Well, this came as a surprise.
Not a Ridge racer game launching with a new console, no. The Ridge Racer name has become synonymous with console launch titles over the years, but its arguable that the series has retained its sheen, surpassed by a succession of franchises that embodied the modern understanding or 'arcade racer' than one of the genre's champions. The name tarnished further through its pairing with that infamous Sony E3 Conference.
The surprise is in the quality of the product. Consider this the comeback of the series. It's not only the finest title out of the 3DS launch line-up, but it recaptures the winning formula that makes this Ridge Racer as exciting and addicting as the franchise's glory days. It's the right mix of classic and new, and refreshingly honest and assured in its form.
Namco could have replaced the 3D subtitle with MegaMix instead, because that's what this is; a collection of the best tracks and music from across the Ridge Racer timeline, with a few new additions tossed in. However, the selection is neither threadbare nor poor. The courses selected have stood the test of time, still as memorable and exciting in their curves and challenging corners.
I wouldn't doubt there's a fan of the series that wouldn't be glad to have the iconic set of PSOne tracks and more under one roof, and for newcomers, each course feels unique in structure, challenge and visuals. From neon-infused cityscapes to snowy mountains, along winding canyons and blasting down and around tightly twisting hill paths, you'll soon have your own favourite selection. So excellent are their designs, you'll want to play them not only for the glory of the win, but also for the joy of the race.
The package contained on this single 3DS cartridge is pretty comprehensive. An extensive Grand Prix is the main mode on which everything else is built around - progression through multi-coursed events unlocks new cars, race course and earns points, which can be spent on upgraded rides and turbo starts and extra nitrous.
The smaller Quick Tour, which opens course choices and event length to player customisation, shows Namco understands that as a travel companion, 3DS games need to offer a set up for short bursts of play - be it three minutes or thirty.
It's Time Attack and StreetPass Duel that will keep Ridge Racer's engine ticking over long after the you've clocked GP (or even as an addictive alternative). The 3DS game-sharing technology finds its first logical use: generating race time leader-boards to compete against, and friends to domineer on the road.
That's not to say the game's AI is a pushover. The longer I spent in the GP mode, the harder I had to compete to by-pass the bottom racers on the grid, and had to keep an eye on my rear-view mirror to hold pole position.
As you need to maintain top ranking to continue onto other events, it's nail-biting stuff and dictates the need to keep tight control on your drifting style, three of which are on offer in RR3D - tight and slow up to loose and hard. Even i found myself fouling up a corner or two and spinning several 360s as competitors shot by me.
Time to talk about the 3D element to the game. There's two reasons why sticking the 3D on here is a good idea. One, with the oncoming turns scaled out and given a sense of depth, you can time your powerslides a lot better. Try out Union Hill District's gauntlet of steep climbs and sharp turns. I was always mincemeat on one particular curve in the Rage Racer days because of a sudden blind turn. I've been waiting fourteen years to make that - it took a move into 3D to do so.
The other reason is purely aesthetic. On the more tighter smaller tracks there's no massive difference, but as soon as you hit the countryside courses, the surprise of seeing the suddenly wide-open vistas that stretch off into the distance around the tracks make you catch your breath.
Look no further than Redstone Thunder Road as you dive into a lake-filled canyon and you see the course snake away from under your wheels and into the far distance - it creates one of those stand out moments that showcases the hardware fantastically well.
Part of the experience is down to the audio as well. For Ridge Racer fans, the soundtrack is simply sublime, a cracking pick of remixes (Hiroshi Okubo's Rage Racer remix which blends together tracks from that game is brilliant), original tracks (veterans will note tunes from the classic PSOne foursome) and a smattering of newer tracks across the four in-game "discs", all selectable before each race. There's even a Music Player mode that lets you watch pre-made or saved replays while listening to the music.
Even for newcomers, RR3D offers a chance to step away from now-conventional standard of crowbarring in licenced music into racers, and listen to music that fits perfectly with what's going on screen and emphasises the thrill of the race. It's a heady choice of extremes that wouldn't anywhere else but on a Ridge Racer race track - dance, jazz, thrash metal. The latter especially, created by Rio Hamamoto, syncs perfectly with those tight contentions for first place.
There's got to be some negativity amongst all this fanfare, and there are a couple of issues with the game, both minor.
Firstly, a tiny quibble, but worth noting due to people's love/hate relationship with race commentators. This newest incarnation stacks in two, who add little to the game. But while they're neither as enticing or as welcome to a race as Reiko's voice actress in Rage Racer, they lack the enthusiastic (and highly irritating) bombardment of phrases that was Ridge Racer 6's commentator.
Secondly, while the tracks are an awesome choice of the franchise's best, the Grand Prix returns to tracks or reverse versions of them much too early in proceedings. As such the enjoyment of burning through the GP is lessened as you see much the same names come unlocking the next multi-tiered event.
The repetition of tracks seen in previous titles might be worth knocking ridge Racer 3D for. But you can no more claim laziness here as you can with Nintendo and the upcoming Zelda: Ocarina of Time remake. This title neither stinks of the rushed and reused garbage that other developers could be accused of, nor feels lacking in the spirit that once made Ridge Racer the definitive arcade racer.
This is a high quality package that utilises a new hardware's capabilities smartly, and, for the first time in some while, gives us a Ridge Racer that is an essential purchase, and a must have for any arcade racing fan out there. Welcome back to the front of the grid.