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Ridge Racer 3D (Nintendo 3DS) Review
Review by 
8.1/10 from 3 user ratings
 
Ridge Racer 3D is a good launch game. With a little more polish, it could've been a great launch game, but there's always the next system, I guess.


Fuglicious, but oddly pleasant.

A brief primer to the long-running series: Ridge Racer is a totally unrealistic racing franchise. Almost more arcade than racing. The series centers around a unique (and - it bears repeating - unrealistic) drift mechanic. In Ridge Racer, as in real life, braking is for losers. Any series of turns can be negotiated through drifting, since your car has an almost magnetic adhesion to the curves of the road. (Face backwards during a turn? Sure, why not!) The trick is to maximize your speed by only drifting when you have to. Ridge Racer 3DS is a bit more forgiving than the series norm, since collisions aren't penalized very heavily. It also prioritizes slipstreaming (driving behind other cars to take advantage of their airflow) and retains the drift-charged boost mechanic that was introduced a couple of entries ago. A simple, effective balance, although I would have liked for slipstreaming to charge the boost gauge, as well.

Let's get the rough stuff out of the way first. This game is... not attractive. Graphics whores, start looking for another John. (I hear that Ryu boy tips real nice.) Ridge Racer 3D has many of the flaws that were endemic to PS2 games - flickering, aliasing, etc. Only now they're in 3D, so they're even more distracting! The low resolution of the screen doesn't help matters. That's a hardware issue, but Namco probably should have worked around it by sprinkling fewer wire-thin lightpoles throughout the tracks. The framerate in this game is also uneven, especially in 3D mode. Especially ESPECIALLY when you're kicking up particles with multiple cars onscreen in 3D mode. I'm not sure that the 3D effect actually makes the game easier to play, but it feels novel and is handled fairly well. Namco takes advantage of the 3DS' distinguishing feature by flinging a variety of stuff at your screen: Confetti, sakura petals... Just those, I guess. But it's cool. And the gee-whiz appeal of the plane/helicopter flyovers that have always been a part of the series has been amped up to the 3rd power! Gimmicks notwithstanding, in first-person view, cranking the 3D slider all the way up provides a very impressive depth of field. Third-person is a little more limiting, probably due to the car itself being a very close focal point. I found anything more than the lowest 3D setting in third-person view to be quite distracting and somewhat brain-liquefying.


Every track in every racing game ever should have transparent tunnels through oceans.

Technical niggles aside, the overall art direction and neon color palette of the game are pleasant and inviting. Which, I suppose, means that the previous 7 games in the series were pleasant and inviting, since the content of Ridge Racer 3D is largely re-purposed from series entries past.

That's not a bad thing, mind you. Especially for a newcomer to the series (or a very forgetful person like me). It sure beats having ONE track (with alternate routes) in early Ridge games. Those alternate routes seem to be missing from this version, but we do have a healthy amount of tracks (plus Reverse versions) in their place. A fair trade-off, I suppose. The track design is solid and nicely varied, from short, simple, wide tracks to long, tight, twisty ones. And the Grand Prix progression is branching, so that if one particular cup is giving you trouble, you can usually opt for an alternate one.

Grand Prix, a huge, sprawling web of tracks, is the main mode of Ridge Racer 3D. Many of those tracks are repeated, but playing Ridge Racer to completion will certainly take you quite a bit of time. I think the key to enjoying the game is to consume it in bite-sized chunks. Then you will be able to better appreciate the gradual, almost RPG-esque progression of ever-faster cars and the ever-more-bastardly AI.

Although calling it "AI" might be incorrect. These are not simulated drivers. They are algorithms, plain and simple. Your passing technique is much more important than your overall time. You will be allowed to pass a certain amount of cars per lap (the rate of which depends on the length of the track). After you pass each car, it will pass you back. After a certain amount of back and forth, it will leave you alone and allow you to move on to the next step in the algorithm. Complete all of the steps in the algorithm before the end of the race and you win! This sounds like a bad thing, but oddly enough, it isn't. This weird, arcade-y mechanic is a big part of what keeps the single-player modes in Ridge Racer exciting. It's artificial, and occasionally maddening at the higher difficulties, but never as frustrating and arbitrary as, say, Mario Kart or as boring and perfunctory as, say, Gran Turismo.

As for the music... well, it exists. And there is a healthy amount of it. Most of it is inoffensive electronica, some if it is incredibly offensive electronica, and one track is badass thrash metal. I wish the whole soundtrack were thrash metal. Or that custom soundtracks were supported, I suppose, so we could just use our own thrash metal collections.

