When the original Ridge Racer was released on the then newborn PlayStation, it impressed me as a graphical wonder and was an excellent showcase for the system. However, I was then a Nintendo loyalist so I didn't admit my opinion of the game too loudly. In fact, I avoided the game and the PlayStation like the plague. But fortunately now in 1999, I have outgrown my devout system loyalty and it seems only fitting that I am reviewing R4: Ridge Racer Type 4 (R4) since it may be the last installation of the series on the PlayStation. The next one is expected to migrate to the yet-to-be-named next generation Sony system.
Now free of system bias, my mind is free to fairly examine up close what I could only admire from afar in the past. And what's the first thing that I noticed? Without a bit of hesitation, I'd say that R4 is one of the most beautiful racers I'd seen on the system to date. Namco really went to work to create a visual wonder that compares to any game on any system. It comes complete with lively detailed environments, transparencies, and car reflections; producing some truly stunning special effects. But there's price to be paid for all the eye candy and the developers owe up to it by keeping only 2 cars (mine and one other) onscreen at once to avoid the kiss of gameplay death, slowdown. Unfortunately, with a max of only 2 cars onscreen, things can get very predictable. I'll always know that when I pass a car, another will consistently appear thereafter. But I guess that's the price you pay to see brief shots of airplane acrobatics and helicopters buzzing by. In spite of that limitation, the cars are nevertheless beautifully done—all 321 of them (45 unique cars with 321 variations). And Namco deserves a lot of credit for not only offering that kind of variety in car selection, but in music as well (the game even comes with a bonus music CD).
Upon inspection of the gameplay, I got to experience first-hand all the power sliding and lightning fast speeds that the series is famous for. And sure enough, the game does not have spectacular crashes, car damage models, or realistic car physics just as I've always heard. But those negatives didn't bother me and instead I welcomed the break from realism it offered. It's straight arcade racing fun and it wasn't hard for me to see why the series has such a loyal following.
When all is said and done, R4 really surprised me. It supplies everything the arcade racing fan wants: slick graphics, lots of speed, and a lot of style. In fact, I would say that this game is a tribute to the Ridge Racer fan. Knowing that it was the fourth version (and despite not playing earlier ones), R4 feels like Namco has fine-tuned all the elements of the game and now offers it up on a grander scale. I wasn't expecting such an enjoyable game, but I was happily blown away. In hindsight, part of me regrets not having played the series since its inception, but another part is glad because I might have been turned off to it by now with all of the sequels. Maybe I missed out on some good game-playing by not getting Ridge Racer (and a PlayStation for that matter), but another incarnation is planned for Sony's next generation console. And this time around, I don't have the same unwavering system loyalties I did five years ago, so despite Nintendo's continued presence, I don't plan to be miss out again.