Transitions: The Launch Games/End Games Blog

Posted on Oct 8th 2010 at 02:51:11 PM by (dsheinem)
Posted under launch games, launch game, end game, Ridge Racer, racing, PS2

This is the second part of a five part series looking at those titles in the Ridge Racer series of games that have been launch titles.  Part 1 covered the first Ridge Racer game, for the PS1.  This entry covers Ridge Racer V for the PS2.

The first Ridge Racer was arguably the highlight of the PS1 launch, being the only game featured as a launch title in all three major regions.  It was also the only arcade-style racer released at that system's launch, and so for many it had helped to define Sony's first console from the very start as the place to go for arcade quality titles.  Certainly Sony had high hopes that Ridge Racer V would live up to this legacy.

When the PS2 launched ten years ago this month (October 2000 in the USA), the gaming landscape was markedly different from what it had been when Sony's PS1 hit stores five years prior.  The second golden age of the arcade (the mid 90s) had ended, arcade style racing games were losing market share to driving simulation games such as Gran Turismo, and gamers had become accustomed to graphically polished and in-depth experiences from the racing genre.  They had also become accustomed to choice, as there were probably a dozen racing franchises in active production at the turn of the millennium.  Fortunately for Namco, Ridge Racer Type 4 had been quite successful and so hopes were high for Ridge Racer V.  Nonetheless, V certainly had to contend with a different context than its PS1 launch game predecessor.  How did it fare?  As a launch title, it is significant for several reasons:

Ridge Racer V

It was the only traditional racing game at the PS2 launch.  The PS2 launch had no shortage of opportunities for gamers to drive fast .  On launch day, Smuggler's Run, Wild Wild Racing, Midnight Club: Street Racing, and Moto GP offered racing fans a wide selection of titles that could address their need for speed,  but only Ridge Racer V offered the option to drive a racing car around a traditional track in an arcade style racer. This seems like it was probably a deliberate choice by Sony, as they did this with the first Ridge Racer game at the PS1 launch and would repeat this model with the PS3 launch.

It was a return to the series' roots. In an often criticized move, Ridge Racer V stripped away many of the additions the series had seen over the years in terms of gameplay, car selection, customization, and other more simulation style racing enhancements.  The main track is similar to the one featured in Ridge Racer 1, and all the tracks are quite similar to one another.  The main gameplay mode is a Grand Prix mode for trophies, but there are only a few interesting rewards for doing well.  In other words, it is very much like the first Ridge Racer. 

Ridge Racer Type 4 shipped as a special edition with this Namco JogCon force feedback controller.  The controller could also be used in Ridge Racer V.

It was a showcase for PS2 graphics...but not in a good way.   Graphically, Ridge Racer V is a competent title and arguably looked better than the previous entries in the series with the possible exception of Type 4.  The tracks have more shading, lighting is better implemented, some nice spark effects are used, and the menus are slick.   But, the game features lots of flickering and aliasing problems (or "jaggies") which were a major concern at the PS2's launch.  One argument that some Dreamcast owners made was that their games featured a smoother look than those on the PS2, and Ridge Racer V was a common punching bag for these criticisms. 

An example of the "jaggies" found throughout the game.

It was really hard. Well, at least I thought so.  I can do pretty well in most of the Ridge Racer games without running into many problems until the latest levels.  Not so with V.  I've struggled with this game from some of the very earliest stages - in part because of the looser steering, in part because of some of the issues with graphics, but mostly because of the cheap AI and unresponsive controls.  It isn't that I can't drive the cars, but there often seems to be a disconnect between what I want the car to do and what it actually does.  This is certainly one of the more punishing games from the PS1 launch.

It failed to showcase many of the PS2's best features.  The audio CD-swapping trick, the unlocakables, and the mini-game features found in the original Ridge Racer all showcased the capabilities of the PS1.  There is nothing about Ridge Racer V which suggested the PS2 was a machine that could do new things or do old things better.  Part of the reason the PS2 sold well out of the gate was because it was a DVD player and because DVD-based games could hold much more information.  Ridge Racer V shipped on CD and didn't really feature very much content compared to some of the earlier CD-based titles in the series.  Furthermore, it didn't provide surround sound, use the new ports found on the system, or really push the hardware the way that some of the other launch titles did. 

It would be the only PS2 Ridge Racer game.  Perhaps all you need to know about Ridge Racer V's ability to hook people on the PS2 or get them interested in future racing games comes from this fact.  Whereas the PS1 had seen four Ridge Racer titles in five years, the PS2 turns ten this year with only one Ridge Racer game to its credit. 

In retrospect, even though Ridge Racer V offered a fully fledged arcade racing experience, it seemed like a rushed and incomplete project that failed to distinguish itself amongst the PS2 launch lineup the way that the first game in the series had on Sony's first console.  In future installments, we'll explore whether or not the series' other launch titles addressed these shortcomings.

Posted on Aug 3rd 2010 at 02:01:39 PM by (dsheinem)
Posted under Ridge Racer, Launch Games, Playstation, Racing

Some of you may instantly recognize the title of this post, others of you may be curiously scratching your heads.  If you don't recognize the quote, those are the immortal words uttered by the in-game announcer at the start of every race  in the very first Ridge Racer game for the Sony Playstation, one of the system's ten launch titles and one of its best known racers.  Many things can and have been written about the Ridge Racer series of games published by Namco, but they are interesting for this blog because five of the eleven games in the series have been in a console launch lineup.  The launch titles were:

This five part series of blog entries will look at each launch title in the Ridge Racer series and what, if anything, they did to showcase the new capabilities of each system.

