One more win, it’s Ridge Racer… a Ridge Racer… I feel the need for speed! Step back, it’s Ridge Racer, a Ridge Racer — he gives me what I need!
At the time of writing, we’ve all been enduring a fairly moribund E3, filled with very little in the way of surprises and a whole lot of corporate waffling about “quality” and “excellence” and “delivering the experiences our consumers expect”. It has, in short, been A Bit Poo so far.
Today there are a few presentations that have the potential to be interesting. Firstly, there’s Nintendo, who always provide a good time — usually with something unexpected — but there’s also Bandai Namco. These days Bandai Namco might not necessarily be the first place you’d look for surprising announcements, but there’s some potential this year. (Edit: Apparently their presentation is something to do with “House of Ashes”, but hope springs eternal and all that.)
UPDATE: Bandai Namco did not “win” E3. Not by a loooooooong shot. Everything below is still true though.
As reported by Gematsu on Twitter, the company recently filed a number of trademarks relating to past properties, including Rave Racer, Ace Driver, Ridge Racer and Victory Lap. Now, as we all know, the filing of trademarks doesn’t necessarily mean anything exciting is going to happen — but with how painfully boring E3 has been so far, now seems like as good a time as any to indulge in some wild speculation.
Therefore, I feel like I can say with some confidence that if Bandai Namco announces something along the lines of a Ridge Racer Collection or an Arcade Racing Collection for modern consoles at their press conference today — or indeed at some other point during their show, since said press conference appears to focus on one game — they will have comfortably delivered the most exciting announcement of this turgid excuse for a gaming event so far.
Let’s look in a bit more depth for funsies.
What are those trademarks?
Ridge Racer is self-explanatory, so we’ll come back to the specifics of that series in a moment. It’s the other trademark filings that are potentially rather interesting here.
Firstly, Rave Racer is the third arcade-based installment in the Ridge Racer series, following Ridge Racer and the imaginatively titled Ridge Racer 2. It released in 1995 and provided two new tracks on top of the original two from Ridge Racer, plus handling changes and improved graphics.
The new tracks in Rave Racer are noteworthy in that they include alternative routes and shortcuts — though you’ll need to learn them carefully, because some of those side roads are actually longer than the main route! This is an interesting idea that isn’t really used elsewhere in the Ridge Racer series; most of the games in the franchise are about taking a good racing line and mastering the drift mechanics.
Rave Racer was originally set to get a port to the original PlayStation in 1996, but Namco ended up releasing Rage Racer that same year instead. This was a completely different game that marked the point where Ridge Racer’s home versions and its arcade versions diverged completely; it was a great game in its own right, though. Interestingly, these new trademark filings do not include Rage Racer.
Ace Driver, meanwhile, is a 1994 arcade title from Namco in which you drive a Formula 1 car. Running on the same System 22 arcade hardware as the original Ridge Racer, it has a lot in common with its stablemate — including the advertising for classic Namco games on the cars’ liveries.
Ace Driver is noteworthy for its development pedigree: not only was it designed by Tatsuro Okamoto, who previously worked on Metro-Cross and Final Lap for Namco, its development was also assisted by Shinichiro Okamoto, designer of the legendary Pole Position, one of the first successful arcade-based racing games.
Much like Rave Racer, Ace Driver was originally supposed to get a port to the original PlayStation — the system’s legendary port of the first Ridge Racer proved that the hardware was more than up to the job — but this never materialised for one reason or another.
Finally, Victory Lap likely refers to Ace Driver’s sequel, which also runs on System 22 hardware. While quite similar in gameplay to the first Ace Driver, it features new tracks and vehicles and a new Championship gameplay mode as opposed to one-off races. There’s also a third Ace Driver game known as Final Turn, though there doesn’t appear to be any sign of this in the new trademark filings.
One more win, it’s Ridge Racer
Now. Here’s the thing. Ridge Racer used to be one of Namco’s hottest properties, but the series has been all but abandoned in recent years aside from a 2016 mobile game no-one gave a shit about. This is likely due to the lukewarm (at best) reception that 2011’s Vita take on the series received, along with the controversially radical gameplay shakeup that 2012’s Ridge Racer Unbounded brought to the table.
Despite the last few games being less than well-received — though I maintain Ridge Racer Unbounded is a lot better than people give it credit for — Ridge Racer is still a beloved series for many gamers, representing the pinnacle of late ’90s arcade racers. And it’s been a long time since we’ve seen anything from it. So can you imagine how great it would be to see all the series’ classic installments brought back together for the first time in years, fully playable on modern platforms — and perhaps with some enhancements?
