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Ridge Racer 3D 3DS Review (Australian Exclusive) - -

Gameplay 8.0
Graphics 7.5
Sound 9.0
Value 8.0
Distributor: Namco-Bandai
Rick Thorpe


Ridge Racer 3D

I remember the first time I saw Ridge Racer running on the original Playstation. It was my own Japanese Playstation I'd imported and it blew my mind. It's hard to imagine now, but the concept of smooth 3D rendered graphics in a console was an earth shattering leap forward from the 16bit sprite based consoles we were playing. The first time I saw that camera move down and zoom in on my car at the beginning of my first race was a true gaming moment I'll never forget and forever made me a Ridge Racer fan. For my tastes Ridge Racer and Ridge Racer Revolution were the epitomes of the arcade racing experience at home. The uncomplicated design and racing model were all I wanted.

Over the year Ridge Racer's 'evolved' into something I didn't enjoy nearly as much. The customising changes and simulation aspects that became cemented by R4 lost me. The purity of the arcade style racing experience had been diluted in favour of a attempting to compete with the myriad of other racing games around, and of course, the influence of the Gran Turismo juggernaut.

Generations of consoles arrived and past, and over this time the brand name of Ridge Racer is something that gets pulled in different directions depending on what the market deems necessary to be a successful racing game. The results were hit and miss, with the main problem being the same of many other franchises with decent longevity: the changes made to the design ushered in some new fans while losing others. You can't please all the gamers all of the time, but the bottom dollar is what makes a franchise last, regardless of what we as individuals hope for.

Now it has come to pass that 17 years after I first experienced Ridge Racer on a home console I get to experience something new for the first time ever with a new Ridge Racer game: 3D. The big problem with Nintendo's new 'glasses-free' 3D technology is that no amount of videos or screenshots on the internet or in magazines can convey the effect. We've all read the negative reports and the positive ones, but for the first time with buying hardware with a new gimmick we have to almost go in with some blind faith that "yes" the 3D will work and "no" we won't get migraines from playing a 3D game. Of course there have been demo kiosks around if you're lucky enough to live near a location, but these places can only give us a taste. Spending quality and quantity time with the 3DS is the ONLY way to make a valid judgement.

Almost two weeks after I received my 3DS I feel I can make that judgement call.

For starters, the 3D is awesome. There's no two ways about it. The display has convincing depth that easily draws you in. Ridge Racer 3D is a great exponent of using this 3D, from the opening prerendered movie to the menus to the in game graphics, it all provides an excellent demonstration of how much 3D can add to a game experience.

The game itself is well stocked with features. A lengthy championship mode along with single race, time trial and local area multiplayer gives a you range of racing options. The main championship mode is where the lion's share of the game shall be found. The championship arcs over loads of pathways and different speed classes. We're not talking a simulation style affair here however. Ridge Racer 3D pulls the series back to it's arcade style roots. Lots of cars to buy, but very, very little tinkering of any description.

I found this highly refreshing and, to be very honest, much more sensible when we're talking about handheld/portable gaming. I'm not a gearhead/car nut of any description and what puts me off an arcade style racing game is when it attempts to focus on the hobbyist/mechanic type demographic. This slows the whole point of playing an arcade style racing game down for me and this is why there are simulation games to cover this genre. Those expecting lots of tuning options for their rides won't find them in Ridge Racer 3D.

And it's this type of attitude that makes me feel that Ridge Racer 3D is true return to the mechanics of the original games. The no-nonsense approach is ironically refreshing when you consider how archaic and sparse the options in the first Ridge Racer were.

The gameplay is also a return to simpler times. There are nitrous and slipstreaming boosts. The use of which is imperative to extracting the best lap times and victories. The most important aspect in all the races is drifting and Ridge Racer 3D has one of the most awesomely entertaining drift mechanics I've experienced for quite a while.

Mastering drift in many ways is unlearning the exacting way it's used in many other racing games. The cars can behave completely unrealistically, almost like the road was covered in oil, and this un-realism is a hell of a lot of fun. Navigating through S's at top speed so that you are looking directly at the side wall while then counter steering to the point you're seeing the opposing wall while making a turn and overtaking at the same time is hugely entertaining. With it all whizzing by in 3D, all the more so.

This is a true arcade racer and a lot of realism is thrown out the window in order to deliver the most bang for your racing buck. This instant-gratification works exceedingly well and it won't take you long before you're hammering through your favourite courses at superfast lightning speed while the opposition flounder in your wake.