Ridge Racer  - Sony Playstation

The Playstation's U.S. launch in September of 1995 featured only one game that had also been released when the system premiered in Japan the prior December: Ridge Racer.  In fact, Ridge Racer was the only launch game featured in all three major  game markets (JPN/NA/EUR ).  It seemed clear from the start that Sony was banking on Namco's arcade hit to help sell systems.

In the U.S., Ridge Racer was one of two racing games that new console buyers could choose from when entering their favorite game or electronics store on that Saturday morning in September.  The other, ESPN Extreme Games, featured an assortment of X-Games events such as street luge and mountain biking.  Only Ridge Racer provided a traditional automobile racing game.  So, new buyers looking to take the arcade racing experience home were faced with little choice but to buy it on launch day.  As it turns out, they couldn't have done much better: Ridge Racer is an absolute gem of a racing game that accomplished many technical feats fifteen years ago and holds up well to this day.

Arcades in the U.S. were still doing quite well in 1994 and 1995, and though the focus for many players had shifted from fighting games to racing games, there was a lot to choose from in coin-ops around the country in the mid-90s.  Increasingly, the best arcade games were seeing  high profile ports for home consoles.  During the period of time that the Saturn, Playstation, and N64 were released (between May 1995 and September 1996) each console had a racing game associated with it, a game that promised to push the limits of the console.  For Nintendo, that game was Cruisn' USA (though the game didn't make the N64 launch).  For Sega, the game was Daytona USA.  For Sony, it was Ridge Racer.

At the time, I was a die-hard Sega fan and insanely jealous of my friends who were able to enjoy their copies of Daytona USA at home.  Sure, the Daytona USA port didn't look arcade perfect, but it seemed close and impressed me nonetheless.  When I couldn't play on a friends' Saturn, I would still frequently pump quarters into the Daytona USA arcade machine as my home racing was limited to Virtua Racing for the Genesis for several more years (an excellent game in its own right).  By the time I finally joined the 32-bit generation and picked up a Playstation in late 1996 (skipping the Saturn altogether!), I was anticipating the release of new racing games for the PS1 (most notably Gran Turismo) and passed on picking up Ridge Racer.  I'd had my fill of racing with Daytona and Crusin' and decided to pick up games for other genres in the interim. 

So, I only recently acquired the classic PS1 launch game, and now wish I had done so a decade ago. 

Early PS1 games didn't feature many of the icons on the back indicating compatibility with memory cards, number of discs, etc.

As a launch title, the game is significant for several reasons:

The graphics.  There's no denying that an important draw for purchasers on launch day is graphics horsepower. The graphics put out in the PS1 port of Ridge Racer are simply better than they were for the Saturn port of Daytona USA.  The polygons are less blocky, the sense of speed is faster, and the scenery is more diverse.  There are usually more things happening on the screen at any given time, and aside from the poorly designed menus, the interface is quite polished.  Daytona may have been better in the arcades, but if these racing games were meant to show off what the system could do, Ridge Racer was an early harbinger of the doom of the Saturn.  Ridge Racer's graphics are bright, pop in is quite good for a first-gen title, and the scale of the landscape surrounding the courses is impressive.   

It allowed you to choose your own music.  Once the game was loaded and a race started, you could swap out the Ridge Racer CD for your own favorite disc.  The game would then randomly select tracks on your CD to play while you raced and navigated menus.  Since Daytona USA was a frequent point of comparison at the time this game came out, I should note that I also prefer Ridge Racers original music over Daaaaay-tohhhhhhh-nah's ( especially given the "classic" nature of the latter's songs). That said, nothing beats choosing your own musical selection.  In playing the game again for this post, I chose the era-appropriate Beck album "Mellow Gold."  Hearing track 11 playing over the credits was a sweet bit of randomness.  In an age where CD sales were really catching on, this was a nice way for the Playstation to showcase its versatility.

Place this in the CD drive to make Ridge Racer unplayable.

It featured a mini-game with a generous reward during the only loading screen.  Popping Ridge Racer into a console usually meant a few resets until all the enemies in this one screen version of Galaxian were cleared.  Clearing all the enemies in the limited time granted you access to three times the number of cars that would be available otherwise.  Not only did you have more options, but many of these were better cars.  Furthermore, the game only loads once at the very beginning, a welcome change from the frequent and frustrating waits experienced by owners of many other CD-based consoles at the time.  The fact that the loading screen is a game itself was icing.

The game featured a hefty amount of unlocakbles.  There were certainly games with unlockables in the previous generations, but Ridge Racer was one of the first CD-based games to offer multiple versions of tracks to unlock, cars that could be won, and other goodies for the devoted player to discover.  The ease of saving data on a memory card (times, unlocked tracks, etc.) meant that you could take these unlocked items with you, one of the key selling points for Sony's console.

The back of the manual provided alternate cover art.

Taken as a package, it is easy to see why Sony pushed for Ridge Racer to see a release in every major region on launch day.  Better racing games would eventually come, but compared to racers on other consoles that preceded Ridge Racer, Sony clearly had the upper hand and could better capitalize on the ongoing arcade craze.  The game is far from perfect; it is single player, some of the drifting feels too loose, the various tracks are all variations of one main track, the announcer voice is annoying, and the difficulty ramps up considerably in later stages.  However, the game is still worth playing today despite these weaknesses, if only to appreciate how different it was compared to what had come before.  The game would go on to see huge sales and win numerous awards in the next year.  It would also become Sony's first pack-in game. 

Ridge Racer spawned over 10 sequels.  We will revisit some of those games in future installments.

Next Up: an "end game"

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