I also wish the in-game announcer (who can be silenced) a long, toasty stay in hell.


Yup, those tail lights are in 3D. And that is a fucking birdman.

A smattering of extra modes in Ridge Racer 3D provides even more ways to play through the same tracks. Namco have really taken re-purposing to an art form here. In addition to Grand Prix, the game boasts some decent time trial functionality (ghosts included), a mode that generates a cup based on the criteria you input, and a replay theater. StreetPass functionality sweetens the deal a little more. You can exchange ghosts, as well as build up a viral leaderboard through in-person encounters (a neat idea, but ultimately kind of a weird, inefficient workaround for online leaderboards). Multiplayer (which I didn't get a chance to try) supports up to four players and, sadly, is local and multi-cart only. A far cry from the amazingly robust single-cart multiplayer support in the otherwise shitty NST-developed Ridge Racer DS.


*insert caption here*

Ridge Racer 3D is a very solid, expansive launch game. Many small issues conspire to keep it from being a game for the ages, but when you're rocketing through a track and screaming around every corner in three dimensions, it's a hell of a lot of fun.

Oh, and the opening 3D cinema is sweeeet. :)


But the tracks have 6-7 second load times and the interface is clunky. :(

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Posted: 04/22/11, 19:27:50  - Edited by 
 on: 04/24/11, 03:53:08    
 
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Nice! Mostly agree with everything except the graphics comments, the game looks beautiful running on the small screen and especially in 3-D. Sure it's not perfect and could have benefited from some more polish, there are some blurry textures and the framerate noticeably drops on certain tracks once you reach the faster categories, but overall I think the game looks really sharp for a handheld racer.

Also in my experience the cars will not stop trying to pass you after you pass them a certain number of preset times, they'll keep trying to pass you until you put enough distance between you and them, in Category 1 races I've been passed by the same car 4 or 5 times, and I've lost several races by being passed at the last minute (sometimes I think the CPU cheats by giving your opponents unlimited nitrous, though it's impossible to know if that's true).

Anyway, I think overall score is about right, it's an imperfect, but ambitious, and (most importantly) fun, launch game. Here's hoping the NGP version is just as good or better when that system launches!


Posted by 
 on: 04/22/11, 20:57:40  - Edited by 
 on: 04/22/11, 20:58:47
I really wish more people bought this game. It's a great 3D experience and it's just downright fun.

Good review. Quite good.


Posted by 
 on: 04/22/11, 21:36:25
This game actually looks really good.

I think I will pick it up this summer if I get a 3DS. Hopefully the game is much cheaper by then to.


Posted by 
 on: 04/22/11, 21:42:28  - Edited by 
 on: 04/22/11, 21:42:51
I played quite a bit of it but eventually got bored. While I agree with the rest of the review, I think the unrealistic approach to the game is what ruins it. Usually I prefer arcade racers, and this is one of them as obvious as can be, but it's just too much. Like you mentioned, the "magnetic" drift makes it almost too easy and requires next to no skill. It almost doesn't matter when you take a turn or how, you'll automatically be shoved down what seems like a pre-set path and after going through the same tracks over and over (mirrored and reverse included, woo!), I just gave up pretty much. The excitement wasn't building up and ultimately just became boring to me.


Posted by 
 on: 04/22/11, 21:53:07
Since I've unlocked almost everything now I've started messing around with the different nitrous kits, have you guys tried the "Flex" kit? It basically gives you one giant nitrous meter instead of 2, 3, or 4 different stages, and the advantage is you can use as much or as little as you like because you only boost for as long as you hold down the button. It's pretty sweet because it allows you to boost right up to the start of the curve so you're almost always getting the "ultimate charge" thingy where your meter turns red and fills very quickly. It almost feels like cheating! Another cool thing about it is that the longer you hold it down the faster your go, you start out with orange jets, then purple I think, and finally white. Once you get the white jets you're REALLY cooking!


@VofEscaflowne
Well, it's only really easy in the very beginning, maybe you didn't give it enough time? Also, the longer you play the more tracks unlock, there are 15 in total, and each of those 15 have a Reverse (mirrored) version. There's a ton of variety in the tracks too, cities, mountains, deserts, caves, waterfalls, tunnels, bridges, daytime, nighttime, sunset pretty much anything you can think of. I can see you not like the core drifting mechanic, it's a love/hate kind of thing for many gamers, but there are a lot of tracks and different environments to race through.


