The best thing we can say about Ridge Racer Slipstream is that it isn't just Ridge Racer. It's Riiidge Racer!
There's a difference, you know.
The former means that it's simply part of Namco's sprawling and somewhat patchy arcade racing franchise.
The latter (as excitedly announced when booting up the original) means that the game sucks the same fuel-saturated air as the best in the series.Slipstream into something comfortable
Ridge Racer Slipstream manages to nail the thrill of a chunky arcade cabinet. It also successfully replicates the essential look and feel of Ridge Racer 7 on the PS3 - arguably the last great game in the series.
It's an extraordinary achievement.
Especially when you consider that this is no mere faithful conversion. Ridge Racer Slipstream has actually been rebuilt from the ground up so that it runs flawlessly on mobile.
Run it on an A7-equipped device like our iPhone 5S and you'll find a game that's rich in detail and moves at a fair old clip, even with eight heavily decaled sports cars power-sliding in close quarters around a verdant hairpin.Power steering
What's most remarkable is that Ridge Racer Slipstream FEELS like a full Ridge Racer game. You know how many other smartphone racers handle great... for smartphone racers? Not here. This is the real deal.
Whether you opt for virtual controls or tilty ones, you'll be able to pull off the same precise drifts, the same last-minute darts out from behind a rival (for the game's titular effect) as you would on a proper control pad.
We found ourselves opting for the improved precision of the virtual controls when the game's speed and difficulty increased, but there's definitely something to be said for the steering wheel effect that's been so accurately captured here.Practice session
For those who've never played a Ridge Racer, it has a unique handling model that veers between F1 grippiness and rally cross slidiness, depending on whether you're tearing through high-speed curves or deliberately kicking out the back end on a tight corner.
The latter is the essential skill here, initiated simply by lifting off the accelerator for half a second and steering into the curve. You can then pull out of the slide by reapplying the accelerator when all four wheels are pointed in the right direction.
It feels ever so slightly easier than normal to pull off such slides here, but once you start upgrading your first car's engine to match the improving opposition, you'll appreciate that there's an art to it.
There's plenty to be busying yourself with on Ridge Racer Slipstream's straights, too. Sliding gathers nitro across up to three tanks, which can then be emptied individually or all at once (depending on the number of button taps you deliver) for an eye-melting burst of speed.
Then there's the aforementioned slipstream system, which grants you an exaggerated boost when trailing directly behind an opponent. It's a thinly veiled way to justify rubber banding, but at least you can work to lessen the effect on your car by moving off the standard racing line.Killer tracks
There are ten tracks that will be familiar to Ridge Racer fans, each of which also comes in mirrored form, and they're all brilliant fun. You'll play each multiple times throughout the Career mode, but it will take a long time before you're bored of them.
Indeed, tackling them with newer, faster cars - each with its own unique power-slide behaviour - forces you to revise your approach to even routine corners time and again.
Meanwhile, a perk system allows you to pay a small amount of in-game currency to bolster your car's abilities for the race ahead. You might want to nullify the speed-sapping effects of contact with rivals on a tight street circuit, or dampen the slipstream effect on a course with long straights.
Which brings us to the one slight splutter in Ridge Racer Slipstream's otherwise flawless engine note.Insert coin to continue
Ridge Racer Slipstream comes with in-app purchases, despite its initial premium(ish) charge. It's undoubtedly a blemish on this otherwise pure breed arcade racer.
The good news is that Namco doesn't act like a virtual debt collector. Unlike some other iOS racing game publishers we could mention, it doesn't constantly hound you for money.
There are two virtual currencies here, but purchasing more of them with real cash simply shortcuts the game's linear progression system.
Play the game in a methodical fashion, scoring well in each career time trial, race, and elimination event (where the last-placed competitor is knocked out at the end of each lap), competing in the odd online time trial, and completing the three daily tasks that are sent your way, and you should be able to afford a car in the next class without having to go back and repeat yourself.
If you want to jump ahead, you can pay a little real money to do so. There's also a special car in each class that can only be bought with the game's premium currency, but it's hardly a major chunk of walled-off content we're talking about here.Clearing the ridge
Ridge Racer Slipstream is far better than we had any right to expect.
By completely dismantling the last true console Ridge Racer games and reassembling them for mobile - slightly leaner and lighter than before - Namco and Invictus have preserved the essential personality of this great franchise.
Even the potential car crash of its IAP system has been navigated with an admirable lightness of touch, ensuring that only a few hundredths of a second have been added to the game's stonking lap time.
It's Riiidge Racer! It really is.