In the past ten years or so, racing games have become so serious. It's all about getting under the hood and tinkering with options without having any idea what they do, adjusting your ride's paint job, escaping the cops, or flipping fools' wigs back in totally rad street races.
'Arcade racer' is a label that barely has any meaning any more. 'Simulation', it seems, is the word of the day.
Ridge Racer, meanwhile, is an homage to the ludicrous. It's all about insane sideways drifting, wildly improbable speeds, huge nitrous boosts and gaily inane voice acting.
And because of all of that, in the same way as Mario Kart, it's got millions of fans who don't give a fig about gear ratios and engine capacities and all that other stuff that gets in the way of pressing an accelerator button and going very, very fast indeed. Braking for corners is a foreign concept in Ridge Racer's world.
FAST AND FURIOUS
In many ways, it's the original racing game. The series basically defines the term 'arcade racer'. It's been around since most of us can remember, and has proven itself evergreen - every time a new generation of technology crests the horizon, there's a new Ridge Racer to show it off. It's become a real games industry tradition, and one that 3DS carried off in style.
The first Ridge Racer started life as a literal arcade cabinet back in 1993, before that concept died an ignoble death. There was also a very rare and very ridiculous Full Scale version, where you actually sat inside a Mazda and controlled the game with the steering wheel and pedals.
It featured a slim but varied selection of cars, three simple courses and a Mirror mode. Over the course of Ridge Racer's history, that course and car selection have expanded further and further, but other than that, it really hasn't changed all that much.
It's all about speed, you see. As series producer Yozo Sakagami explained in a recent Iwata Asks interview, speed is the at the heart of pure racing, and things like realistic damage, items and aggressive AI drivers, in his view, just get in the way: "It's a simple word, but we aim for speed - and the exhilaration that comes from that speed is where it all begins... There are other racing games, but most are driving games or simulation games, and they have their own appeal, but we want a game that will sweep you up in its speed.
Ridge Racer began as an arcade game, and I view it as the origin of racing games. I've tried to pack in everything that's fun, so I want players to fully enjoy the sense of speed that is the basic component of a genuine racing game."
QUALITY NOT QUANTITY
The series got really famous when the arcade game was ported to PlayStation, just in time for the machine's Japanese launch at the end of 1994. The emphasis on speed and polish was ideal for showing off the new console's graphical power, and it was one of the first games that allowed you to play with a custom CD soundtrack - though Namco's own super high-octane Japanese techno was so good there's no way you would want to.
That was the start of the now-established Ridge Racer tradition of launching alongside new consoles, particularly Sony ones. After the original PlayStation, it went on to launch with PlayStation 2 (Ridge Racer V), PSP and Xbox 360 (Ridge Racer 6), and PS3 (Ridge Racer 7). It appeared on N64 and GameCube, but this year's 3DS version marks the first time it's ever launched with a Nintendo console.
Unlike many other racing games, Ridge Racer has always been economical with its tracks - the first game had only three of them, not counting their mirrored counterparts, and even the 3DS version limits the selection to 30. Ridge Racer 7 had just 21. But this means that, over the years, these tracks have become iconic, appearing time and time again in new versions and looking better every time.
The courses themselves are wide, looping affairs, usually surrounded by beautiful neon cities or winding mountain environments. They're all designed around drifting, and tuned to perfect the sense of speed. Ridge Racer's courses serve the same function as Mario's characters or Street Fighter's combatants - they're instantly recognisable to fans, and endow each new Ridge Racer instalment with a warm, nostalgic glow.
For 18 years, Ridge Racer has embodied the core principles of racing: speed, simplicity and elegant, even minimalist design. Long may it continue - and we hope that 3DS isn't the last new Nintendo console to launch alongside this legendary game.
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