Ridge Racer is a perennial launch game. If there's a console releasing somewhere in the world, you can bank on Namco's racer sitting next to it when the first customers rush into the store. The day-one staple is also memorable for its gameplay; on looking at the screenshots, you might think "racing game". Obviously, that wouldn't be wrong, per se, but anyone that's played a game in the series will think "sliding sideways around corners" ahead of it.
It is, after all, a racing game where success largely comes about by executing the series signature sliding to best effect. Doing so, which basically just requires a release and repress of the accelerator, will earn you boost that will in turn give you the straight-line advantage you need to dominate your rivals.
So why the low score? The series normally does pretty well come review time; what sets this one apart? Almost nothing. Specifically, the main thing that holds it back is that there's almost nothing in the box. The base game has just five cars and three tracks - all of which are repeat-recycled from previous entries in the series. That's right, you've seen the meagre contents of this game several times before.
If you buy the retail version, which is about $70, you also get a "free" pass (limited time only) that lets you download the first DLC pack, which adds another 5 cars, three courses, and some songs. To buy it separately will cost you $13.50 which itself isn't awful value but when considered as a whole... quite honestly, this is one of the worst-value videogames ever released.
Not only is there little in the way of cars and tracks to race them on, there's also very little in terms of modes and options. There's a basic one-off race system, which is a good way to get used to the tracks (which takes all of about 10 minutes), a ghost-battling system, and a simple head-to-head online mode. That's pretty much it. About the only mode that's interesting is the one in which you can choose one of four manufacturers and then earn points to advance the fortunes of your chosen brand.
There's also a paper-thin customization system, to help you pretend there's more cars to play with than there actually is, and... the interface is nice, I guess?
It looks OK, in the way that PS2 games released in HD collections on the PS3 look OK. The fact that the tracks and, to a lesser extent perhaps, vehicles come from weaker system's legacy is patently obvious throughout. There are some nice depth of field effects but, for the most part, the visuals are decidedly sub-optimal. There's nothing really wrong with them, exactly (aside from the occasional time you'll slam into a wall because the smooth wall suffuses into the smooth background and you miss the corner), but they're far from what we'd expect the Vita is capable of.
Sound is quite decent, with the usual "you suck at cornering" announcer guy keeping you on your toes, while the futuristic tunes keep the blood pumping. The user interface, which is good in parts, clumsy in others, is also well appointed in terms of bleeps and bloops that thematically tie everything together nicely. There's even a bunch of (FREE!) DLC audio tracks to download, should you feel so inclined, although we suspect the existing soundtrack won't get a chance to loop once before you've consumed the included content.
If it was released for free, as a platform to hook people on paid-for DLC, Ridge Racer would be pretty cool. As it stands, at full retail price, it's one of the most preposterously ridiculous and - frankly - offensive attempts at separating a gamer from their money that we've ever seen. If you are stark-raving mad about Ridge Racer, simply must have some in your pocket, and can't find a PSP or afford a 3DS, this is a moderately non-stupidish way to blow a heap of cash in a way you'll only slightly regret. For the rest of us? Wait and hope they do the series justice by releasing a real Ridge Racer game down the line; this is not the game we were hoping for.