Sony PSP: Frustratingly Beautiful

Ridge Racer 

Publisher: Namco
Number of players: 1 to 4

This the flagship title of the PSP launch, and for good reason: its graphics will blow you away. It's basically like a 3D PC racing game of about two years ago, or a smaller PS2 - it's awe-inspiring! The tracks alternate between city and country, which shows off all of the PSP's potential. Trees are multi-textured; the waterfall next to one track actually spits out foam; when the car in front of you skids its tires smoke; the setting sun is reflected on the road surface; tons of other such details are also present. And it's all going by at 50 frames per second without ever slowing down, regardless of the richness of the landscape - enough to make an Xbox pale with jealously. It's simply the best-looking game on any portable console, by a mile.

Other than the graphics, it's simply Ridge Racer, nothing more, nothing less. Arcade fans will appreciate it, but others will get tired of it fairly quickly.

This famous saga of the arcades is known for two things: drifts and nitro. To win races, you have to excel at the first and know how to manage the second. Drifts are to Ridge Racer what normal road adherence is to a real car; cars can have personalized drift properties. Cars spin and crash into the surrounding reality at a rate that reminds you more of a game like Wipeout. And the more you slide, the more your Nitro Gauge level increases. Then you have to use it intelligently to boost the car when it'll do you the most good - preferably in a straightaway.

The artificial intelligence is a little on the brain-dead side; your opponents are just ghosts that appear in front of you and that you have to catch up with. On the other hand, as in any self-respecting arcade game, you have to avoid errors once you step up to higher levels. The tracks are not terribly varied, either. You have to win races to unlock new tracks and new cars, but more often than not, they're just mirror images of tracks you've seen already.

In the end, Ridge is a good arcade game with blowaway graphics. It makes a fantastic demo, and you never get tired of the slow-motion shots that are "just like on TV." That sad, the eye candy eventually stops being a thrill, and only hard-core arcade fans will like this game over the long term. (One can only imagine what a game like GT4 would look like on a PSP with these graphics. It makes chills run down my spine...)

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