A PlayStation launch wouldn't be complete without a new Ridge Racer game, and thankfully Namco has kept with tradition. Ridge Racer is actually a compilation of sorts, bringing together tracks from the series' history (meaning the Japanese name of Ridge Racers was far more suitable) and squeezing them into the sleek new handheld. This, then, is a true Ridge Racer game, not another attempt to tackle the Gran Turismos of the world; a proper arcade racing game, and a game that can't be bettered by any other PSP launch title.
If you haven't been fortunate enough to play any previous games in the series, you may feel somewhat under whelmed. Playing the game like a traditional racer would be like eating soup with chopsticks: plain wrong. The key to success - and your enjoyment - lies in powersliding. Activated by a simple release of the throttle, then a turn combined with re-applying the throttle, powersliding is simple to pull off, but hard to master. Almost anyone will be able to horizontally slide around a sharp bend, but taking it at top speed and controlling the exit takes practice.
The only real difference here over previous games in the series is the introduction of Nitrous. Powersliding will fill up your nitro metre, eventually filling one of three boosts. These boosts can be used whenever you like, but it's usually best to make the most of the speed on a long straight. Your opponents will also use boosts in their attempt to win, but on the whole they don't put up much of a fight and don't jostle with you as much as the AI drivers do in games like Forza. Once you master powersliding, you'll have little trouble progressing through the World Tour, although the later races are quite challenging. The game can be saved after each race, so it's perfect for a quick race now and again; there's no need to sit through a whole tour if you don't have time for it.
On top of the World Tour mode you've got Time Attack, Single Race and Multiplayer. The WiFi multiplayer works very well, but as with almost every multiplayer PSP game available, every player will require his/her own copy of the game. We've managed some four-player games and it was as exciting as you'd expect. Racing against real life opponents is far more challenging and a real test of your skills. Up to eight players are supported, but given that there is no online play in the game, it's highly unlikely that you'll stumble across enough players to test this out.
Visually little else on the PSP matches Ridge Racer. While the environments aren't as detailed as you'd see in a quality PlayStation 2 racer, the sense of speed is incredible. Early race series and cars are a little slow, but you'll soon unlock new series and cars that will have you tearing around at breakneck speed, powersliding for all you're worth. Lighting effects are also superb, with some excellent subdued yellows filling the screen during dawn races, while the sun bounces off the track on a sunny day. The only bad think that can be said is that Ridge Racer makes most other PSP titles look poor; the fact that the game stands almost unchallenged as the best showcase of the system's power some ten months after it was released in Japan is testament to the guys at Namco and what they have been able to achieve with a first-generation PSP title.
Audio, too, is great. Much like the classic tunes from the original PlayStation game, the tracks on offer here are excellent. There's a mixture of brand new tunes and remixed tracks from previous games in the series, and they all sound great.
Ridge Racer is a pretty straightforward racing game (hence this rather short review), and its brilliance can only really be seen when you play it. Anyone new to the PSP will be astonished the first time they give Ridge Racer a whirl. Handhelds (even the DS) haven't been able to recreate the home console racing experience, but the PSP can, and Ridge Racer proves it. If you didn't like any of the previous games in the series then you probably won't think much of Ridge Racer, but everyone else should put this at the top of their list come September 1st.