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‘Ridge Racer Slipstream’ Review – Arcade Racing Comfort Food

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Just recently, an old tradition in gaming was broken for the first time ever. PlayStation hardware was released, and a Ridge Racer title did not accompany it. It’s completely understandable, however unfortunate it might be. Ridge Racer just hasn’t been putting butts in the seats like it used to in the old days. A lot of that is down to heavy competition in the genre from games offering a staggering amount of content compared to Ridge Racer, along with declining interest in the racing genre in traditional markets. After a disastrous new approach on the Vita, where a barebones version was sold for a discounted, but still high, price with the remaining content sold as IAP or offered as free DLC, it looked like Ridge Racer might finally be headed for the scrapyard.

It seems that Namco hasn’t quite given up yet, however. The racing genre has found a surprising second wind on mobile devices, with games like Real Racing 3 (Free) and Asphalt 8: Airborne (Free) enjoying high popularity. The generally lower budgets of mobile games also make the value proposition work out a bit better, I imagine. It’s my guess that these are among the reasons we’re seeing Namco take another kick at the can with Ridge Racer Slipstream (Free), their latest installment in the long-running franchise. This isn’t the first time iOS gamers have seen a release in this series, and there might be a bad taste in the mouth of anyone whose sole experience with the series is 2009’s Ridge Racer Accelerated ($5.99), but I feel like Namco has read the market a little better this time.

That last version had a number of problems at launch. Very little content was included in the base game, creating a situation where players were essentially paying for a demo. There was no career mode to speak of, the controls were initially limited to tilt steering, and it performed very poorly on the devices of the time, in spite of using relatively low quality assets. To Namco’s credit, they ended up adding quite a bit to the game via updates, but Accelerated still never quite managed to get things the way fans expect from a Ridge Racer title.

Ridge Racer Slipstream is a more savvy product, reflecting the modern state of the App Store in some good ways and some bad. It surpasses the previous title in any meaningful way you could think up, and I think fans are going to be pretty happy with it. One major specter of the past remains, however. This game has some performance issues, especially on older devices. If you’re using an iPhone 4 or its equivalent, I wouldn’t even bother. The game is like a slideshow. On newer devices, it runs well enough, but it really ought to be smoother than it is. The assets here seem to be the same as the Vita version, so everything looks great, at least, even if the framerate has issues at times. I did experience a couple of crashes while playing on my iPhone 5S, so hopefully Namco’s on the ball with patches like they usually are.

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The other bit of bad news is that, as is becoming increasingly standard in this genre, there are multiple currencies. You can earn both without paying for them, but the premium currency is pretty scarce. The premium currency can be used to unlock courses ahead of time, perform certain upgrades, and purchase three exclusive cars. Given the whole lineup of cars in the game at this point numbers twelve, that’s a fair bit locked behind the premium currency wall, if you’re the collecting type. Premium currency is earned by gaining levels, winning certain races, and as a daily login bonus every few days. You’ll mostly earn it by leveling up, which is accomplished by performing certain actions in-race and completing missions. I found it trickled out frequently enough that upgrading my cars wasn’t a hassle, but saving up to buy the exclusive cars will take a long time at the rate it comes.

The regular currency flows a little better and is used to buy new cars and perform most upgrades  to your existing ones. You can also use it to buy some largely useless boosts for each race. You’ll earn some of this cash with every race, depending on your finishing position. The cars are grouped into classes, as usual, each containing a car that excels in grip, one that drifts more easily, a balanced type, and a premium car. They’re not real cars, but series fans will recognize all of them well, and at this point, the fictional cars are part of Ridge Racer‘s identity. You can upgrade your cars’ engines, gear shift, and nitro system, as well as sink some credits into cosmetic changes. In case your new to the series, here’s a free tip: don’t buy the grip cars.

From its beginnings, Ridge Racer has been about drifting. Playing the game is more or less about going from drift to drift, and that aspect has only been driven home by the nitro system introduced in the first PSP Ridge Racer. Nitro works like it does in any racing game, giving you a temporary speed boost. It’s represented by a meter at the bottom of the screen, which is filled by drifting. Managing your nitrous is absolutely essential to winning in this game, so the better your drifting skills are, the easier things are going to be for you. There are different types of nitro systems you can use, with one even auto-charging your nitro, so you should be able to find something that works for you.

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The concept of slipstreaming is also quite important, as you might guess from the title. Basically, by positioning yourself behind another car for a certain amount of time, you’ll get a speed boost similar in effect to a nitro. You can get away without using this in the early going, but you’re going to want to learn how to use this to your advantage before you get too far in. Your opponents can use this on you, too, leading to some crazy turnabouts if you’re not attentive.

One of the big things missing from the last game on iOS was a proper career mode. That’s been corrected here, as Ridge Racer Slipstream features a beefy campaign with over 100 races in total. At present, there are 10 tracks, all pulled from prior games in the series. You get one track from the PSP Ridge Racer, five from Ridge Racer 6, and four from Ridge Racer 7. These courses are also available in reverse, which is perhaps an easy way to increase the track count, but certainly effective in terms of producing new challenges. As is the norm for the series, the difficulty curve ramps up pretty quickly, and the AI is not above using cheap rubber-banding to keep up with you. It’s very important to save some nitro for the final stretch, because that’s usually where the race is decided.

In addition to the career mode, you can also play some one-off races that you can set up how you like, quick races to just jump into the action with a random car and track, or knock-out races where the racer in last place gets dropped with each lap. You’ll earn credits and experience for running these races, just like career mode, so you’re not wasting your time if you feel like running them instead. They’re a good way to earn some side cash to upgrade your cars or buy a new one. Of course, unless you’re doing a quick race, your car and track options are limited to what you’ve unlocked in career, so you can’t completely ignore it. There’s also a greyed-out option for online multiplayer, which is apparently coming in an update in the next month or two. That’s about all I can say for that at the moment.

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There are lots of control options, so some lessons have clearly been learned in this area. You can use tilt controls or a number of virtual control setups. Purists will probably want to go with the virtual set-up that allows manual control of acceleration and braking, but I spent most of my time using the layout that auto-accelerated, and it worked pretty well for me. You can engage a drift by either letting go of the gas for tapping the brake as you steer into a turn, with your brakes essentially being useless otherwise. It’s not exactly a braking game. I’m a long-time fan of the series, and I’m pretty happy with how this version controls. Some racing fans might balk at the steering controls being reduced to simple left/right arrows, but that’s perfect for Ridge Racer, in my opinion.

In the end, that’s really the crowd I’d recommend Ridge Racer Slipstream to the most. This is a good, well-made Ridge Racer game for your mobile device. It plays the way it should, the content is fully accessible without paying if you have patience, and there’s a good amount in here with more likely to come. There are probably better choices on the App Store for arcade racing fans, and some of them are free, so in the broader market, this might not be the best racer out there. What it does offer is a delivery of a promise made long ago: a proper iOS version of an arcade classic, with a feel unlike any other.

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