Ridge Racer
| Ridge Racer

Strawberries and cream, Fred and Ginger, politicians and sleaze, there are some things in this world that belong together. To paraphrase the horrendously cheesy climax of Jerry McGuire (see there's another one - cheesy faux romantic speeches and Tom Cruise!), one thing 'completes' the other. And now we must add another entry to this cannon of complimentary couplets - namely Ridge Racer and the PSP.

Just about every aspect of the game has been designed to showcase Sony's handheld; the game fitting the format like a hand inside a luxurious black leather driving glove. From the way the widescreen draws you closer to the road to emphasis the feeling of being in a high performance sports car to the structure of the compact races suited to the on-and-off nature of portable games-playing, they fit together excellently.

What makes it all the more amazing is that this title hasn't really been re-engineered for a new handheld device. In fact, after a decade on the gaming circuit, the Ridge Racer series almost deserves a retro status. But, it doesn't matter whether you've ever played another Ridge title, save that the more familiar you are, the more you'll enjoy a twinge of nostalgia as Namco has made the most of its heritage placing several familiar tracks amongst the 24 on offer.

Another area where Namco has got the balance right is the virtually perfect ratio between challenge and reward peppering your progress through the game's huge collection of races with new cars (a total of 58), tracks and features available.

Equally importantly, a wonderfully forgiving learning curve encourages you to experiment and find your own style as you master the basics of power-sliding and using explosive nitrous boosts. Some might find the required skill level too low of course - this being a game in which you can have a crash, take a few turns badly but still have a chance of winning, or at least finishing in a podium place (which is all some challenges require).

But even when you do miss out by a few crucial seconds, you seldom feel cheated. The combination of an encouraging commentator, some truly cracking tunes and the sheer heart-pumping exhilaration of accelerating through a mountain pass at twilight is sufficient to make you have one more go. As for the joy of power-sliding past an opponent on a tight bend at 100 mph, it's would surely be enough to even fix the mighty Clarkson chops in a rictus grin, especially when you get a replay after each race showing off your driving genius and the photogenic courses from several angles.

And for the more serious gamer, there's plenty of winning opportunities to keep you occupied. If the world tour itself wasn't enough of a long-term challenge, there's more race time in prospect via features like the duels, time-attack, custom tours, racing your own best replays and the small issue of taking on up to seven fellow addicts over wi-fi.

In fact, if there's any downside, it's the age-old Ridge Racer problem of lack of realism. With consoles series such as Gran Turismo and Project Gotham Racing really revving up the standards, some gamers may find this a little bit arcadey for modern taste. You can't tweak your car setup much more than changing colours and drift type, for example; you always start last on the grid; the opponents seem to bunch up in a similar way; and we'd imagine hitting other vehicles at 126 mph would do a bit more damage. But then again after ten years of success, why change the winning formula now? The Ridge Racer series has always been about high-octane escapism and this version brings exactly those qualities to PSP. Ridge Racer is on sale now.

Ridge Racer

Pure, unadulterated escapism at top speed - a great accompaniment to your PSP