Franchise Festival #30: Ridge Racer

Welcome back to Franchise Festival, where we explore and discuss the history of noteworthy video game series from the last four decades. Older entries can be found here.

This week we’ll be burning rubber as we race through the history of Ridge Racer. The most significant resource was the Ridge Racer Wiki, unsurprisingly, but a handful of blog entries and contemporary reviews were helpful in establishing the narrative. These include Grant Heaslip’s analysis of R4: Ridge Racer Type 4 and Eurogamer‘s “Ridge Racer retrospective”. I could find no comprehensive history of the series online, so I hope this article helps to fill in the apparent gap.

All years refer to North American releases unless otherwise noted; readers can generally assume that the Japanese release date is earlier.


Nakamura Seisakusho was founded in 1955. Its early years were quiet, as it ran a small children’s amusement area on the roof of a Yokohama department store. As its own proprietary mechanical development increased, it was renamed Nakamura Manufacturing in 1959. By 1970, the company released its first coin-operated racing ride. Called Racer, this pre-arcade driving simulator would set Namco on a path towards its eventual dominance of the digital racing simulator genre in the 1990s.

Contemporary images from the rooftop amusement area run by Nakamura Seisakusho in Yokohama. Credit: History of How We Play

First, however, the company had to conquer the arcades. Its first volley was a corporate acquisition of the struggling Atari Japan in 1974. This gave Nakamura Manufacturing distribution rights to all of the American software juggernaut’s releases in Japan. It next updated its name once again, opting for the simple (and more internationally recognizable) Namco in 1977.

Magazine spread advertising Nakamura Seisakusho’s change of name. Credit: History of How We Play

Sensing market trends, Namco began to heavily invest in arcade games. 1979 brought Galaxian, a shoot-’em-up designed to compete with Taito’s popular Space Invaders (1978). Galaxian featured major visual innovations, including multicolored sprites, individual enemy AI and multiple font types, which hadn’t been encountered in prior arcade games. These enhancements led directly to Namco’s next major market coup: 1980’s Pac-Man. A series of arcade successes followed, including Galaga (1981), Dig Dug (1982), and – most significantly in the context of this article – Pole Position (1982).

Pole Position, the pioneer of racing games. Credit: Old Classic Retro Gaming

Pole Position is arguably the most influential racing game ever made, rapidly establishing many conventions of the genre. It used scaling sprites to emulate 3D visuals, fixed the player perspective behind the rear of the car rather than overhead, and introduced a real-life racetrack for the first time. Players take the role of a Formula One racecar driver and must qualify for a Grand Prix by first completing a time trial mode. The colorful, fast-paced game was so popular that it became 1983’s most commercially successful arcade machine in North America.

Final Lap, which players could play with seven of their closest friends (or enemies) for the first time. Credit: Ferrox

Namco moved into the home console market in the late 1980s, releasing numerous titles on the Nintendo Entertainment System in addition to its arcade games. 1987’s Final Lap would be another major arcade milestone, as Namco pioneered the ability to link multiplayer cabinets; this permitted simultaneous 8-player races for the first time, a feature which would go on to become a fixture of the arcade racing genre. Not content to rest on its laurels, however, Namco began to explore polygonal game design as it moved into the 1990s.


Ridge Racer (1993)

The first entry in the Ridge Racer franchise inauspiciously began its life as a sequel to Eunos Roadster Driving Simulator, a licensed 1990 arcade game co-developed by Namco and Mazda. This version (named SimDrive and featuring a full reproduction car to sit in) debuted at 1992’s Amusement Games Show in Japan, and represented an iteration on the rudimentary polygonal visual design employed by Namco in 1988’s Winning Lap. The second time was the charm, thankfully, as technology had caught up with Namco’s ambitions by the 1990s.

Contemporary magazine coverage of SimDrive before it was re-worked into Ridge Racer. Credit: Giant Bomb

Though SimDrive was available to play briefly in Japanese arcades during the Winter of 1992, it primarily functioned as a stepping stone for the team that built Ridge Racer. Rather than following the examples set by earlier Namco racing titles, Fumihiro Tanaka and the rest of the team assigned to develop Ridge Racer focused on illegal street racing. They emphasized drifting, a technique popularized by contemporary Japanese street racers, and set the game on a road leading around the fictional Ridge City. The perspective was first-person rather than the behind-the-car view that had been popularized by Pole Position.

