With seven official iterations of the series, numerous handheld incarnations, and a perhaps less than flattering meme spawned by Kaz Hirai, Ridge Racer is a bit of a gaming legend. With drift-oriented gameplay that focuses more on arcade thrills than realistic simulation, the Ridge Racer games can be a little bit of a love-them or hate-them affair. After launching the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PSP, Ridge Racer 3D has arrived to break the proverbial bottle on the 3DS' bow, and while it won't change anyone's feelings on the series, it does provide a satisfying handheld experience.
Ridge Racer 3D, like the PSP Ridge Racer games before it, largely is a compilation of the series as a whole. Many of your favourite tracks are here, as well as many vehicles, so if you're a longtime fan of the series, you can expect to see a fair amount of recycled content. That's not to say there's an absence of new stuff - there are a few new tracks including a snowy mountain, and a few new muscle cars. All up, there is actually quite a lot to get through, as you can tackle the content in the Grand Prix mode for bouts of four races at a time, or the Quick Tour for shorter spurts.
Of course, what's going to help the game feel fresh to a lot of veterans are the 3D effects of the game, which to be honest are really very good. There's a great amount of depth to the image when you're gunning down highways and streets, you get a sense of distance between your cars and others. Namco throw in a whole bunch of little touches like confetti flying out at you, as well as shavings off your car if you hit another. Bi-planes and helicopters now don't only fly overhead, but into the camera for even greater effect. It's one of the few times we've actually voluntarily chosen to drive in first person in a Ridge Racer game, since the low angle provides an even greater effect. They've even included new 'racer icons' which allow you to use an icon, your Mii or a photo, which constantly hovers above your car during races. Having the icons on gives the 3D a little more use, as it makes it easy to see who's in front of whom, but in single-player especially they do get annoying but can be turned off in the options.
The drift racing of Ridge Racer 3D is virtually unchanged from past iterations. They've included the nitrous gauge that's been a part of the series since Ridge Racer on PSP, as well as the slipstream mechanic from Ridge Racer 7. For newcomers, what this all boils down to is in Ridge Racer 3D, every corner you come across can be drifted around, as if you're on an invisible rail that takes you around the bend without losing speed. The faster you drift, the more you build up your nitrous, which you can then use for a speed boost. Slipstreaming behind other cars also provides a smaller boost to your speed. You can customise your nitrous bar a little in this game, as well as make use of a new drift button option that makes drifting a little easier for beginners, although we still preferred the traditional method. It's arcadey, but it's fun and addictive. There are flaws - collision detection and physics can be iffy, and hitting a corner at a low speed sometimes sends your car projecting up into the sky - but if you've ever tried Ridge Racer you should already know how you'll feel about it.
The presentation of Ridge Racer 3D is unfortunately kind of inconsistent. On the one hand, the tracks are varied and have some really pretty imagery strewn around them, like sunsets, beautiful coastlines, aquarium-lined tunnels and night-time cityscapes. On the other, the cars themselves have fairly low resolution textures, appearing blurry even in the car showroom. At times, the frame-rate is silky smooth, but when you reach thin stretches of road lined by scenery with some other cars, it starts to chug. And we haven't even mentioned the reflections. The reflections are bad. Really bad. You just won't believe how vastly hugely mind-bogglingly bad they are. We mean, you may think you've seen some masses of pixels in the reflections of early 3D Saturn and PlayStation games, but that's just peanuts to Ridge Racer 3D. One of the cars has a mirrored tarp on the back, making it virtually unplayable from the third-person view, as the jagged mess of pixels that's reflected is incredibly distracting. On the plus side, the music is quite good, although like the rest of the game, filled with tracks from past games.
We would be remiss if we didn't mention that the game also supports four-player local multiplayer (although no online, sadly), and even has a StreetPass feature that's quite interesting. Passing by another 3DS owner with Ridge Racer 3D will download their ghost data, allowing you to battle them for a credit reward, which is actually pretty cool and challenging (depending on the other player, of course).
Ridge Racer 3D isn't a game that has a lot that's new in it, it's just the way it goes about it that makes it all feel fresh. The 3D effect of the game is so good that it really makes you want to play through the sizable amount of content in the game, even if it is recycled, just to see what everything looks like. The gameplay remains fast and fun, the StreetPass functionality works well and despite the inconsistent graphics, it's overall a very good racing package to consider for your new 3DS.