As someone who enjoys both retro and modern games, there’s one retro title that I find myself returning to more often than any other — a game that I absolutely devoured back on its original release, and which I still play regularly now in a variety of contexts, both on original hardware and on emulation devices. That game is Ridge Racer Type 4, and I firmly believe that it is the best racing game of all time.
I’ve had over twenty years to think about this, so I’m pretty convinced that I’m correct in this belief. So let’s break down exactly why Ridge Racer Type 4 is the best racing game of all time.
A combination of immediacy and long-term appeal
The brilliance of the original Ridge Racer — particularly on PlayStation — was that it was pick-up-and-play. You’d boot it up, you’d play, you’d enjoy yourself and you’d feel like you’d had an enjoyable experience. There were no prerequisites, there was no need to set aside vast chunks of time to enjoy it — you could just spent as much or as little time with it as you felt like, then set it aside to come back later.
The only real weakness to this format was that there wasn’t really any reason to return to the game over the long term besides simply playing it again — it was a short-form arcade-style experience and nothing else, with no real “rewards” for continued play other than gradually improving times.
Ridge Racer Type 4 maintains that sense of immediacy with its easily digestible Grand Prix mode — a playthrough of which takes less than an hour or so — but combines that with plenty of reasons to return time after time. 321 of them, in fact, since every possible combination of results it’s possible to get over the course of the Grand Prix mode’s 8 races results in you unlocking a different car, with further variations according to which team you’re representing and which car manufacturer you selected to sponsor you, plus a few additional special cars.
In this way, Ridge Racer Type 4 can entertain you for a short period if you’re just in the mood for a quick bit of arcade-style racing — but it can also maintain your attention over the long term, with a ton of rewards on offer. Crucially, though, Ridge Racer Type 4 eschews the “lifestyle game” approach of Forza and Gran Turismo and doesn’t expect you to invest months of your life into the game with no prospect of ever truly “beating” it. On the contrary, you will “beat” Ridge Racer Type 4 repeatedly — but each time you do so it’ll be a little bit different.
A timeless sense of visual style
Ridge Racer Type 4 still looks and sounds amazing. Its bright yellow menus with its animated interface elements; its stylised, high-contrast comic-style character art; its music-synchronised background elements — all of these things combine to make you feel like you’re playing a game with a clear creative vision even before you’ve strapped yourself into any of those 321 vehicles for the first of many races.
During races, Ridge Racer Type 4 eschews the bright blue cloudless skies of its first two PlayStation installments and tones down the grittiness of its immediate predecessor Rage Racer to strike an excellent visual balance between realism and distinctiveness. Scenery elements look convincing — even bearing in mind the dated PlayStation tech — and are combined with dramatic skies and exaggerated lighting effects. There are even some brilliant little touches of detail, such as the final race concluding just as the clock ticks over to midnight between the end of 1999 and the beginning of a new millennium — accompanied by fireworks, of course.
The true stars of the show from a visual perspective are the cars, though. Each racing team has a clear visual identity thanks to their iconic colour schemes. The many available vehicles all stand out with some distinctive and unconventional chassis styles. And subtle but distinctive use of tail-light blur adds to the feeling that you’re playing a music video. Talking of which…
A soundtrack that defined a distinct era of Namco history
While other racing games were moving towards licensed soundtracks, Ridge Racer had always featured original music, albeit with a tendency towards cacophonous techno. (Ridge Racer V on PlayStation 2 marked a brief and ill-advised jaunt into licensed music territory; 6, 7 and the two PSP titles, meanwhile, settled for a sort of “greatest hits” from the series as a whole.)
Ridge Racer Type 4 bucked the trends for both its own series and racing games in general, though, going for a soundtrack that is notably distinct, highly memorable and still very listenable even today. Eschewing the metal, indie guitar rock and electronica heard in many other racers of the era, Ridge Racer Type 4 instead boasts a soundtrack based around ’70s-inspired jazz funk fusion and acid jazz. Catchy melodies and driving rhythms combine with a sense of chilled-out grooviness to create a thoroughly pleasing atmosphere — one which emphasises a sense of enjoyment over excessive aggression and heated passion.
Ridge Racer Type 4 going for a soundtrack that was already deliberately somewhat “retro” in style at the time of its original release was a masterstroke, since it means that the game has aged beautifully from both a visual and an auditory perspective. This is a game that looks and sounds just as cool in 2021 as it did back in 1999 — and it will continue to be timelessly fresh for as long as we’re playing video games.
Sublime handling for different types of drivers
The Ridge Racer series has always been strongly associated with exaggerated drift-style driving, and while Ridge Racer Type 4 still incorporates a nicely refined version of this handling, it also includes a “Grip” style that is a little more akin to how some of the later installments handle. While “Drift” handling involves slamming the accelerator back down as you steer around a corner to slide out the back end, “Grip” allows you to release the accelerator as you enter a bend for a tighter turn, as well as providing more overall responsive handling in general.
Both are immensely satisfying to handle, and with all those 321 cars split across both the Drift and Grip styles, there’s plenty of enjoyable variation to get to grips with. Combine that with tracks that feel perfectly designed to enable both types of handling to really shine at various points, and you have a racing game that still feels great to play in 2021.
Ridge Racer Type 4 was also an early showcase for the original DualShock controller, and it still holds up as an excellent example of how well-implemented analogue controls and subtle use of rumble can make for a wonderfully immersive experience. It’s testament to how effective both of these things are that you won’t actively notice them while you’re playing — but you sure will miss them if you play the game in a situation where either or both of them are inaccessible!
I don’t think anything else really needs to be said, does it? Aside from the fact that I very much miss racing games with a distinct sense of “personality” about them.
Pick up a copy of Ridge Racer Type 4 — which you can still do for a very reasonable price today — and you’ve got a ton of racing fun ahead of you. Now, if only Namco would remember this series exists and either rerelease the old games or give us a new one…