The first image players see upon starting a race. Credit: ItalianGuy videogame and arcade’s channel

These unique design elements immediately set Ridge Racer apart from its competition. Drifting and powerslides would go on to become staple mechanics of the arcade and kart racing genres, while Ridge Racer‘s chief innovation was 3D models. The game only had one course, available in four difficulty settings, but its use of fully textured 3D vehicles and landscapes was revolutionary. Virtually every racing game released after this would feature three dimensional worlds.

This intense first-person perspective was a far cry from the previous decade’s racing titles. Credit: ItalianGuy videogame and arcade’s channel

At the same time, the game ran at a smooth 60 frames per second. This had been standard in sprite-based pixel games, but it was very challenging to achieve with advanced modeling due to hardware restrictions. Ridge Racer would be ported to the Sony PlayStation in 1994 as a launch title, itself a coup for the novice console manufacturer, but the framerate would be diminished by half during the transition; console architecture was apparently so different from Namco’s System-22 arcade game boards that the game was effectively remade rather than being adapted.

We’ll be seeing a lot of that bridge as the series goes on. Still, the depth here is impressive. Credit: ItalianGuy videogame and arcade’s channel

The PlayStation version includes two memorable evolutions on its arcade predecessor. While waiting for tracks to load, players can take part in an emulated version of Namco’s Galaxian (1978) – achieving a win state will actually open up additional cars to play in the main game! Proving the skillful programming acumen of its development team, Ridge Racer also permits players to insert their own CDs to function as the game’s soundtrack; this is made possible by the fact that Ridge Racer loads the entire game into the PlayStation RAM upon an initial boot-up, and would be a rarely-imitated trick during the CD-ROM era of home consoles.


Ridge Racer 2 (1994)

The most noteworthy of 1994’s two Ridge Racer releases was the original game’s port to the PlayStation. In contrast, the full-blown arcade sequel to Ridge Racer is more or less a minor update to what came before. Like its predecessor, a port was later released on the PlayStation; this was renamed Ridge Racer Revolution and was limited to a 30fps framerate, but was otherwise quite similar to the arcade version. While splitscreen remained absent on the home console release, ambitious players could connect two PlayStation units through a link cable and race each other on separate televisions.

The race track length can be extended depending upon the player’s skill level. Credit: ItalianGuy videogame and arcade’s channel

Only one track is available, as was the case in the original game, though it still includes a variety of geographical features in and around Ridge City. Cosmetic upgrades were made within the bounds dictated by Namco’s System-22 arcade architecture, including a rear-view mirror and a twist in which the setting alters from day to night as the player travels through a tunnel.

This track started out in daylight. Credit: ItalianGuy videogame and arcade’s channel

The most significant update is the addition of multiplayer. The original Ridge Racer arcade cabinet lacked any multiplayer capacity, which represented something of a step back from Namco’s own 1980s racing titles. This was likely down to the brief, eight-month development cycle and the novelty of a new piece of arcade hardware. By 1994, the development team was able to fully exploit available technology and reintroduce multiplayer racing in a 3D setting. This was a necessity to maintain relevance in an increasingly crowded market, as SEGA challenged Ridge Racer‘s market dominance with its new Daytona USA franchise.


Rave Racer (1995)

The series’ first major update came with a surprising name change. Gone was the ‘Ridge’ portion of the title, presumably to indicate a more substantial evolution than what had occurred between the first and second series entries.

That’s one low-flying helicopter over the person in first place. Ridge City has some rather questionable aviation laws, eh? Credit: ItalianGuy videogame and arcade’s channel

Up to eight players, in the case of four linked two-player arcade cabinets, can choose between four courses for the first time. Two of these tracks are derived from the preceding Ridge Racer games, while two are entirely new. All feature the diverse locales and challenging turns for which the franchise had become known.