Posted by 
 on: 04/22/11, 21:57:36  - Edited by 
 on: 04/22/11, 22:05:29
@deathly_hallows

Yeah, that's the one I'd always use when it became available. Seems so much better than the others because you're not limited to using it too much.


Posted by 
 on: 04/22/11, 22:00:09
Thanks for the feedback, guys. Especially you fellow Ridge fans. I'm interested to see if you agree with the review.

I have to say, though. Doing this review made me question the purpose of doing full reviews, in general. It ended up kind of long, even though I was trying to be as concise as possible. Does anyone really want to read that much text? Especially if they're just looking for a quick opinion? I probably could have covered 95% of what I said with a series of bullet points and a two-sentence wrap-up. I kind of wonder if long-form reviews are just an exercise in ego over serving the audience. Anyway, I'll stop rambling, now.

@ploot
Yeah, I thought it came in higher, but it was the eighth best-selling 3DS game on the March NPDs. And it was beaten by Rayman!

@deathly_hallows
I'd forgive the simple-ish graphics and image quality issues if the framerate was rock-solid. That's really the most disappointing part to me. In a racing game, you've gotta nail that steady 30/60 FPS. Boosting makes the framerate pretty choppy, too, but it doesn't bother me, because it kind of adds to the effect.

But those PS1/PS2 visual flaws (texture crawling, flickering, aliasing) always really bothered me (I preferred the N64 smear). I honestly find them even more distracting in 3D.

It seems like Ridge Racer is often a technical showpiece on PlayStation consoles. It's just disappointing that Namco couldn't work the same technical magic on the 3DS.

I wonder if Ridge will hit the NGP at launch. Seems like a sure thing, except Namco specifically denied it. Could just be PR, though.

As far as the exact passing algorithm, though, I did simplify it (and I just modified it, since you pointed it out). I'm not sure exactly how it works, but it's definitely weird and artificial. There are many times when it seems that your boost is just wasted, like if you boost as you pass someone (for the first time) to put space in between your cars. He just zips right alongside you and keeps up. I think Namco's secret Ridge sauce would be fascinating to analyze.

Something else I didn't have space to cover was how the Grand Prix ramps up. It's pretty interesting, how each successive race is slightly harder, due to the opposing vehicle grid and AI, until you hit the next Class and it resets again. It almost forces you to upgrade, even if you're naturally miserly, like me. I also didn't cover the Nitrous system or Ultimate Charge or the three types of car styles or the customizable paint jobs, but I didn't think they belonged in a review.

@VofEscaflowne
It is SUPER-easy in the beginning, but it gets pretty challenging. It kind of doesn't even feel like Ridge until the second Class (which is Class 3).

@deathly_hallows
Yeah, Flex is my preferred kit. The auto-regenerating one is also pretty badass.


Posted by 
 on: 04/22/11, 22:09:50  - Edited by 
 on: 04/22/11, 22:27:04
Anand said:
As far as the exact passing algorithm, though, I did simplify it. I'm not sure exactly how it works, but it's definitely weird and artificial. There are many times when it seems that your boost is just wasted, like if you boost as you pass someone (for the first time) to put space in between your cars. He just zips right alongside you and keeps up. I think Namco's secret Ridge sauce would be fascinating to analyze.
Yeah I definitely agree, there is some kind of weird artificial rubber-banding going on in the background. One thing I've noticed is that when a car is slipstreaming you it travels at basically the same speed as you, even if you fire off your most powerful boost, so sometimes it's basically impossible to put distance between you and the following car on a straight-away, you have to find a really sharp curve and boost on your way out of it before your opponent get's back in line with you.

But no Ridge for NGP launch? That would suck if true!


Posted by 
 on: 04/22/11, 22:17:18
@Anand

Well I made it to advance class or whatever... the second set of races in the grand prix mode. I'd assume if there was anything to really enjoy, I'd have reached it by now as I must have spent nearly 10 hours with the title.


Posted by 
 on: 04/22/11, 22:23:55
Haha, that's long enough, I guess.

@deathly_hallows
Yeah, it's kind of bizarre. And it feels a bit unfair at the higher levels, but it also keeps you on your toes, I guess. It does seem like it's easier to pass on curves. Unless you bump into the other car.

I like how the amount of charge you get out of a drift is determined by how strongly you commit to it (as well as the curvature of the road).

Sometimes, it's hard to tell if slipstreaming is having any effect. I wish it were a bit more dramatic. Slipstreaming is always fun. Slipstreaming and wall-jumping. That's gonna be the name of my album.


