Classic Game: Ridge Racer Revolution (PS1)
In the first of Drop-d’s new series of retrospective gaming reviews, we look up long-forgotten arcade racer Ridge Racer Revolution, and find ’tis still a goer…
Sony’s PlayStation saw release in September 1995, to almost universal praise from a gaming media that had marked it down as another no-hope vanity project on the part of yet another home electronics company (see also: Philips CDi, Panasonic 3DO). A major reason for the success of the grey box with the weird symbols was landing arcade stalwarts Namco to a deal for home versions of their various excursions. Namco itself was, and still is to an extent, in the shadow of its previous successes, most notably Pac-Man, and needed that something to set itself apart.
Among the company’s contributions to the PlayStation‘s launch line-up were 3D beat-’em-up Tekken, a port that showcased to brutal effect what Sony did right regards processor power that Sega hadn’t done with its Saturn console, and Ridge Racer, an effective home port of their beloved arcade racer franchise. In the days when accurate simulation came second to pumping machines full of pound coins, Ridge Racer was king. It didn’t gross as well as Sega’s Daytona USA effort by a long shot, but its adrenalised handling, superlative 3D and pinball-esque physics led to a far superior experience behind a tacky plastic wheel. Needless to say, the conversion was a complete success, with revised graphics showcasing the speed at which PlayStation could chew up and spit out polygons, and immaculately-retained gameplay encapsulating the arcade experience.
Needless to say, expectations were high for the following year. 1996 saw PlayStation take the lead over Sega and Nintendo with clever advertising that almost passed for art and aggressive marketing that saw Red Bull advertised in WipEout 2097 and the former placing cabinets of the latter in nightclubs. Gaming had done what it had seldom threatened to do: go mainstream. As such, sequels such as Tekken 2 and Ridge Racer Revolution were expected to go all-out to wow newly-won fans of gaming by stepping up the technology and gameplay. Whereas Tekken 2 is a recognised genre classic, Ridge Racer Revolution gets far less respect than it’s due, partially its own doing, but overly undeserved.
The game follows the original’s format of three tracks based in the same cityscape/beachside area. Each track is assigned a difficulty level and each track intersects with another at some point, creating familiarity and a nice learning curve. The hallmarks of the original are also intact, helping cement them in series canon: long, dimly-lit tunnels (with gammy reverb); beachside straights and inner-city concrete surrounds, often all in the same track. The emphasis on speed remains, also. Cars pace around the track as fast as their little MIDI engines can take them, and create a great sense of pace, particularly when they’re just ahead of you and rounding corners like it ain’t no thang. It just reaches into a visceral part of you and pulls out the urge to shunt the fuckers off the track. And that’s the joy of Ridge Racer Revolution, and indeed all great games, their ability to cast aside the limitations of their medium and make an emotional connection that keeps you coming back. That’s what Ridge Racer Revolution does. In short, nasty, bursts, you’ll come back looking to beat that time or pip that bastard past the finish line one more time.
However, rose-tinted shades are not good for anyone’s eyes, and the game didn’t perform as well critically and commercially as the original for a reason. The frankly barking physics of the original, are sadly lacking, and attempts to shoehorn them into the game by altering the balance of certain cars is painfully obvious, in particular RT Solvalou Yellow‘s careening and spinning out when braking. The hideous yee-haw announcing of the first game has been ramped up to ridiculous proportions, as if generic banalities are going to add to the experience. And rather than ignite a flame-war, Drop-d will simply state that we turn the background music off whenever possible, because happy hardcore NEVER improves anything, ever. On top of that, the graphics have not aged well at all, draw distance and gaps between textures clearly visible.
Regards longevity, the game was never meant for long spells of play, and the home conversion reflects this, unfortunately. The main three tracks are interesting, with Advanced in particular posing a challenge. But outside of reversed tracks as bonuses, and eight other cars to be unlocked by beating the loading game (which then can’t be saved – FATALITY) there’s little or no reason to keep at it once you’ve finally tired of the action on offer.
While it could never be accused of being perfect, though, Ridge Racer Revolution is by no means an underperformer. Many of the series’ characteristics were cemented in this game, while it definitely suffered without others. It was an experiment for sure, but deserved better treatment by fans and staff alike. The following year would see Rage Racer refine the arcade elements and add a GP mode, as well as dropping the cheaper and cheesier trappings of the series, while Ridge Racer Type 4 in 1998 would see the series hit its peak. But as far as thrills and spills, as well as being the work of developers having fun with a game, it was also one of the last vestiges of arcade racing, a genre that itself was a sad loss to the gaming sphere. And in that regard, Ridge Racer Revolution can’t be touched.