A new rural environment outside of the urban areas for which the series had been known. Credit: ItalianGuy videogame and arcade’s channel

At the same time, a force-feedback steering wheel was introduced. Like the rumble which would later characterize home console controllers, this feedback offered a tactile layer of immersion when coupled with Rave Racer‘s impressive graphics. The controls have been fine-tuned more generally, and were well-received by the fan community. For the first time, no direct console port followed the arcade version.


Rage Racer (1997)

Instead of a console port, elements of Rave Racer were included in a new entry developed from the ground up for the home console market. Rage Racer would be the biggest departure for the series yet, and would prove influential on an increasingly popular sub-genre of racing simulator.

Have you wondered how drivers became known as “rage racers?” If so, this game’s opening text crawl will disappoint you. Credit: World of Longplays

Released on the PlayStation in North America during 1997 (after having been published in Japan the preceding year), Rage Racer introduced a more realistic approach to the franchise. Cars were still fictional stand-ins for real-world makes and models, but could be improved by spending money acquired from winning races. Cars could be upgraded through a class system, improving the player’s viability in races against increasingly skilled AI opponents.

We start to see an interesting approach to menu design that will persist into future entries. Credit: World of Longplays

A characteristically limited track library came under criticism, unfortunately. The development team compensated for this dearth of unique courses by overhauling the series’ distinctive visuals. The colorful vehicles and locations from earlier entries were replaced by darker, more realistic tones in keeping with Rage Racer‘s movement away from arcade racer and towards a more ‘hardcore’ car enthusiast’s racing simulator. Polyphony Digital’s Gran Turismo, released on PlayStation in late 1997 at the end of a five-year production cycle, would follow many of the same design principles.

At last, this series has a mascot – welcome Reiko Nagase. Credit: World of Longplays

One final peculiarity set Rage Racer apart from its predecessors. After briefly appearing in Rave Racer, series mascot Reiko Nagase made her official debut on the PlayStation-exclusive game. In keeping with presentation trends of the 32-bit era, an impressive CGI introductory sequence sets the tone for Rage Racer; Nagase is the centerpiece, performing the role of race queen and adding a touch more identity to the series without compromising its roots in the Japanese street racing scene of the late 1980s and early 1990s.


R4: Ridge Racer Type 4 (1999)

The Ridge Racer franchise closed out its time on the PlayStation with its most impressive entry so far. R4 sells a more ambitious package from its opening moments, in which a lush CGI cutscene conveys a short story starring series mascot Reiko Nagase. The developers’ unique sense of artistic identity is retained for the rest of the game as well, with its menus’ elegant typography coming alive through rich animation. Happily, this was not a matter of style over substance.

Hitchhiking Reiko. Credit: World of Longplays

The series introduces a story mode for the first time, as players get to experience mean-spirited managers, an arranged marriage, and even the navigation of different international racing teams. These team elements tie into the game mechanics, as the four teams offer distinct opportunities to gather new cars built by fictional car manufacturers in the team’s associated home country; each car manufacturer specializes in different performance attributes, so players must adapt to varying vehicle handling and speed to succeed when allied with different factions. Humorously, the four team names are drawn from earlier Namco games: R.C. Micro Mouse Mappy, Pac Racing Club, Racing Team Solvalou and Dig Racing Team.

Dig the elegant menu design and the poetic reflection. Credit: World of Longplays

In spite of the ambitious story mode and strong presentation, gameplay variety is where R4 shines the brightest. For the first time, splitscreen multiplayer is possible in a home console Ridge Racer entry. 320 cars can be unlocked as the player accrues victories throughout the robust single player mode; once all 320 are unlocked, the player even gets access to a car modeled on Namco’s beloved Pac-Man.

R4 deploys grittier environments as part of its overall shift away from earlier series entries’ arcade feel. Credit: World of Longplays

All of this takes place across eight tracks, the most ever assembled in the series’ history. As one final bonus, and a demonstration of how far the development team had come in harnessing the PlayStation hardware’s strengths over the preceding four years, an updated version of the original Ridge Racer was packaged alongside copies of R4; this remaster features upgraded visuals and a steady 60fps framerate. Namco had closed out Ridge Racer‘s first decade with a bang, and fans were eager to see what would come next.


