Republished on Saturday, 18th March, 2023: We're bringing this review back from the archives following the announcement of March 2023's PS Plus line up. The original text follows.
Push Square has pondered the infancy of 3D console graphics during the 32-bit era, and reflected that the ageing process was not always visually kind, especially to PS1 launch games. Some early titles like Jumping Flash! hide their pixelated wrinkles behind bright colours and plain models, while others like Battle Arena Toshinden seem creaky with well-worn textures today. Therefore, it feels great to review Ridge Racer Type 4 — known as R4: Ridge Racer Type 4 in Japan and North America — because Namco's arcade drift racer has aged wonderfully within the context of the capabilities of the fifth generation, since its European release at the tail end of PS1’s lifespan in 1999.
The December 1998 preview — during the same month as the Japanese release of R4 — in Issue 113 of Electronic Gaming Monthly magazine titled 'Something To Finally Kick Gran Turismo's Ass' explained that, "the Ridge Racers have always been about high-speed action rather than technical accuracy. R4 will be no different, but will push the very limits of the PlayStation in terms of graphical presentation. Rumoured to be Namco's last game for Sony’s box (because the system can't be pushed any harder)."
As reinforcement to EGM's point, in John Linneman's frankly superlative coverage of old games for DF Retro — in this case a technical analysis video about Ridge Racer Type 4 on Digital Foundry — he praises it as one of the best looking racing games on the platform, describing an atmosphere unheard of on the PlayStation. He applauds the pre-rendered introduction movie with mascot Reiko Nagase as being magical in 1999, and commends the game for consistently hitting its target of 30fps.
Namco has added details to the eight courses in the Real Racing Roots '99 Grand Prix by setting Ridge Racer Type 4 across seasons from May to December in 1999, and the developers have connected the track design's locations together, whether the courses are in Japan or America. For example, if you look at the left side of the circuit layout for the May early-evening, peach sunset-lit Wonderhill course, and then compare it to the November afternoon mint-blue sky setting of the Heaven and Hell track, you'll notice they share a portion of each other's Japanese, Fukuoka circuits. You'll possibly realise the tracks link together subconsciously, starting from when you drive under the cables of the suspension bridge.
This makes the courses more memorable, as does the roadside scenery that relates to Namco's gaming heritage. Consequently, Race 1 of the Final GP is called Phantomile — named after the excellent PS1 2.5D platformer Klonoa: Door to Phantomile — and as you race along to a tune called Motor Species with a pulse-rate pumping bass, you'll pass both Pac-Man and Pooka from Dig Dug peering over billboards. The race before this also shares a Yokohama backdrop, but this time the Out of Blue course has a chilled and relaxed vibe thanks to the lovely Lucid Rhythms piano tune as your car powerslides around the ridge of a harbour, past a lighthouse, beneath the gliding seagulls.
All of this atmosphere builds towards Ridge Racer Type 4's eighth and last course — Shooting Hoops set in Los Angeles — as Race 4 of the Final GP is set at 11:45pm on New Year’s Eve, in 1999. The announcer declares, "Okay it’s the final lap, keep your cool", and you feel cool drifting through a night-time cityscape, past a helicopter with a spotlight. If you glance upwards you'll see Galaxian playing on the overhead screen, as the vocalist sings "moving to the beat, Ridge Racer" in the song Movin' in Circles. You'll also have refined your driving skills by realising that you don't necessarily need to brake or drift at all around Shooting Hoops' corners, so you can maintain your car's maximum speed.
After a glorious hour it's satisfying when you beat the Grand Prix to put your feet up, and relish the funky end credits tune Ridge Racer (One More Win). You can then celebrate your victory through appreciation of the exquisite electronic dance soundtrack, including the vocals of Kimara Lovelace, and the musical contributions of composers like Hiroshi Okubo. At this point you may well declare your love for this PS1 racing game.
The classic Ridge Racer fast arcade-style racing gameplay is intact, even though it's not actually based on a coin-op. Hence, the AI of competing racing teams is still aggressive and they will block you from passing, or side-barge you into tunnel walls. The leaders of the racing pack are particularly eager to stop you from overtaking, but the difficulty curve is gratifyingly balanced. Regardless, your nerves will still build as during the second heat you must finish at least in second place, and in the final round’s last four races you must always finish first.
Fittingly, you can still obstruct your AI rivals by watching your rear view mirror in the internal car view, and drift around them as you master the responsive controls. You can also choose the Grip method of car handling where you reduce speed using the accelerator to time clearing a sharp corner, but most Ridge Racer fans will obviously prefer the Drift method of turning sharply into the curve and setting the tail of the car into a satisfying slide, since it’s synonymous with the series.
Although it approximately takes less than one hour to complete all eight courses in the Grand Prix, there is also a different story for each of the four teams, and they are assigned a set difficulty based upon the tuning of their cars. Therefore, say you beat the game with the Normal tuning of Pac Racing Club (PRC) — and discover why its manager Yazaki is obsessed about the death of an ace driver called Giuliano — you'll still have three other team stories to play through. You can then try the Hard difficulty of Solvalou, or the Expert tuning of Dig Racing Team (DRT).
There are three main save game points scattered throughout the Grand Prix, although it's advisable to manually save your game straight after you beat the eight tracks to keep any cars or modes that you've unlocked. You can unlock a total of 321 racing vehicles (including a hidden car that is a large Pac-Man on wheels), as well as an Extra Trial mode, and reverse tracks for Time Attack and Vs Battle multiplayer showdowns. The Vs Battle is a basic split-screen one-on-one race on a single course, where you can configure the number of laps and assign up to two computer controlled cars — which keeps the track from feeling too empty, but doesn't factor into the result of the actual two-player race.
An extra bit of celebratory Champagne cork popping for gamers was the inclusion of a separate Ridge Racer Hi-Spec Demo disc included in Ridge Racer Type 4's game box, which was a fun bonus, with an updated 60fps and gouraud shaded conversion of the original 1993 arcade game. In any case, playing Ridge Racer Type 4 again is a reminder of how great gaming was in 1999. It's the pinnacle of the four Ridge Racer games on PS1, and compares favourably when pitted against the competition of Daytona USA and Sega Rally Championship on the Saturn. Therefore, rekindling memories of arcade racing through an excellent PS1 game that has aged as well as Ridge Racer Type 4 may just provide you with a glimpse of feeling R4-ever young.
Namco's developers were adept at squeezing great technical performances out of the 32-bit PlayStation — especially with late fifth generation games like Tekken 3 — and in 1999 Ridge Racer Type 4 stayed steadily on track at achieving its 30fps target and slick circuit designs. The atmosphere from course details adds fine-tuning to the graphics, which is boosted by a magnificent dance soundtrack by musicians like Hiroshi Okubo, with extra pizzazz provided by Kimara Lovelace's vocals. The arcade-style gameplay delivered a fun and fast contrast to Gran Turismo's sim racing, and it confidently tail-slid alongside the best Nintendo 64 and SEGA Saturn drift and blue sky racers. As a Namco racing game it holds pole position amongst the four PS1 Ridge Racer titles, putting the pedal to the metal en route to Ridge Racer Type 4 becoming a genuine PlayStation classic.