For those unfamiliar with the full history of the series, here’s a quick rundown of the mainline titles.
Ridge Racer first released in 1993 as an arcade title for Namco’s System 22 board. It was ported to the original PlayStation as a launch title in 1994; at the time, it was considered to be pushing the new system to its absolute limit, and was the first truly “next-gen” experience a lot of gamers coming from the 16-bit platforms had.
Ridge Racer 2 released to arcades in 1994 and was largely an enhanced version of the first game, offering multiplayer and a rear view mirror. Rather than this being ported to PlayStation, Namco instead created Ridge Racer Revolution, a game which took the gameplay tweaks from Ridge Racer 2 and added brand new tracks and vehicles.
Around the same time, the aforementioned Rave Racer released to arcades, with this going unported to PlayStation and home players instead getting Rage Racer in 1996. This title introduced recurring series mascot Reiko Nagase as well as providing extensive customisation options — including the ability to paint your own car with custom designs.
Pocket Racer released to arcades in 1996 and is basically the original Ridge Racer with chibi vehicles; this was inspired by an unlockable game mode in Ridge Racer Revolution where you could race around the game’s tracks in super-deformed cars. This is another installment that never got a home port, presumably on the grounds it was too similar to the original Ridge Racer — and that Ridge Racer Revolution already included what it had to offer as an unlockable extra.
1998 saw the release of R4: Ridge Racer Type 4 on original PlayStation, which for many players is a high point for the series. The game features some light narrative through the various racing teams you can join at the start of each playthrough, along with a frankly astonishing number of unlockable cars — 321 in total, including some wonderfully silly ones.
Ridge Racer V showed up in 2000 as a launch title for the PlayStation 2, and for some time was a showcase title for the new platform’s capabilities — though it subsequently became notorious for its noticeable lack of anti-aliasing on its visuals. Some also felt that structurally it was a bit of a step backwards from Ridge Racer Type 4, but taken on its own merits it’s still a tremendously fun arcade racer.
Ridge Racer 6 was a launch title for Xbox 360 in 2005, marking the first time a mainline installment in the series had jumped ship from Sony platforms; some earlier spinoff titles had been seen on Nintendo 64, GameCube and Xbox, but this was the first time the series had helped to launch a non-Sony console. It was an excellent game, though often went overlooked thanks to the growing trend for more serious, simulation-style racers over and above classic arcade-style thrills at the time.
Ridge Racer 7 showed up a year later and helped launch the PlayStation 3. It offered similar tracks and vehicles to Ridge Racer 6, but revamped the game structure quite a bit with racing teams to choose from and a variety of challenges across an in-game map.
Finally, Ridge Racer Unbounded released in 2012 for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Windows. Developed by Bugbear Entertainment instead of Namco themselves, the game felt more akin to a Burnout or Split/Second sequel than a true Ridge Racer game, leading some people to bounce off it hard. That’s a shame, because it was a solid racer in its own right, and it even included an excellent track editor. This installment seemingly killed off the series once and for all, though.
Other noteworthy installments in the series include the two PSP games (simply called Ridge Racer and Ridge Racer 2 in Europe) which act as a “greatest hits” of the series and in the process manage to actually be some of the best games in the whole franchise.
So what do we want?
Going on wild speculation based on those trademarks, there are a few things Namco could do here.
The most obvious is some sort of Ridge Racer Collection, which would bring together ports of all the mainline installments in the series into a single package. This could also include the previously unported arcade games such as Ridge Racer 2, Rave Racer and Pocket Racer.
An even more exciting proposition would be something along the lines of a Namco Museum: Arcade Racing Edition, which not only collects together all the Ridge Racer games, but also includes Ace Driver and perhaps some earlier Namco titles such as Pole Position, Final Lap and Winning Run. It would be fascinating to see the development of Namco’s racing games across all these games in a single package.
Alternatively, a distant third possibility is a brand new Ridge Racer game. Ridge Racer 8 is long overdue, and could be absolutely astounding on today’s hardware. The time is ripe, too; titles such as Inertial Drift, Horizon Chase Turbo and numerous others have all demonstrated that there’s absolutely a market for classic-style arcade racers these days — and the mind boggles at the possibilities of what a brand new one from the masters of the craft could offer.
Of course, going on the carnival of disappointment that E3 2021 has been so far, chances are none of these will happen. But it’s nice to dream sometimes, isn’t it?
Bandai Namco’s E3 2021 event is at 10.25pm BST today, Tuesday June 15, 2021. Say a few prayers to Reiko Nagase before it happens.
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