Ridge Racer 64 (2000)

Before the series would move on to the next console generation, it would make a surprising appearance on the Nintendo 64. All preceding console offerings in Namco’s flagship racing franchise had been produced for Sony’s hardware, but it seems that Nintendo was interested in adding another game to the ever-increasing library of arcade racers on its 64-bit system. Genre entries already available to Nintendo loyalists included Cruis’n USA (1996), San Francisco Rush (1997), Cruis’n World (1998), Rush 2: Extreme Racing (1998), and the delightfully odd Beetle Adventure Racing! (1999).

One of Ridge Racer 64‘s new desert tracks. Credit: World of Longplays

In an unlikely twist, Ridge Racer 64 was developed in-house by Nintendo rather than Namco. Namco did support the development process, though, and was likely instrumental in porting over levels from Ridge Racer and Ridge Racer Revolution, the PlayStation adaptation of Ridge Racer 2. In addition to those levels, Nintendo included a set of desert-themed tracks exclusive to this title. More substantially, the player can view his or her car from an outside perspective for the first time in series history. The most significant feature, however, was the inclusion of four-person splitscreen multiplayer.

Splitscreen with up to four players! I tried to find a full roster of four when researching this, but the best I could find was three. Credit: aaronmunroe

Ridge Racer 64 was not particularly well-received and did little to distinguish itself from an already-large arcade racer marketplace. Its level selection and car selection compared poorly to the more exotic elements of its competitors, though it succeeded on a technical level. Unlike some ports of the late ’90s, its performance was on par with earlier entries released for the PlayStation; sadly, the series had moved forward since the days of Ridge Racer and Ridge Racer Revolution, and there was little here to match the depth of the preceding year’s R4.

“Who is this young upstart mascot?!” “Why, Gina Cavalli of course!” *deafening boos* Credit: EightBitHD

In spite of this cool reception, a port would be released on the Nintendo DS in 2004. A handful of changes were made to take advantage of the DS’ unique touch interface and wireless functionality. Series mascot Reiko Nagase was also replaced with Gina Cavalli, a character from Ridge Racer spinoff R: Racing Evolution (2003), while bonus cars featured  appearances based on Mario characters.


Ridge Racer V (2000)

Ridge Racer‘s jump to the 128-bit console generation, much like its appearance on the Nintendo 64, would represent a throwback to the mid-’90s rather than an iteration on the more complex mechanics of Rage Racer or R4. The visuals had been dramatically enhanced for the powerful new PlayStation 2, but the track selection and single player experience had more in common with the series’ earliest days.

Ugh, another race queen? Credit: xTimelessGaming

No narrative is present, eschewing much of the advancement possible in R4. Grand Prix races are still challenged in order, allowing the player to collect new vehicles, but the dense simulation elements of Rage Racer have been fully excised. Even Reiko Nagase has been replaced by Ai Fukami; thanks to an online poll, the new fictional race queen would be replaced by her predecessor in future series titles. Finally, splitscreen multiplayer is once again absent.

The helicopter on Ridge Racer‘s original track in 2000 is more fully modeled, if not particularly more impressive, than the irresponsible flier first glimpsed seven years earlier. Credit: xTimelessGaming

Still, some improvements had been made. Seven tracks are available, with variations that make fourteen total courses. Visual filters can be applied to the game, softening its appearance or offering a more cinematic experience. A bonus mode is also discovered if the player racks up 1,500 miles during his or her playtime: in Pac-Man GP, the player takes on the role of a roadster-borne Pac-Man as he races to escape Inky, Blinky, Pinky and Clyde (all riding scooters, naturally).

I love that the speed gauge is also a Pac-Man shape. Credit: pHanta 6

Though a later arcade port of Ridge Racer V would be released in Japan, it was apparent by 2000 that Namco had fully shifted focus from arcades to home consoles. The divide between powerful arcade boards and limited home console hardware had grown slimmer throughout the 1990s, and that trend would only become more pronounced in the following decade. At the same time, the American arcade market diminished rapidly as consoles’ 3D visuals and online multiplayer edged out the arcade’s formerly unique selling points. Ridge Racer had originated as the vanguard of a new era of arcade racers, but Namco had wisely adapted in order to preserve its high-speed IP.


