There's this wonderful blurring effect when you smash a nitro that almost makes you feel the g-forces build up in your seat. The cars are very well modeled and rendered, but the environments lack that same level of polish. Still, when you're rushing by at speeds of over 250 miles per hour, the only thing you should be paying attention to is the tarmac in front of you.
As mentioned before, the Gold Pass includes a wealth of songs to chose from when racing, but sadly, you only have mere seconds to select a track from a randomized position on the list before the race starts. That said, if you love Ridge Racer music, you'll get a lot of enjoyment from the soundtrack alone. The sound effects of the cars as they burn rubber from drifting around corners and the exhaust of nitros as they rip down straightaways sound just like they have in every other Ridge Racer before it. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but it doesn't present the player with anything remotely new sound-wise. As is Namco's tradition, they continue to use annoying commentators that continuously reminder you of how "your cornering skills are off the hook!"
Ridge Racer Vita is like your child who keeps bringing home Fs on their report cards. You love them unconditionally, but you're just so very disappointed in them. There really is no excuse for Namco's butchering of this game, especially with the lack of a single player campaign which forces players to race ghosts again and again to get any mileage out of it. Ridge Racer fans dying for drifting action on their Vitas will most likely bear down and bite the bullet paying for content they knowingly should have received on the cartridge - and in larger amounts - and for some, waves of remorse will wash over them like it's high tide. Ridge Racer Vita is a shell of a racing game whose hollow acoustics provide sorrowful echoes.