If you are beyond a certain age and appreciate cars and video games, you’ll remember Ridge Racer. It was one of the reasons you bought an original PlayStation back in the day, before Gran Turismo was a thing and a legendary press conference gaffe made the franchise a meme. Ridge Racer has been gone for a decade, as of this year. Now, it’s returning in a way that’s both exciting and maddening all at once.
Arcade1Up, a company that makes small-scale size versions of arcade games, just announced a Ridge Racer-themed cabinet. It comes with five games: Ridge Racer, Ridge Racer 2, Rave Racer, Ace Driver, and Ace Driver: Victory Lap. Normally I don’t pay much attention to these kinds of products because they tend to be underwhelming in ways I’ll get into later, but the critical detail here is that the four games beside the original Ridge Racer have never been ported to home consoles or PC before.
That makes this cabinet the only official, legal way to play them in the comfort of your own home, unless your home happens to be a ’90s arcade. In which case, I’m simultaneously overcome with jealousy and willing to do anything in my power to be your best friend.
This is a huge deal to me, primarily for the inclusion of Rave Racer. Rave was technically the third entry in the series, released in 1995, the same year the PlayStation and the home port of Ridge Racer began shipping outside Japan. It was a stunning game with dazzling city and mountain circuits, an experimental soundtrack fusing jazz and techno and an intro sequence that really ought to have carried an epilepsy warning, owing to the title.
The tragic thing is, Rave Racer was actually supposed to get a home port — not to Sony hardware, but a graphics card developed by NEC and VideoLogic called PowerVR. The PowerVR accelerator struggled in the market relative to 3DFX’s more successful and widely-supported Voodoo cards, but the second-generation of the chipset did wind up powering the Sega Dreamcast, so PowerVR wasn’t left in the lurch entirely.
Anyway, Namco developed a proof-of-concept version of Rave Racer to run on NEC’s hardware, which was tested and seen in motion by Next Generation back in the day. It never came out, even though the card did; Next Gen said at the time it was “visually ahead of anything else on the PC” and VideoLogic reported it was demanding four times the graphics workload the PlayStation was capable of.
While Rave Racer tracks and music eventually made cameo appearances in later Ridge Racer games, Rave Racer itself has been elusive for the past 26 years. In fairness, Ace Driver also dodged home ports, though that series is less celebrated than Ridge Racer. Nevertheless, it’s great to see it represented here. As for Ridge Racer 2, that’s mostly a carbon copy of the first installment with the bonus of day/night change and a rearview mirror. Yes, adding a rearview mirror was considered a reasonable excuse to make a sequel to a racing game in the mid-’90s. Oh, how far we’ve come.
Unfortunately, I don’t have much faith Arcade1Up’s cabinet is going to offer a satisfying experience of revisiting these long-lost titles. Partly that’s because this is a standing cab, which is objectively the worst format for a racing game. If you’re wondering why, imagine driving your car with floor-mounted pedals while also using your legs to stand. I wouldn’t wish the ankle pain on my worst enemies.
There’s something else that worries me. I’ve played Arcade1Up’s Out Run cabinet — which also included some rare Sega racers — and the weightless steering, flimsy pedals and the cheap quality of the plastic used for both rendered the experience impossible to enjoy. People forget that these old-school arcade racers had legitimate, durable hardware behind them, even though the games themselves weren’t at all sophisticated from a physics standpoint. I suppose an enterprising fan could rip the inputs out of one of these cabs and replace them with pro-grade equipment, but at that point, well — do I need to tell you that emulation is a thing?
All that leaves me happy to see Ridge Racer being celebrated with this compilation, but ultimately I find it hard to justify the expense. There’s no price out for this one yet, but that Out Run machine cost $549 when it launched, and I don’t expect the Ridge Racer cab to be much different. I also can’t see Bandai Namco distributing any of these games on other platforms, both because the company’s had ages to do it and never expressed interest, and because it would obliterate the only good reason to buy the cabinet.
It’s just not a great proposition, and let’s face it — as a hyper-niche product, sales will never provide the vote of confidence that would inspire Bandai Namco to bring the series back and develop a new game. Still, for those that buy one of these, I sincerely hope you enjoy it. Long live Ridge Racer.