Ridge Racer (2004)

In the same year that a port of Ridge Racer 64 launched alongside the Nintendo DS, Namco released a second game on Sony’s PlayStation Portable. Unlike the one on Nintendo’s dual-screen hardware, however, the PSP’s Ridge Racer was not a direct port. Still, it collected elements from earlier games, including tracks and vehicles. Its primary selling point was its presentation, as the game looked like a portable PlayStation 2 game. Much like its direct PlayStation 2 predecessor, however, it lacked the complex simulation elements present in later series entries on the original PlayStation.

This is the hotel strip sequence from the original game (viewable in the header above). Credit: Vysethedetermined2

The one interesting new mechanic layered on top of the game’s largely recycled content is the introduction of nitrous boosts. These offer a new way to improve one’s position, and function similarly to the way that players engage a powerslide boost in Nintendo’s Mario Kart series. Rather than automatically initiating a boost at the conclusion of a slide, however, the player instead builds up a nitrous meter through repeated drifts and can activate it at his or her leisure once full.

BOOST! Credit: Vysethedetermined2

Ridge Racer (2004) was well-received on the PSP, which speaks to its impressive conversion from home consoles. Little of the content was new, but it had been compiled into a genuinely engaging package. Of course, perhaps fans and critics were just happy that Reiko Nagase was back after she had seemingly been abandoned on the series’ PS2 debut four years earlier.


Ridge Racer 6 (2005)

Ridge Racer 6 was the first series entry on HD consoles. Consequently, its visual presentation is stellar. The series had been known for strong art direction, so the lighting and textures possible on the Xbox 360 were only going to enhance it still further.

To drift is to live. Credit: GameplaysELV

Its gameplay is, overall, less ambitious. The core drifting is still the series’ main draw, though it is augmented here by the nitrous boost system first introduced in the previous year’s PSP outing. This reinforces what had worked in the past, but does little to iterate or compete with the increasingly crowded field of arcade racers. Perhaps the series’ trait of launching at the dawn of a new hardware generation had finally caught up to it, as Ridge Racer was less likely than competitors to take advantage of unique hardware quirks over time.

Xploring the world. Credit: GameplaysELV

Still, two major updates are present in Ridge Racer 6. The first is structural, as courses and Grand Prix are no longer simply selected from a menu. Instead, a tree system called World Xplorer slowly opens up new races over time; only courses adjacent to a completed competition open up, featuring distinct difficulty levels and car selection, so the player must strategically plan his or her route through the single player mode. The second major overhaul is multiplayer: up to fourteen Xbox 360 users could remotely join one another for an online race, while fans more interested in asynchronous multiplayer could download ghost data of other players’ performances. These were a welcome addition, and a herald of things to come within the wider competitive online space when the game was released in 2005.


Ridge Racer 7 (2006)

Ridge Racer 6 had not made much of a splash on the Xbox 360, but the series’ 2006 return to its original console brand – Sony – saw myriad improvements. Ridge Racer 7 would be the best title since the dawn of the new millennium, though a changed marketplace would ensure that the series did not regain its place as the genre’s standard-bearer.

The hardware is leveraged for increasingly open environments. Credit: RacingGameArchive

The most recent updates to the franchise’s formula, including nitrous boosting and online multiplayer, are all present. On top of these reliable mechanics are layered simulation elements and challenging new modes of play. The former had largely been absent from the series following 1999’s R4, and returns with a host of vehicle parts and visual flair to buy using in-game currency. The latter includes an exhilarating duel mode, in which the player must race against one dangerous AI-controlled opponent rather than a group of thirteen less-competitive rivals.

Using the boost to chase, I assume. Credit: RacingGameArchive

There are some drawbacks, naturally. Only forty cars are present, representing a steep decline from the 130 available in Ridge Racer 6. Textures fall short at times in order to ensure a steady 60fps framerate.  Finally, some events and car decals can only be accessed by purchasing downloadable content, that scourge of the seventh console generation. Of course, it’s impossible to know whether this content would have been included at all without the presence of a digital storefront.

