PS Vita Review – Ridge Racer

Namco Bandai gets points for trying new things, but that’s just about all it gets points for in the newest Ridge Racer.

A PlayStation Vita launch title, Ridge Racer is an experiment in game publication. Priced quite a bit less than most new games, it offers very little content out of the box, delivering only five cars and three tracks. In the days after launch, there’s an onslaught of DLC coming to bolster it up. To some, this idea might initially sound great because it could allow gamers to pay a low price for a game, then pick and choose how they want to expand it, but Ridge Racer blows more than one tire on its journey toward game industry revolution.

First up, the profile creation system to even get the game started can be a royal pain in the ass, and if you’re as unlucky as I was, might put a serious damper on the so-called “portability” of your portable game. Having to connect to the internet before even playing a portable game by yourself is just ridiculous, unfriendly design. There are few worse ways to introduce a new game to players. If I were Sony, I’d be making animal sacrifices to every single god I could think of in order to make sure this game’s dumb profile system didn’t turn too many people off of the Vita entirely.

It gets worse. While the idea of the game is to start out being light on both content and price while building itself up with gradual DLC, the content actually due for download is forgettable, undesirable rubbish. We’re talking about BS like retro music packs and the like. Who cares? Or rather, who would rather have that than a new track or two? “Deal with it,” says Namco Bandai, as the DLC lineup from now until mid February is nothing but music updates. After that, for about $5+ you can buy a bundle of timed updates between February and May that only amounts to about eight more cars and six more tracks. One can buy these updates individually for a cost that adds up to much more. While that’s all well and good, we’re talking about a game that hit the market at the December launch. To have to sit around with this tiny amount of content for over two months is a little bit ridiculous.

Where reviewing this game becomes tricky is that the racing itself isn’t too shabby. As a game, it does pretty well, with nice looking cars and enjoyable environments. Having a slightly lower budget, less development time, and running a 30 frames per second, it doesn’t look as awesome as the Gran Turismo series tends to, but it looks good enough to be a portable launch title. Ridge Racer‘s car customization is nice, and in contrast to the rest of the game, actually offers quite a few possibilities right away. One can immediately make changes to the paint job and other visual features of the five starting cars. From there, one either jumps into World Race, Spot Race, or Time Attack. The last bit is self explanatory and Spot Race is the single player experience takes place, pitting the player in an eight-man race. The cars tend to handle well enough and at least the few tracks that are present are good for starters. It’s mildly fun to try and master the finer points of the game’s racing style, memorize the tracks a little better, and by so doing, shave seconds off your time little by little. Without any new cars, features, or tracks to unlock, though, motivation to keep going seems less in this game than in comparable racers. World Race is the obvious headliner, as it’s where you can test your skills online or against your local friends, which is of course way more fun than playing alone. The problems with this, of course, would be timing, with any system’s install base only getting bigger as time goes on.

Yet, for as well as Ridge Racer holds its own as a racing video game, it’s poorly structured as a consumer product. Perhaps the better thing to do would have been for Sony to buy the rights to this, then include it as a free (removable) item on all of its Vita memory sticks. As a free product or demo bundled with the system, it’d be wonderful; as something that starts out at about two-thirds the retail price, it does a poor job of being worth any money, even after all the updates are out. It’s sad to see a classic racing series take such a wrong turn.

Rather than jumping on Ridge Racer, driving fans looking for a good portable would probably be more satisfied to go for something else or perhaps wait for a Vita-based Need for Speed, Test Drive, or Gran Turismo title to come along in the future. Though there are obvious differences, F1 2011 will also be available at Vita launch, and Asphalt: Injection should also arrive soon. I can’t speak for either of them, but it’s not too hard to be better than Vita’s Ridge Racer, so they won’t have to do much to beat the game.

PlayStation LifeStyle’s Final Score

+/- An interesting experiment in game publishing… which didn’t work

– Stupid execution of a stupid idea.

+ The racing itself is fine. (Too bad there’s not much of it.)

2 out of 10