Review: Namco Ridge Racer Accelerated
We never thought we'd see the day, but it happened: Namco has actually released an awful version of Ridge Racer. And by "awful," a word that we very rarely use where games are concerned, we mean to say that Ridge Racer Accelerated ($3*) for the iPhone is quite possibly the biggest disappointment yet from a company that powerslid its way into the hearts of hard-core gamers with the original Ridge Racer fifteen years ago: a simultaneous display of poor coding and in-app nickel and diming that never should have been released in its current form. It will shock and disappoint fans of the series, and if gamers weren't so forgiving, it would be easy to say that Accelerated had driven a stake through the heart of the Ridge Racer franchise. We say that as fans -- people who literally bought PlayStation consoles specifically to play their Ridge Racer launch titles.
The irony of the Accelerated name is that the iPhone and iPod touch version of Ridge Racer is slow: not just a little slow, but unplayably slow on anything but the powerful iPhone 3GS and third-generation iPod touch. Namco offers three speed classes with different cars, starting with the molasses-like Class 1, graduating up to the sluggish Class 2, and then—if you’re willing to pay $2, yes, seriously—there’s Class 5 with cars that aren’t much faster. If you’re on an iPhone 3GS or new iPod touch, you’ll see the speedometer hit 170 or 190 miles per hour and wonder why your car feels like it’s going 35; try to play it on an older device like the second-generation iPod touch and you’ll feel like you’re watching an old computer running a PlayStation Portable emulator. It’s slower and less fluid than Pole Position Remix, if that tells you anything.
Then there’s the “Ridge Racer” part of its title, which serious fans of arcade-style racers know to be close to a gold standard for 3-D graphics, techno music, and deliberately simple but exciting gameplay. From a technical standpoint, yes, there’s a Ridge Racer game trapped inside here: with the exception of the countdown timer, which has been moved directly to the center of the screen to help you understand why the game is ending abruptly after 30 or 60 seconds, Namco has given Accelerated almost the same look as the two PlayStation Portable versions that preceded it, including a cool CG opening movie, the same cool modern fonts, car-specific speedometers, and very similar car and track designs. In fact, the courses and music are taken directly from prior Ridge Racer games.
Though the music may be recycled, Namco’s approach to this part of the game is the only salutory part of its package. The soundtrack includes six “Red Disc” tracks and six “Blue Disc” tracks from the PlayStation Portable game Ridge Racer, which notably included 18 more songs but had a lot more storage space to work with—and a higher price. Ridge Racer Accelerated’s soundtrack is more than acceptable by iPhone and iPod touch standards: the fact that all the tracks are professionally composed, pumping techno actually brings the game’s audio portion into the upper echelon of titles on this platform; they’re diminished only by weak engine noises that are too loud against the music.
Race tracks are where Ridge Racer Accelerated goes from disappointing to insulting. Unlike the two prior PSP Ridge Racer titles, which included 12 and 21 tracks, respectively, a grand total of two tracks are included here for the base price, with “six courses” offered as an in-app purchase for $3. After the purchase, you get a surprise: it’s not really six additional tracks, but three tracks that are mirrored, and better yet, the mirrored versions are all locked after you make the purchase. You’ll have to wade your way through the standard versions first, which trust us, you’ll be hard-pressed to do given the game’s sluggishness. For those who might care, the game’s tracks are taken from R4 (Crimsonrock Pass/Heaven and Hell, Shuttleloop Highway/Shooting Hoops, Ocean Bay/Out of Blue), Ridge Racer Revolution (Sunset Drive/Novice) and Ridge Racer/V (Ridge City Highway/Advanced).
If you can get past the poor frame rates, it’s worth noting that the track designs in Ridge Racer Accelerated are more or less like the ones on the PlayStation Portable and original PlayStation—nothing is quite on a PlayStation 2 level of polygon complexity, and there are many signs that Namco has actually cut down on the polygon counts and other elements to try and make the game run decently on the iPhone 3GS. Checkpoint makers that appear mid-way through each race are floating in the air rather than attached to poles, and textures that looked pretty smooth in motion on the PSP are not so hot here; animated billboards, for example, are just flat here. On the flip side, Namco does include reflection effects on your car, and the shading, buildings, and trees are all just enough like the prior games to look good in screenshots. So this isn’t a complete disaster visually—only in all the ways that matter to a game that actually moves.
A final disappointment is in Ridge Racer Accelerated’s controls. Namco has left much of the game’s core steering, acceleration, and braking system the same over the years, making small car-specific tweaks and only radically enhancing the use of drifting, which along with a three-level boosting system took on new prominence in later Ridge Racer titles. Boosts and drifts are included in this version, but the drifting has gone from deliberately a little spazzy in the PlayStation Portable titles to completely out of control at moments in the iPhone and iPod touch games. Expect to find yourself doing 360 and 720 spins in the middle of a sharp turn without much warning, a drifting process that increases your turbo boosting ability but puts you at a speed disadvantage relative to your opponents. In the PSP and later PlayStation titles, drifting was worth mastering: here, it just feels like it wasn’t tweaked properly, at least for the way that the iPhone and iPod touch devices are actually playing the game.
Ridge Racer Accelerated is, in sum, an unthinkably bad release: a title that would never have passed muster on even the original PlayStation in its current form, let alone any of its successors, and further damages the impression of Namco that has developed across its prior iPhone and iPod touch titles. Worse yet, Namco obviously knows that the title is bad: its App Store page tells players that “iPhone 3G optimization” is “coming soon”—only a hint at how poorly the game runs on older devices—and tries to use the promise of future improvements to sell the game now. “Stay tuned for 40+ courses and 60+ machines,” says the page, simultaneously promising that “courses and machines will be rapidly added via free upgrade throughout 2010,” with the disclaimer that “some cars and courses may only be available at the online shop.” Namco, we’d like to offer one final suggestion to you before we give up on your games altogether: optimize your titles and populate them with quality content before they’re released, rather than afterwards. The half-baked, still-working-on-it approach didn’t work for Ace Combat Xi, and it doesn’t work in Ridge Racer Accelerated, either—in fact, you’ve just managed to all but ruin two storied franchises in less than a month’s time. It’s obvious that you know how to make great games on other platforms; now would be a smart time to start making a good impression here, too.