An impressively rich system of race challenges. Credit: RacingGameArchive

Interestingly, the most significant update to the game would not be monetized. In 2010, Namco offered a free downloadable patch that enabled Ridge Racer 7 to be played in 3D if the player owned a television capable of displaying it. Few games included this option, so fans were thrilled to receive an entirely new dimension of play. It was also a reminder of the series’ origins, as Ridge Racer had pioneered the use of in-game 3D modeling seventeen years earlier.


Ridge Racer 2 (2006)

In March 2006, Namco merged with fellow software company Bandai to form Namco Bandai. This would result in an even more powerful publishing company, but would not disrupt the ongoing release of Ridge Racer titles. Like its arcade/PlayStation namesake, the PSP’s Ridge Racer 2 is not a true sequel to its direct portable predecessor. Instead, it represents a simple expansion to 2004’s Ridge Racer. More tracks are included, totaling 42 when day and night variations are factored in.

The Pac is back. Credit: xTimelessGaming

As a bonus for long-time series fans, the game features something of a historical compilation element. Every track from the PlayStation-era Ridge Racer games has been included, along with unlockable versions of the opening FMV sequences from preceding title. Even Duel Mode, which had been perfected in Ridge Racer 7 after its introduction in Ridge Racer V, has been added to the series’ new portable installment.

It’s mildly intriguing to me that the titles featuring the most outlandishly proportioned vehicles (this PSP entry and Pocket Racer) were limited to Japan. Credit: xTimelessGaming

Strangely, Ridge Racer 2 was never released in North America. It was published in Japan, then in Europe and Australia, but never made it to the Western hemisphere. Still, thanks to the PSP’s region-free architecture, enterprising North American fans are able to import a copy from abroad.


Ridge Racer Accelerated (2009)

With Namco willing to make the leap from arcades to console development as market forces demanded, fans should not have been surprised when it went all-in on supporting mobile devices during the 2010s. This update to Ridge Racer‘s development model began with the iOS’ Ridge Racer Accelerated in 2009. Certain aspects of the series have been translated directly to the comparatively low-powered Apple platform. Nitrous boosting, drifting, and FMV introductions all make their return, suggesting an otherwise typical Ridge Racer experience. The game engine and menu design, in fact, had been imported wholly from the PSP’s Ridge Racer games.

Even the opening cutscene resembles an Apple iPod advertisement from the 2000s. Credit: Playscope Mobile

In contrast, however, the controls set this apart from anything that had come before. Mobile devices lack standard controllers, so Ridge Racer Accelerated‘s development team adapted the game’s input to the hardware. Tilting the device left or right steers, while acceleration and boosting are handled by an on-screen interface.

Check out the on-screen interface. Credit: Mattie LT Marker

More controversial still is the use of microtransactions. These had already become standard in the mobile market by 2009, but represent a significant departure from earlier Ridge Racer games. Two tracks were available to players at launch, while all others are purchased individually for $2.99 USD per course. Many cars are similarly locked behind a paywall where they would have formerly been acquired through gameplay. Gated content, along with the imprecise controls and some underwhelming visual design, left the series’ mobile debut a stark critical failure. Unlike Namco’s previous experiences leaping from arcade to home console, and then from home console to handheld console, entering the mobile market would prove to be a more challenging transition.


Ridge Racer 3D (2011)

In keeping with recent tradition, the launch of a new handheld console meant the release of a new Ridge Racer in its launch software lineup. The Nintendo 3DS premiered in North America on March 22, 2011, but was narrowly preceded by Ridge Racer 3D. The new game exploited similar features to Ridge Racer 7’s 2010 3D update, but was able to do so using hardware rather than being dependent on an external display device.

Yes, Miis invaded even the venerable Ridge Racer. Credit: MagneonGames

It also made use of the 3DS’ unique StreetPass functionality. Players who passed one another with their 3DS units in sleep mode with wireless activated would receive one another’s ghost data. Asynchronous multiplayer was possible without the player ever needing to access or intentionally download content.

