It’s no secret that the Sony PlayStation’s mid- to late-nineties run was one of staggering dominance, and this era was something of a renaissance for the racing genre, as well. For the first time, racing genre fans were finally able to experience realistic racing games at home, complete with three-dimensional graphics and a blistering sense of speed. Back in those days, I counted myself in that fandom. I sunk my thumbs into many racing games, and nothing scratched that itch quite like Gran Turismo or Need for Speed titles. Namco’s Ridge Racer series was pretty popular during that time, but I remained completely oblivious to it despite its cult following and the (in)famous “Rrrrrrrriiiiiiidge Racerrrrrrrrr” tagline.
Eleven years later, I stumble upon R4: Ridge Racer Type 4 after a blue moon recommendation from a former coworker. I had serious doubts about it when I first fired it up, largely because it’s two decades old at this point, and many original PlayStation titles haven’t had the luxury of aging gracefully. They were erased after a mere fifteen minutes.
The first thing I noticed was that Ridge Racer Type 4 is all about style. If the FMV intro sequence tossed you into the river, then the music and streamlined menus were the cinder blocks tied to your feet: you weren’t going anywhere for a while. The modern contemporary color scheme of yellow, black, red and grey all give the game a sense of energy and excitement. A shining example would be the pre-race menu, where a preview of the track is shown (with another one moving in real-time underneath) while “Spiral Ahead” plays in the background. I dare you not to bob your head. R4 doesn’t have any licenses from name brand manufacturers, so you won’t be seeing any Ferrari or Porsche machines. Thankfully, this ends up being more of a blessing than a curse, as this allows R4 to be more about the gameplay than a glorified car show.
Speaking of vehicles, they can be earned by playing through Grand Prix. Depending on how you place throughout the races, you will either get a brand new car for consistently placing first, or a tuned up version of your current car for just qualifying. From a design perspective, this is a genius move because it gives the title ample replay value while encouraging players to get better with every race. There are 321 cars total to unlock, so there’s plenty of motivation for burning rubber. Although that may seem daunting for completionists, gameplay in R4 is so fun that you’ll be unlocking cars in no time. You can also customize your own personal logo and paint job in Garage mode, which is a nice touch. Best of all, you can take your customized whips and race against a friend in split screen VS Battle mode.
The Grand Prix’s design is a clever one. There are a total of eight races broken down into three sections: First Heat (two races), Second Heat (two races), and Final Heat (four races). To qualify for the next race you must place at least third for First Heat, second for Second Heat, and first place for the Final Heat. You have three chances to qualify for each Heat, and if you run out of them, it’s game over. I absolutely love this format because it actually feels like a major competition. It encourages you to master the driving mechanics, which is absolutely paramount if you want to unlock all 321 cars. This is especially true for the Final Heat, because those last four races are a gauntlet in every sense of the word.
There are two methods of driving when it comes to handling these mechanical speed demons: Drift and Grip. The former requires drivers to tap the brake while turning to gracefully edge those sharp turns, while the latter requires alternating between the brakes and the gas while turning to powerslide. The way you approach the turns plays an important part, too. If you’re using a drift type, it’s optimal to approach on the outside edge of the turn to give you ample room for drifting and aligning yourself back on track after the skid.
As for grip, it’s best to hug the inside curve, then let go of the gas and cut into the turn. Essentially, one method requires you approaching from the outside while the other from the inside. It can be tricky to pin down at first, but once you do, those nasty forty five degree turns will be a cakewalk. It’s essential to have the mechanics down, because it’s nearly impossible to win Final Heat without them. Nothing feels better than drifting pass the competition to take first place by two tenths of a second while the announcer screams, “Take care of this loser!”
I have to admit that the individual narratives in Grand Prix were also a treat. In the beginning, you choose one of four teams: R.C Micro Mouse Mappy (Easy), Pac Racing Club (Normal), Racing Team Solvalou (Hard), and Dig Racing Team (Expert). Afterwards, you choose one of four manufacturers: Age Solo (French/Grip), Lizard (American/Drift), Assoluto (Italian/Drift), and Terrazi (Japan/Grip). Each of the four racing teams has their own manager, and all of them have their own trials and tribulations they’re trying to overcome.
In my opinion, this is where the game shines brightest, because all four of them feel like real people with real problems. From marriage issues, grief over deceased partners, keeping a team above red ink, and even finding one’s purpose in life, the way these issues are written feel genuine. Because of this, the intermissions feel rewarding and relaxing, especially after a tough race.
Overall, Ridge Racer Type 4 is a fantastic racing title that aged surprisingly well. It has style, tight gameplay, an amazing soundtrack, and developing characters. I had an absolute blast playing this quirky racing title. Even in today’s modern age, I felt the thrill of street racing rushing through my veins as the soundtrack was bumping through my eardrums. It’s an experience even Forza couldn’t serve up on a silver platter. I usually have a “one and done” history with racing games, since most of the are usually the same. However, in Ridge Racer Type 4‘s case, you don’t just see it, you feel it. If that’s what Namco was truly after, then they accomplished that objective in spades. Give it a gander, will you?