I'll be the first to admit that besides Mario Kart I found all other DS racers to be very unfulfilling, The hardware just wasn't up to the task of rendering any kind of sense of speed that worked for an arcade racer. With the 3DS I'd not read a lot of the specifications or seen any real graphical demos, so I wasn't sure what to expect. I was very pleasantly surprised to find the 3DS can crank out some very good quality graphics that are somewhere between PS2 and GameCube performance based on Ridge Racer. There have been stories about that this game was heavily rushed and essentially ported from the PSP iterations, this may be true for the track geometry and cars, but I'm definitely seeing some advanced effects I never previously experienced in PSP titles.

As a launch game I'd hazard to guess we're looking at a game using about 60% of the machine's capabilities. That said Ridge Racer 3D does look fantastic. Classic bumper bar view camera provides an incredible sense of speed and it all clips along at a solid frame rate the only dips in 'perfect storm' moments of 3 or 4 cars on especially detailed parts of a track. A solid 30fps arcade racer was a dream on older DS hardware, that's for sure.

There are minor quibbles about some of the car reflections and some poor/inconsistent textures but none of that really matters at all in game. For a launch title, and that's exactly what this is, one must view it like the original Playstation Ridge Racer. Cutting edge for launch day, but will surely look dated once developers spend more time with the hardware.

The overall presentation is very nicely done, menus make sense and it's easy to set up local play for multiplayer races. Loading times are present, but never more than a few seconds and everything remains snappy and responsive. The track selection pulls from all previous Ridge Racers with a large range of locations and the classic familiar favourites. Of course there's the reverse and mirror variations for each course, but after a few hours you'll be feeling in familiar territory. The game doesn't give you many new courses quickly, and is more akin to giving you variations of ones you've previously raced. As you go through massive amount of cups (with four races in each) you may find the races get predictable. The thing to remember however is this game is massive. The small amounts of progression you get with every cup gives you increases in the speeds of cars available and stiffer competition. This is GRADUAL though, you aren't knocking this game over in a single sitting by any stretch. This game is suited to an hour or so of play every day to slowly get you through the cups while learning the intricacies of each track.

This slow-drip of new content may put some gamers off. It's over time that new courses and the higher class speeds become available, and those needing something new as reward may feel jilted when the next cup opens up with familiar tracks and competition. The other side of this is the challenge, or lack of, early one. It was only til I reached the 17th cup (68 races in) that I was beaten for the first time. I'm convinced this is intentional design rather than needless padding to get gamers through the adjustment period of playing in 3D.

This apparent lack of challenge changes after this point in the game however and the AI really kicks in with the opposition putting up much more competition. This is turn with the faster cars makes for some genuinely thrilling races that will give you great satisfaction when you win. All the races are three laps and the courses are mostly under two minute a lap, meaning most races will be completed in around four to five minutes. The perfect time for pick-up-and-play portable gaming.

Other welcome bonuses afforded by the 3DS's horsepower include a massive step up in the sound department. The music consists of full quality tracks and has lots of voice samples. This is no great shakes for those who've been playing PSP games for the last couple of years, but it's a welcome upgrade, and a first for a Nintendo handheld. There are an abundant number of songs to choose from before the race that range in styles, but are usually fast paced techno with guitar riffs. It's great to hear some of the classic Ridge Racer themes from the first couple games included too. Car sound effects are well done and there's some nice stereo panning of your drifting. The overall soundscape is very in-your-face like a good arcade racer should be. Listening on headphones greatly enhances the experience too.

The 3DS launch line up has oft been complained about, with few 'new' titles and nothing that pushes the system towards it's true power. I must say though, I'd put this high at the top of my 3DS wish list, regardless of people needing something 'new' to play on a new system. For me, this game took me back. As a launch title I can't help but be reminded of the Playstation launch way back in 1994 and the excitement and promise of things to come that I felt playing Ridge Racer back then. Ridge Racer 3DS brings back a lot these feelings and provides an excellent arcade racing experience that has literally hundreds of races while giving gamers the wondrous new experience of 3D gaming.

Addendum: Much has been said about the 3D on the system and the limits thereof. Yes, the 3DS has to be held within a degree of distance and angles to get the sweet spot, and occasionally you'll 'lose' the 3D if you move the console too much one way or the other. Same can be said if you're tired as you'll find it hard to maintain your focus. This is a trick though, your eyes are tricked into the 3D effect and it takes time to allow them to be tricked. This with time becomes easier. I find that it's rare for me to 'lose' the 3D effect now and I'm quite happy to play for an hour or more with the 3D slider on full. Everyone will have a different experience however, I'd highly advise easing yourself into it. Play for only 5-10 minutes at a time at first until you become used to the effect. This definitely helped me become accustomed to the effect and after nearly two weeks I can take in 3D with little effort as well as look at something else and come back to the screen and slip back into it.


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