How do you suppose Inky hits the accelerator without a foot? Credit: MagneonGames

Ridge Racer 3D is largely similar to its predecessors in gameplay mechanics, but does feature a new car customization sequence prior to races; drift, handling, and visual appearance can be easily altered to reflect the player’s preferences. A Pac-Man vehicle and track are also included, dialing up the whimsy to eleven.


Ridge Racer (2012)

The critical and commercial success of the PSP’s two Ridge Racer titles ensured that one would be produced for Sony’s next handheld device. Sadly, it would be unable to replicate the success of those earlier games. In keeping with issues encountered by players in the disappointing Ridge Racer Accelerated, a bare-bones experience was plagued by predatory microtransactions.

At least there’s confetti. Credit: 2048Dan

Ridge Racer (2012) was described by a contemporary IGN review as little more than a tech demo. Only three tracks are included on-disc, with six more obtainable through microtransactions. None are new to the series. Only five cars are included and customization options are limited compared to earlier entries.

If these sheep wandered onto the track, we’d be in Cruis’n USA territory. Credit: 2048Dan

Most frustrating for long-time fans is the absence of any compelling single-player content. No career or simulation options are available, so there is no sense of progression when playing the game on one’s own. The multiplayer, on the other hand, is hamstrung by a level progression system which rewards time put into the game rather than player skill.

Note the level indicator column. It’s not a coincidence that level rankings correspond to placement in the race. Credit: Kishio022

Fans found little to recommend about the series’ PlayStation Vita debut, and it marked the second Ridge Racer title in three years to be critically panned. After two strong decades, the cracks had begun to show in one of the medium’s most influential racing franchises.


Ridge Racer Unbounded (2012)

Perhaps concerned about its series’ recently faltering reputation, Namco opted to dramatically overhaul Ridge Racer for its final outing on the seventh console generation and its first on PC. Instead of adhering to the street-racing drift-oriented gameplay that had served its predecessors well in the 1990s and 2000s, Ridge Racer Unbounded looked to the Burnout series and the Japanese-exclusive Critical Velocity (2005) for inspiration. A new studio, Bugbear Entertainment, was hired by publisher Namco Bandai to imbue the long-running series with fresh blood.

So long Ridge City. We’re in Shatter Bay now. Credit: IKYG786

Rather than a standard career mode, in which the player competes in generic Grand Prix races to acquire new vehicles or parts, Ridge Racer Unbounded returns to the narrative elements of R4. The player character, a member of a street gang called The Unbounded, must compete with rival gangs across seven city districts. Winning these races nets currency for car upgrades and unlocks new tracks as the gang establishes supremacy over areas of the newly introduced Shatter Bay.

Say what you will, I think Anonymous Racer 7 had it coming. Credit: IKYG786

Drifting and boosting mechanics remain, but are augmented by a new emphasis on destruction. Enemy racers are aggressive, and sustaining damage can lead to the total breakdown of the player’s vehicle. By the same token, the player is encouraged to disable his or her opponents by similarly inflicting damage. Environments also feature destructible elements, opening up new routes on subsequent laps.

Check out the slick ‘lap’ overlay on the left wall. Credit: IKYG786

Alternate game modes are provided, including a racing system that eschews new mechanics in favor of classic drift-oriented races. Another mode focuses exclusively on destruction, as a countdown timer can only be extended by blowing up rival racers. Most importantly, a level editor is included for the first time in series history. These levels can be shared online, offering a potentially unlimited set of tracks.

The basic version of the level editor. Credit: BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment Europe

Having lost a good part of its cultural cache to competitors over the past five years of mediocre series entries, Ridge Racer‘s newest addition released to critical acclaim and commercial disappointment. The weirdest was yet to come, however. An updated, free-to-play version of Unbounded was published in a beta form for the PC platform and PlayStation 3 in 2013.

