If life is dragging you kicking and screaming into your mid to late twenties, you probably spent your definitive years playing games on the original PlayStation console. Here's something to make you feel truly old (it does me): Ridge Racer is now almost twenty years old. The first few years of its existence took place in arcade cabinets admittedly, but as a launch title for Sony's first console it still made its living room debut in 1995. You were almost certainly still in primary school. Back then, when you probably had a BBC computer or early Apple Mac in your classroom, Ridge Racer's breakneck pace and retina-searing graphics were a revelation. Short of your dad dodging shoppers on the local ringroad in his Vauxhall Cavalier, you'd probably never seen scenery move that quickly. It was probably your first real experience of the female form, too. Proof that eye candy had worked its way into games well before the bouncing bosoms of Dead or Alive, Ridge Racer's lycra-clad grid girl (dem pixels) mockingly held up a "Novice" board as she walked in front of your car. Well, if you'd chickened out and chosen the novice difficulty level, at any rate - more macho challenges were available. Said grid girl was even given a name - Reiko Nagase - from Rage Racer onwards. Not before Ridge Racer Revolution had appeared though, while the series stepped up a notch with Ridge Racer Type 4 and made its PS2 debut with Ridge Racer V. The earliest games are right on the verge of acceptability these days as a game to return to - not as polished as later titles, not as timeless as games from the 16-bit era. Unlike our previous gaming retrospectives, Colin McRae Rally and Gran Turismo, Ridge Racer's blissful simplicity limits its replay value, without even a two-player mode to ramp up the challenge. The handling too is simplistic, allowing you to whizz around the courses largely unhindered, save for the odd bump with another car or the clearly-defined track barriers. You might tap the brake every so often for a lurid drift, but that too lacks satisfaction with just a joypad in your hands. Perhaps it was more fun in the cabinet. To better appreciate the Ridge Racer experience, Type 4 offered a much greater challenge, and Ridge Racer V from the PS2 era is the earliest game that avoids looking too shabby on a modern HDTV. It's still possible to pick up a copy on eBay though, if you're interested - two or three quid (plus postage) should bag the game, though some jokers are charging ten quid or more. Ridge Racer isn't the perfect arcade title these days, but at two decades old, it's a hell of a blast from the past.
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