In Depth Review: Ridge Racer DS [NDS]
Ridge Racer came out for the original Playstation as a launch title, and instantly became one of the fan favorites. Several iterations later and a fifth official sequel on the Playstation 2, and Ridge Racer games once again are poised to become launch titles: this past November of 2004 in the form of Ridge Racer DS, and in March of 2005 for the PSP in the form of Ridge Racers. With a neat touch-wheel idea and smooth graphics, how does the Nintendo DS version fare?
It fares... not so well. Among the favorable traits of Ridge Racer DS were the relatively nice visuals, catchy music, the one-card Wi-Fi play, and traditional Ridge Racer action that fans have come to know and love. Among the well, clunker traits, were the drunken touch-wheel controls, the almost equally inept d-pad controls, and collision detection... and for N64 vets, the fact that it's the same game as the N64 version. Before I continue, a note: I never played the N64 version going into this, so this review is free of pre-played experiences.
Let's break it down. I've heard that the game's visuals are "teh suk". I don't personally think so. It does indeed look like an N64 game, but it manages to look a bit less blocky than most N64 games I've seen. Of course, the lack of texture filtering makes the texture quality look near-PSone quality, but I can't ignore how smoothly this game runs. It never skips a beat, running constantly at what looks like 60 frames a second. The cars look pretty decent when looking at their profile, and the tracks have a fair amount of detail and believability to them.
The sound one-ups the graphics, in my opinion, with catchy electronic tunes reminiscent of the ones you'd hear in -- well -- other Ridge Racer games (like R4: Ridge Racer Type 4). And they aren't watered down "portable wannabe" hack jobs either -- the DS sound chip comes through nicely. The one annoying thing? Mostly it's because I'm inept at racing, but hearing the same exact crash sound over and over again becomes grating and monotonous.
The gameplay is unfortunately where I start to throw the game card at the wall. The same racing action from Ridge Racer games is there, in terms of the difficult but fun courses and the outrageous power-sliding. Starting off, using the D-pad to steer isn't nearly as bad as one would think for a 3D racer meant for an analog stick - but as I progressed further and further into the game, the d-pad's ineptitude came through and proceeded to frustrate me to no end. When there are many small, quick, twisty curves immediately after the other, I was sent careening into the sides of the course because the d-pad was way, way too sensitive.
Let's talk about the touch wheel, the main reason why I initially got this over the other DS racer, Asphalt: Urban GT. I imagined the touch wheel to function sort of like the iPod. It'd actually be a full wheel on the screen, and rolling your thumb clockwise would be steering right; rolling counter-clockwise would be steering left. As it is, all you're afforded is simple left-to-right movement. In Stylus mode, the screen has a definite center point; depending on where you touch the screen with the stylus or thumb shoe, your car would turn the appropriate amount. In the thumb shoe mode, your initial point of contact becomes your center point (the method I favored).
This would have been fine, except for the wheel's sensitivity. There's a very small, sharp curve for when your slight, careful turns become large swerves, in both cases; in other words, the acceleration is too high. If you were to slowly drag your thumb/stylus on the screen to the left or right, you'd notice a slight turn becoming a really wide turn way too quickly. It's as if there was no middle ground to speak of. This makes maneuvering around sharper corners a chore, because who knows how wide or sharp your car is going to turn?
That's the worst part of the gameplay, and given what I experienced with the D-pad, there just seems to be no ideal way to drive. There's still the questionable collision to deal with, and while it also isn't horrible on its own merits, the shoddy steering compounds how nasty the collision can get. When you collide with cars, unless you are entirely in front of them, it seems to bump you back a little bit -- as if the car were directly in front of you. You have to be absolutely ahead of the car. This makes getting around other vehicles very troublesome, and even moreso when you factor in the strange behavior of the course walls.
Sure, you're supposed to get hit hard when you veer into a wall. That's physics. What's *not* physics is seeing that same behavior happen when the side of the road isn't a wall, but merely a very small incline with some weeds and dirt. I expect to slow down when I veer into the side-road, not feel a huge bump as if it were a mountainside.
There's enough to like about Ridge Racer DS were it not for the absolutely maimed steering. I like the track variety (you even get to race through them backwards just when you think you're done), and I like chasing after cars in Car Attack in order to unlock them. There is basically one car for every race, and you get to attempt to unlock a set of three for every three races you finish. The downside is that many of these cars have identical or near-identical performance ratings.
Furthermore, the single-card Wi-Fi play is a definite plus. A single minute of downloading, and your friend is ready to choose from all the cars and tracks that you unlocked, in a mano-e-mano race to the finish line. More like a mano-e-mano-e-mano-e-mano-e-mano-e-mano race, since it supports up to six players wirelessly.
All in all, my experience playing Ridge Racer DS went from alright to downright upsetting in 60 seconds. It could have been more polished, the variety of car behavior should have been increased by a lot, the touch wheel really could have benefited from more tweaking and given how the handling is coded the d-pad simply does not offer an ideal level of control. If you need to experience this game, do it on the N64 where I'm sure the analog stick makes things worlds better. Want a non-kart racing game for your DS? Get this instead.