RIDGE RACER: TYPE 4 (1999) – NAMCO
One of my more successful reviews on this blog was my coverage of Gran Turismo, and its subsequent follow ups Gran Turismo 2 & Gran Turismo 3, where I proclaimed that to a large extent they live up to their tag of being the ‘real driving simulator’. These games however only cover one third of the holy trinity of racing games; there is simulation, kart racers where the likes of Mario Kart have dominated for years, and then the good old fashioned arcade racer. Arcade racers have always been about two things; driver’s skill to go as fast as possible, and leaving you with a huge smile on your face.
Some of the best franchises in game history have their roots at least in arcade racing; Need For Speed used to be an exercise in time trials, whereas Outrun stole millions of children’s quarters in arcade stores and Wipeout added a futuristic twist to the genre. The one name that stands out more than any other in my opinion however, is Ridge Racer. While some of you may only see it as a meme from E3, the Ridge Racer franchise encapsulates everything that an arcade racer should be; and one game in particular from the franchise shines out like a beacon; the fourth instalment, Ridge Racer: Type 4 (hereafter referred to as R4). With its release date nestled between the original Gran Turismo games, R4 had a bit of breathing space to work with, and offered a game that did its very best to upend Polyphony Digital’s new behemoth. Namco took it seriously; it wasn’t simply a port of an arcade machine like the three before it, it was a purpose made console game. So did it do the trick?
The meat and bones of R4 is the Grand Prix mode, where you must take part in a competition called the Real Racing Roots ’99 Championship. It is made up of eight tracks (which have much better design to them than most tracks in Gran Turismo, using airports and villages as their backdrops), split into three rounds which the player must qualify through to win the title. Upon selecting the Grand Prix option, you can pick between four teams; Micro Mouse Mappy (a French team for beginners), Pac Racing Club (a Japanese team for medium skill players), Racing Team Sovalou (an Italian team for advanced users – basically Ferrari) and the Dig Racing Team (an American team for experts). Its not just a name that you are picking however, as each team has a surprisingly engaging storyline to follow: for example, in the French team the owner Sophie has to marry her pre-arranged fiancée if you lose the championship, and in the Pac Racing Team the owner is looking to avenge an old friend. Its nothing that affects the gameplay, but its adds a nice touch of realism to proceedings, making Gran Turismo look relatively soulless in comparison.
What really sets R4 apart from the other Ridge Racer games however is the next choice: your car manufacturer. There are four teams to choose, all of which have different car designs and most importantly, different handling set-ups. Two of them are traditional Grip manufacturers, meaning your cars will stick like glue to the track ala Gran Turismo, and two offer Drift mechanics, where the quickest way around a corner is to powerslide. Now in R4 you cannot buy cars; you get upgrades depending on your performance. If you win every race, you will have the best car possible going into the next round of races, but finishing in different positions affects cars power and designs. In order to get every car in the game (of which there are 321), you have to play with every team, with every manufacturer, and finish in every set of qualifying predicaments. If that doesn’t scream out replayablity, then I do not know what does.
The handling set up doesn’t really make its presence felt until you hit the track. In typical arcade fashion, you start every race at the back of the field and have to work your way to the front before the end of the race. If you picked the grip option, you can find yourself carrying huge entry speed into a corner and hanging on through the bend, but lets be honest, that’s a bit boring. If you want to maximise the enjoyment from this game, you pick a drifting car. Here the scenario; you are approaching a hairpin bend at roughly 200km/h. Turn in, lift off the accelerator, turn some more and then put the throttle down and you will be rewarded with the most glorious powerslides, allowing you to slingshot out of the corner with maximum power. It looks awesome, is easy to pull off, and makes you feel like a driving god. It’s a very easy game to pick up, and having the four difficulty options means you can tackle it at your own speed. One can lament that the Grand Prix mode doesn’t last very long (it can be done and dusted in under half an hour), but lest we forget it’s an arcade racer: meaning you play it in short fun bursts. And if you get bored of the Grand Prix mode, then there are traditional time trials to complete, two player split screen action (a first for the franchise on console) to have, and a bonus mode of Extra trials for those who want a real challenge. It does more than enough in my opinion to be a worthy Gran Turismo rival in terms of gameplay.
It wasn’t too far behind in the graphics department either. R4 was one of the first games on the Playstation to use ‘gouraud shading’ which basically meant they threw more pixels at the game to render it better. The result is a much clearer game than its predecessors, and one to rival the stunning graphics that Gran Turismo had introduced. It’s also worth noting that there is much more going on in the background in R4 than there is in Gran Turismo; helicopters swoop in and out of view, jets go by overhead, and fireworks erupt around the final lap of Shooting Hoops. The cars may not be licensed, but there’s some great design and artistic license used to create the car models, one of which resembles an old 1960’s F1 car. The menu’s and storyboard scenes also have a unique sense of design with logos and neon flying all around the place. It’s a very enjoyable game to look at.
And then there is the games party piece; a soundtrack jammed full of arcade beats and acid jazz. I really can’t think of a song that I disliked while playing the game, and having the option to pick a song before you race allows great flexibility. Hell, there’s even a remix of the Pac-Man theme thrown in if you unlock every car in the game. Notable songs include Pearl Blue Soul, Move Me, Movin’ In Circles and the menu music.
What R4 is then, is a lot of game for your money. The Grand Prix mode offers suitable challenge and it will takes you ages to get all the cars, and the other modes serve to offer plentiful distractions. The gameplay and handling is superb, as is the presentation. I haven’t even mentioned up to this point that in getting this game, you also got a updated version of the original Ridge Racer running at 60 frames per second for free. It really is one of the best racing titles for the Playstation, and I like to think that it was the game that forced Polyphony Digital to up the ante for Gran Turismo 2. Well worth going back to after all these years.