Ridge Racer was a brand long associated with the PlayStation, but it’s a treat that we got to play the series on Nintendo 64 as well. Ridge Racer’s first PlayStation release was in 1994, while this game is from the year 2000. This is Namco’s second time switching platforms, as Ridge Racer was originally an arcade game. It’s a nice balance between an arcade game and a simulation, leaning more toward a simulation. That said, this game does not have licensed cars – the cars are made up. Also, the courses aren’t real courses, but they look like they could be.
The courses are closed circuit roads and highways. The game feels similar to the original The Need for Speed in this way, which I didn’t own, but a friend did. After seeing the credits the first time (which you can see for different reasons), I was surprised to see the names sounded American. Upon further research, this game was made by Nintendo Software Technology in Washington state. It has the polish and attention to detail of a game made in Japan. American game makers were coming up in a big way around this time.
The game is a good value. The “Grand Prix” has 18 courses and two special courses, and you generally unlock a car per race. After the first several races, you play the courses in reverse. The cars get better as you acquire them, with the best car, the “Ultra 64”, saved for last. Grand Prix is the biggest, most time consuming part of the game.
There is also Quick Race, which is exactly what it sounds like, and Time Attack. There are cars you can unlock from doing unexpected things, so a guide might help. There is also a Multiplayer (up to four players) mode, and a garage for admiring your cars. Really, once you get one of the three best cars, you’ll fly by the competition if it’s computer-controlled.
It might be sad to say, but Ridge Racer 64 is as close as we’ve come to a “GT” style racer for N64, along the lines of Gran Turismo on PlayStation, Sega GT on Dreamcast, and Forza Motorsport on Xbox. It’s not a bad game. The overall length of the Grand Prix campaign is long compared to other games for the hardware. In short, Ridge Racer 64 was a gem in its era. Let’s just be grateful for that.