Yes: these are cards used to distribute upgrades in a racing game. It’s not hard to understand why Ridge Racer Driftopia failed to captive the public. Credit: gocalibergaming

The humorously-titled Ridge Racer Driftopia shared much more in common with the series’ recent mobile and Vita entries than one might have hoped, unfortunately. Its engine, cars and trucks were directly pulled from Unbounded, but the only two modes available were a solo time attack mode and competitive races with other players’ ghost data. New cars must be bought using real-world currency, and are bafflingly represented as cards being randomly distributed in sealed booster packs. Worse still, damage sustained during races could only be repaired through the use of repair kits; after receiving a handful of kits for free at the game’s start, players needed to buy these through microtransactions. The game was widely criticized (when it was discussed at all), and servers would be permanently shut down in 2014.


Ridge Racer Slipstream (2013)

Released to coincide with the series’ twentieth anniversary, Ridge Racer Slipstream would represent a massive improvement on its mobile predecessor. iOS users got access in December 2013, just in time to commemorate the original game’s 1993 release, while Android users would have to wait for early 2014. Luckily, the lengthier development cycle resulted in a more polished product.

This looks, more or less, like a standard console or handheld Ridge Racer entry. Credit: Unmesh Gaikwad

Sixteen vehicles and twelve tracks are available; none are gated behind microtransactions paywalls. The career mode is more substantial than recent handheld and mobile series entries, offering a staggering 216 races. Simulation elements have return once again as well – the player can extensively customize the appearance and performance of his or her vehicle by acquiring new parts.

Looks like Ridge Racer has entered The Veil. Credit: Unmesh Gaikwad

Microtransactions are available, but do not have a serious bearing on the player’s ability to progress through the game. This represents a rather surprising reversal of market trends, as the home console and PC beta of Ridge Racer Driftopia featured a bevy of manipulative microtransactions as its mobile counterpart offered a complete Ridge Racer package with one purchase. In contrast to many studios’ attempts to capitalize on nostalgia through thin anniversary celebrations, Namco Bandai had stuck the landing on Ridge Racer‘s twentieth anniversary.



Only a few Ridge Racer spinoffs have been released over the past twenty-five years. The franchise is defined by a small enough set of unique identifiers that Namco historically opted to develop similar games as unique IPs rather than tying them directly to Ridge Racer.

Awww, what a cute car. Credit: Ferrox

The first significant spinoff is a variant on the original Ridge Racer arcade machine. Pocket Racer was published in Japan during March 1997 and was never exported to the West. The game features an identical engine to the original Ridge Racer, but the vehicles have all been replaced with cute chibi-style cars.

These are the makings of a great racecar driver. “Step on it Rena!” Credit: xTimelessGaming

R: Racing Evolution (2003) took an opposite approach, integrating Ridge Racer‘s gameplay with a more extensive narrative and the addition of real-world vehicles. The plot involves an ambulance driver named Rena who enters the world of illegal street racing after a chance encounter. Her rival, Gina, would actually go on to replace Reiko Nagase as the race queen in the Nintendo DS port of Ridge Racer 64.

That there’s a Toyota! Credit: xTimelessGaming

Finally, Ridge Racer: Draw and Drift would offer a new control mechanism when it was released on mobile devices in 2016. Acceleration is automatic, unlike earlier mobile games, and the emphasis is  placed entirely on the series characteristic drift mechanic. Players actually use their touch interface to draw a drift trajectory onto the screen using their fingers! While this is surprising enough, mascot Reiko Nagase graduates from race queen to team manager in the game’s career mode.

A 2016 lootbox in Drift and Draw. If it’s good enough for Overwatch, it’s good enough for Ridge Racer. Credit: gocalibergaming

Ridge Racer has a handful of core features, but has proven strikingly adaptable over the past twenty-five years. It moved first from arcade to home console, then to handheld devices, then to mobile devices. As Bandai Namco remains tight-lipped on the matter of future console entries, it is possible that the series has entirely shifted gears to the mobile world. Fans may be disappointed that Ridge Racer never had the opportunity to leverage the eighth console generation’s powerful technology, but the franchise never was entirely focused on its visuals; it was always about the drift.

What’s your take? Do you prefer the arcade versions of Ridge Racer? Perhaps mobile is more your speed? What’s your favorite vehicle? Do you wish Gina had permanently replaced Reiko? Let’s discuss in the comments below.