The classic Ridge Racer series has been around since 1993, and has been a part of more system launches than it has missed since it made its console debut as part of 1995's Sony PlayStation launch. However, Nintendo fans have just as traditionally been given the short end of the stick when it comes to Ridge Racer, receiving only a dismal spinoff from Namco in the form of R: Racing Evolution on the GameCube. The only title to bear the actual Ridge Racer name on Nintendo platforms to date was the disappointing Ridge Racer 64 and its subsequent DS port, which were handled by the usually superb Nintendo Software Technologies rather than Namco itself. With the launch of the 3DS, Namco brings their first true Ridge Racer title to a Nintendo system in the form of Ridge Racer 3D, which may also be the last title in the series of its kind before the heavily-westernized Ridge Racer Unbounded drops next year.
What's it about?
Ridge Racer 3D follows the same formula as the four games to directly precede it – Xbox 360's Ridge Racer 6, PlayStation 3's Ridge Racer 7, and a pair of PSP games (one of which did not see a North American release) – which use the series' long-standing gameplay as a foundation on which to build newer systems like nitrous boost and slipstreaming. From there, the mantra has been "content, content, content", with Namco packing a ridiculous number of cars and courses into every game. The handheld titles have been sticking more to established courses from the pre-2005 era, leaving the console installments responsible for bringing new circuits into the mix. RR3D, for its part, does a little bit of both, though with some of the questionable track selections from 6 and 7, it's quite hard to think of it as a "best of" collection.
Most of your playing time will be spent in the game's robust Grand Prix mode, which you know in some form or another if you've played one of those other four Ridge Racer titles that have come out since 2005. Namco does a pretty good job of giving it a distinct style each time out, but the underlying theme is always essentially the same; driving sideways through a litany of series races whilst unlocking cars, courses, and speed classes. The sheer volume of content involved in Grand Prix mode will keep you busy for hours upon hours, and once you're done with that, there are plenty of other modes to keep you busy.
Not the least of these modes is StreetPass Duel. Thanks to the 3DS StreetPass functionality, RR3D players can conveniently, even unwittingly, exchange ghost data just by having their 3DS systems pass within WiFi range of one another. As a result, simply the act of keeping your 3DS on in sleep mode as you go about your day should fairly quickly have your system well-stocked with ghost data to compete against. This is good to have, because the game has no online play, and StreetPass Duel makes for a surprisingly effective substitute.
Why should I care?
There's a reason why Ridge Racer has become a system launch mainstay. Although the formula hasn't seen much change over the years, the franchise still consistently provides games that go right among the best and brightest of any console or handheld's infancy. Though there certainly are bigger names on the 3DS launch, with Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition being the clear headliner, it also isn't unfair to call Ridge Racer 3D the best of the bunch. It showcases the system almost perfectly, from its beautiful use of the 3D visuals (just WAIT until you get to see Rave City) to its brilliant implementation of the StreetPass feature, while not relying on those features to make it a strong game. Even better, it will put any remaining misgivings about the 3DS analog pad to rest; it feels just about perfect as you navigate RR3D's numerous circuits.
Another noteworthy item about this game was touched upon earlier. This is the first time any Nintendo platform has seen a true Ridge Racer release, as Namco's only offering was the misguided R: Racing Evolution spinoff, with Ridge Racer 64/DS being a Nintendo in-house misfire. Nintendo's staunchest supporters, those who have never known gaming outside of Nintendo platforms, have still yet to experience what Ridge Racer is at its best, and this is their opportunity to do exactly that. If next year's Ridge Racer Unbounded in fact brings the series' "silver age" to a sudden end, that just makes RR3D that much more of an important release.
What makes it worth my time and money?
System launches are often infested with "tech demo" games that are meant more to show off the hardware than to serve as long-term contributions to a gamer's library. There's no shortage of those on the 3DS, even though some of them are rather solid to be fair. RR3D, meanwhile, was clearly made with the mentality that Namco wanted to make a good, long-lasting game first and foremost, and then let everything else fall into place. Namco clearly understands the importance of bringing a quality game to the table under any circumstance, even when that game is going to share a release date with the hardware it was made for. This mentality from Namco has resulted in some of the best launch games in history, including Dreamcast's SoulCalibur, PSP's Ridge Racers, and PlayStation 2's Tekken Tag Tournament. The end result here is yet another outstanding Ridge Racer game that sees little competition as a game unto itself on the 3DS launch lineup, while also being able to stand side by side among the best available uses of the 3DS hardware.
If you're looking for a great game that will last you for hours and hours on end, you don't have many options on the 3DS launch. It isn't that Ridge Racer is the only good game available, but it would be accurate to call it the only one where quality of gameplay, longevity, and really strong use of new hardware features come together into one game definitive of the platform. If you can only afford one game to go along with your 3DS, this is absolutely the one to pick up.