Let's face it -- after plonking down AU$400 for your new PSP, you'll want a game that'll dazzle your friends and make them worship you for being the savvy early adopter that you are. In that regard, Ridge Racer is one of the best early purchases you can make -- not only is it an impressive showcase of the PSP's graphic capabilities, but it also provides the arcade racing fun that's now synonymous with the series.
Ridge Racer is definitely one of the 'wow' games for the PSP's launch. The game is a stunner, and really makes you feel that the processing punch of a PlayStation 2 truly does reside within the tiny PSP. The graphics are superb, the cars and backgrounds showcase plenty of detail, while the racing itself feels fast and smooth (with no hints of any frame rate drops).
The gameplay itself isn't anything new -- if you've placed a Ridge Racer title in the past, then you'll know to expect simple arcade controls, loose physics and powerslides galore. Gran Turismo 4 this is not -- Ridge Racer aims to be a fun racing game that's easy to pick up and play, and this PSP iteration is certainly no different.
The controls are fairly basic -- steering is controlled via the PSP's directional pad or joystick, X accelerates and Square hits the brakes. Tapping slightly on the brakes (or turning sharply) around a bend sends you car into a powerslide, allowing you take corners at ludicrous speeds without having to slow down. Powerslides can be tricky at first, but most will soon master it and quickly get to the stage where they have pinpoint control of their turns (such as overtaking while powersliding at the same time).
A new addition to the series is the ability to trigger nitro boosts that give your vehicle a momentary surge of speed. Nitro are gained through powerslides -- each powerslide you perform gradually fills up one of three gauges. Fill one up to the brim and you can execute your nitro by pressing the R shoulder button.
Ridge Racer offers up the typical Arcade and Time Attack modes of other racing games, but you'll spend most of your game time completing the many World Tours on offer. Completing tours opens up new tracks and vehicles, with each tour being more difficult than the last. It's pretty easy going in the early stages of the World Tour (particularly if you're a powerslide guru), but difficulty does ramp up significantly near the end. Your computer controlled opponents (you'll always be racing against 11 other cars, and will always start dead last) aren't the brightest or most aggressive drivers out there -- about the most dangerous they get is hitting their nitros when you're just about to pass them.
The game also supports wireless multiplayer using the PSP's built-in 802.11b Wi-Fi capabilities. We tested Ridge Racer with three gamers in multiplayer and experienced no slowdown whatsoever.
Another major plus for Ridge Racer on the PSP is its soundtrack, which features dozens of songs from the history of the series. The game even allows you to create your own custom soundtracks from the list available, although if you're not a fan of dance music you may prefer to turn the volume down while playing.
But back to those graphics -- Ridge Racer floored many of us here at the CNET.com.au offices with its impressive looks and rock solid frame rate. All of the cars and environments are highly detailed, sporting nice effects such as dynamic reflections and more. Ridge Racer also offers up a great sense of speed -- particularly once you unlock some of the faster vehicles later in the game.
Ridge Racer is an impressive showcase of the new PSP's capabilities. If you want something that's fun to play and looks great to boot, then slam in that Ridge Racer UMD and start powersliding.
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