Posted by 
 on: 04/22/11, 22:24:27  - Edited by 
 on: 04/22/11, 22:25:06
@VofEscaflowne
Guess it's just not for you. I can see how it could be too easy for people with a lot of experience with racing games. I actually thought this version was pretty hard compared to past games. I guess RR7 was pretty hard too but the PSP game was super easy in comparison to the 3DS one, and that's kind of the reason I loved it so much, you could just sit back and relax, listen to the tunes and watch the pretty scenery whizzing by.

@Anand
Slipstreaming was done better in Mario Kart DS, you got an almost ridiculous amount of boost from it. I kind of ignore it in Ridge Racer unless it's really convenient for me to get behind someone.


Posted by 
 on: 04/22/11, 22:30:49  - Edited by 
 on: 04/22/11, 22:35:21
Great review!

This game was on my launch radar and I almost bought it but then... I bought other games instead. If I buy another 3DS game before the next wave hits this would probably be it. But I have so much DS goodness to catch up on so... I dunno.


Posted by 
 on: 04/22/11, 22:31:21
Hm. I didn't think the graphics were that bad.

Then again, I'm so used to DS graphics at this point, anything looking better than Pokémon Black/White is kind of jaw-dropping to me, lol.


Posted by 
 on: 04/22/11, 23:31:12
The 3D in this game is pretty freaking sweet.

Question, though. How am I supposed to do this drift thing? I can't seem to get a handle on it and it doesn't appear there are tutorials. I just seem to drift wildly, sometimes doing a full 360 by accident. Help?


Posted by 
 on: 04/23/11, 04:07:13
@-JKR-

Lift up on the gas while you go into a turn, then press back down on it once you're turning. You'll start drifting, and at that point, you need to steer into the turn. You'll slide right through the curve and won't lose your break-neck speed.


Posted by 
 on: 04/23/11, 04:12:22
Then at the end how do I get out?


Posted by 
 on: 04/23/11, 04:19:39
@-JKR-
First of all, there's a Mario Kart-style drift option, but I didn't try it because it seems like an unholy sin against humanity.

Second, like Grant said, lift up on the gas for a split second, initiate turn (hard), press the gas again, hold turn, and then aim the car in the direction that you want to end up (if it's a small turn, you may have to countersteer). Everything should work itself out. Exiting the drift at the right time is totally key. It's the difference between whipping around corners and sliding all over the track. (Releasing and then pressing the gas again once you're finished with the turn might help you to stabilize.)

Also, there are three types of cars. Mild cars are slower and have a very mild drift. Dynamic cars are crazy fast and have a crazy drift (don't start with Dynamic). Standard is probably where you'd want to start, although you will be able to win the first few cups with anything.

@deathly_hallows
Yeah, Mario Kart did do slipstreaming better. I loved how you had to maintain your position, and then you would get a palpable boost, complete with visual effect. Ridge Racer needs to add that kind of arcade impact. The slipstream mechanic is a bit too vague as it is now.

@GameDadGrant
Just wait until the 3DS-exclusive Pokemon Grey!


Posted by 
 on: 04/23/11, 04:27:25  - Edited by 
 on: 04/23/11, 04:40:28
@-JKR-
Like Anand said, at the end of the drift you might need need to counter-steer a little bit to correct your course and get pointed forward again. If you over-steer you'll end up fishtailing though (or doing a 180ş in extreme cases) so be careful, you just need to nudge the car back on course.


Posted by 
 on: 04/23/11, 23:33:58  - Edited by 
 on: 04/23/11, 23:35:06
Whenever I pick up a 3DS, I was thinking of snatching this game along with it. I remember buying Wipeout Pure with my launch PSP and enjoying the simple thrills of unrealistic racing.

Going back on track (hur hur), well-written, clearly conveyed review Anand. Funny too! Kinda bummed that online functionality lost it's way to the development room, but the single player stuff does sound fun. Can't say I've ever played a Ridge Racer game, but I just might soon.


Posted by 
 on: 04/23/11, 23:53:04  - Edited by 
 on: 04/23/11, 23:53:20
Anand, I can always count on your writing style to bring something both funny and informative at the same time. Nice review!

That profile shot of Kaz Hirai... classic.

Anand said:
I have to say, though. Doing this review made me question the purpose of doing full reviews, in general. It ended up kind of long, even though I was trying to be as concise as possible.

Well, for my taste, this review's length feels just right. Honestly, everyone reviews games differently, and it's better to get your message across in fewer words rather than adding extra 'padding' for the sake of length. If the words add value then add them!

Anyway, good review. This game is a definite potential purchase for my second 3DS game.


Posted by 
 on: 04/24/11, 00:58:39
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