Unlike Dale, I embraced the PlayStation whole-heartedly when it was first released and consequently, I'm no stranger to the Ridge Racer franchise. Over the years, I became an extremely harsh critic of the series' lack of innovation, and when it came time to review R4, I was not a happy camper. Yet this time around, things were different. It certainly helped that it has been a long hiatus since the last incarnation, but I think it had more to do with my own personal maturity, and new-found understanding of the business world.
In my latter teen years, these issues never even came to mind (then again, not much else did except for that cute girl in gym class), but now that I'm part of the labor force that drives the economy, I've become much more sensitive to concepts like brand recognition and user loyalty. So when I played R4 with this new perspective, I realized why Namco for all those years never really changed the franchise. This was a game never targeted at me; it was a game targeted at the die-hard fans and extreme loyalists. It would be foolish for Namco to nix what is largely perceived as a successful formula for the sheer sake of innovation. Of course the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" mentality can be taken too far, a la EA Sports (it's in the repetition!), but Namco never took it to that level of derivativeness.
So understanding R4's motivations freed me to really enjoy this game for what it is, an arcade racer targeted at the same fans who had propelled it into the gaming stratosphere. R4 does add some new elements to the mix like decal customizations on cars and overly melodramatic Street Fighter II-esque storylines that coincide with the team you select. Yes, you'll still find the same exaggerated powerslides and unbelievably tight cornering. Plus, the brain dead AI drivers and hollow-feeling, broken record-like crashes are still present. And again still, you can chart your progress on a course by the same pinpoint placement of competing cars. And nothing says Ridge Racer like break-neck adrenaline pumping speeds and R4 provided me with enough speed to get whiplash on my couch. That's what the Ridge Racer series is all about and if that's what the fans want, why should Namco change it and whom am I to knock it. You can love it or leave it, and for me, this is the second time that I have chose to love it.
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