Uncharitable Nintendo fans might wish Satoru Iwata spent less time interviewing developers on his website and more time commissioning new Marios, Zeldas and Pikmins, but if Nintendo’s president ever tires of ordering more stationery and chasing Shigeru Miyamoto around the office then he should have no difficulty attracting freelance writing commissions. Certainly not when his insights are as weightless and poetic as this one: “When you’re driving well in a racing game, you often get into an egoless state and rise above yourself.”
That’s Iwata talking to Namco Bandai’s Yozo Sakagami, who enthusiastically agrees, and many of us will know why: because it captures perfectly the meditative trance into which we descend when, at least once every console generation, we locate the magic centre of a new Ridge Racer.
For Ridge Racer 3D, it comes at the start of the second phase of the Grand Prix mode, as the third-tier cars come online, speeds hover across the 320km/h threshold, and the slow-paced track-by-track repetition of the first three hours coalesces into an hypnotic blend of perfect muscle memory and extrasensory feedback, your inputs no longer fully conscious and the anchor tethering your mind to the moment fully, beautifully broken. You’re no longer racing; you flow.
Er, where was I? Ridge Racer 3D is another arcade racing game from Namco Bandai and, as usual, muscular racing cars housed in glimmering speedway shells hurtle incontrovertibly between the guiding rails of various slick neon cities, breezy mountains and immaculate ruins. Ridge Racer is famous for its lovably ridiculous powerslides, drifts that convey cars through hairpins at impossible speeds with barely a glance at the brake, needing little more than a practised whip-crack of the analogue nub (or in this case, circle pad) to rein in.
It doesn’t want you to slow down, and almost won’t let you even if you spin your car or thump into walls and other cars, you will struggle to arrest your momentum, although you may surrender track position to the elastic AI. Ridge Racer 3D subscribes to all of the above, and comments from the developer suggesting the controls have been dumbed down are simply not true – or perhaps just optional stabilisers lost (and frankly unwanted) somewhere in the dense Japanese menus.
The heart of the game is Grand Prix mode, a non-linear, threaded progression through miniature race series. Familiar tracks (Seaside Route 765! Etc.) come and go and you’re gradually sprinkled with new cars, points (which can be spent on other cars) and musical unlocks. At key points you graduate to a new car class, adding many more km/h to the speedometer and drawing you further into the trance. There are also Time Trial and Quick Race modes, and a “Tour” option where you specify how long you have to play and what kind of experience you want (calibre of corners, for example) and the game stirs up a quick race scenario to suit.