It’s that time of year again and I find myself racing toward another birthday and to the ripe-old age of 31. In celebration I thought why the hell not have a racing themed countdown – so here we are, counting down 31 racing games that have defined my enjoyment of the genre over the last 31 years. Enjoy!
Sony’s Playstation Portable had a bit of strange crisis early on in its life in it simply had too many. Too many ports of Playstation 2 games. Too many games that wanted to be Playstation 2 games. But probably most of all too many racing games. And while they were by in large a decent bunch, how many racing games do you need on a handheld system that, let’s be honest, wasn’t really swimming in piles upon piles of decent games? The answer to that question depends entirely on how much you like racing games. But for me, the definitive answer is one, and that one game is Ridge Racer.
Ridge Racer also happens to be the only Ridge Racer game you need to own, firstly because its the beginning of the modern template and a good one at that, but secondly because it is essentially a best of compilation of everything Namco had brought to the table to that point. And let’s face it, apart from the radically different (and quite brilliant) Ridge Racer: Unbounded developed by Bugbear, if you’ve played one Ridge Racer, you’ve played them all. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, because it is one hell of a series.
Ridge Racer was an impressive looking game for an impressive piece of kit. For most, Namco’s shiny racer was the game that popped most of our PSP cherries, and for many was probably the game that sat in their UMD drive for much of the first year of the console’s life in the west. The drought of decent games for the system probably helped in the latter months, but for me it was the fact that it was easily the best Ridge Racer experience since Ridge Racer: Type 4, a return to form for the series that had really not been at its best since that last Playstation game. Add to that the fact that it was portable and it was always bound to take up a lot of my gaming hours.
I played the game obsessively for years, or at least until I picked up the kind-of-a-sequel (aptly titled Ridge Racer 2) in a bargain bin a few years after it was released. Sure, I could’ve been playing Ridge Racer 6 on the Xbox 360 or Ridge Racer 7 on the PS3, but the novelty of playing what I consider the perfect edition of the game anywhere anytime never wore off. Until relatively recently I’d always preferred playing games on handhelds, and Ridge Racer fuelled that fire, perfect for just one race or twenty, constrained only by the not-so-great battery life of the PSP. While that fascination with all things handheld eventually died down – now only really resurfacing during the hot summer months while I lounge about like a potato watching as much cricket as humanly possible – anytime I pick up and dust off my PSP I have this sudden urge to dive right back in and rekindle that old flame. It may have started as a big hulking arcade machine, but for me, Ridge Racer is most at home (and at its best) on portables.
There has always been something special about the Ridge Racer series that is almost inexplicable to people that either haven’t played it or just don’t get the appeal. It is almost like a symphony, a perfectly sequence of crescendos played out as you drift through corners and speed down straights, building up to the crescendo of the finish line. There is nothing mechanically sophisticated about Ridge Racer, but it has a certain musical nature of playing the game, lulling you into spending hours elegantly drifting around the track, that makes it almost comforting. You know what you’re going to get with a Ridge Racer game, and the first PSP game is a perfect execution of a brilliant formula, which stands out almost a decade later as still the best in its brand.
Have a favourite Riiiidge Raaacer? Let me know in the comments, and be sure to check out past games in the 31 racing game greats countdown below!
#31: Stunt Car Racer #30: Badlands #29: RVF Honda #28: Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge #27: Nitro #26: Super Grand Prix #25 Super Cars II #24 Super RC Pro-Am #23 Sega Rally #22 Wipeout 2097 #21 Micro Machines V3 #20 Gran Turismo #19 Need For Speed: High Stakes #18 Colin McRae Rally 2.0 #17 Wave Race: Blue Storm #16 Grand Prix Challenge #15 Project Gotham Racing 2 #14 F-Zero GX #13 Mashed #12 Burnout 3: Takedown #11 Ridge Racer #10 Outrun 2006: Coast 2 Coast #9 Forza Motorsport 2 #8 Motorstorm: Pacific Rift #7 Midnight Club: Los Angeles #6 Dirt 2 #5 Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit #4 Shift 2: Unleashed #3 Sonic All-Star Racing: Transformed #2 Forza Horizon #1 F1 2013: Classic Edition