Ridge Racer Nintendo DS Review

Since the first arcade edition and the then unforgettable PS One port, Namco's "Ridge Racer" has been an enjoyable arcade racing series. On the N64, the series stayed pretty formulaic, not straying far from the formula at all. The same can be said for this solid port of that very title here on the DS, but the fact that it is portable does make it a bit more desirable.

Players can be quick and plop themselves right into the game with the quick race option, though your car and course are already selected. The heart of the game is in the Grand Prix, a career of sorts. Here, gamers can tackle the course variants three at a time. As these are completed, more variants are unlocked. To earn more cars, it's over to the Car Attack mode. Here it's a one-on-one battle for the car your opponent is driving. Lose the race and it's no loss; win and the car is yours.

The biggest hurdle the game has faced is the control scheme. Lacking an analog stick, most people are faced with using the d-pad to steer around corners. That's hardly the way to steer a car in today's gaming world. An alternative option involves using the touch screen. While providing smoother control, holding the console steady, moving the stylus/thumb pad just enough, and accelerating/braking is just too complicated a process. You'll likely crash into the walls more here unwillingly than you will with the d-pad.

Like many other launch titles, the second screen is pretty much useless, at least if you use the d-pad. Using the stylus control, it shows a steering wheel that can help you steer, but the chances of actually looking down to see where it's at are slim. The races are far too fast. You still get the same screen if you use the d-pad. The only other information displayed is your current time and a small map of the course. It would have been great to use that screen as a rear-view mirror since no such feature is included anywhere in the game.

Getting everything unlocked is a small challenge, but there is little to see. After unlocking the first six course variants (there are, in theory, only three courses), they simply flip themselves to provide a new challenge. The different cars are far more fun to get simply to see which game the next one is based on.

Adding to the frustration level is some rather suspect hit detection, especially when it comes to car collisions. Opponents can seemingly pull along side you, make the hit, and then warp directly in front of you. Try the same thing with them and you'll push them forward. Making contact with a wall seems inconsistent as well, but not as bad as the car issues.

There are some really nice multi-player features, including 6-player single cartridge wireless play. This is not only a first, but it works well. Players do not get music and the announcer is absent (no loss), but the lack of wires and relative cheap cost make this feature a winner. If everyone does have a cart, more options are available and game setup goes much faster.

There's a fairly strong graphics engine at work here, pretty much the same one that powered the N64 version. Pixelization is more evident here, but thanks to a solid frame rate, you rarely have time to notice. Slowdown does occur, though it is rare. Environments are packed with detail, though the cars (based on Nintendo and Namco properties) seem to have taken a small hit in their polygon counts.

Practically trademarked by this series, techno once again blares under the races. It sounds incredible, basically a CD-quality soundtrack minus the CD. The stereo ability of the console is used perfectly. You'll know where you've been hit when it happens. The only annoyance is the way over the top announcer. Though he stays out of the standard races for the most part, during the Car Attacks, he speaks far too freely.

If you've followed this series, then you pretty much know what to expect here. If you haven't, this probably isn't the best introduction unless you have some patience to work with it. The basic game mechanics are still quite enjoyable once you get the feel down and the graphics make for a nice little showcase. The lack of course variety is a disappointment as are the control options, but this is a solid purchase if you find a deal.

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