Simple Pleasures (and Ridge Racer)

Sometimes, I get into a rut with video games. I’m not sure why this is, but eventually I find myself in the throes of indecision – what do I play, exactly? Not to brag, but my collection certainly outweighs my ability to play all of these games by the time I am dead (that’s a little scary, to be honest). Your brain automatically makes calculations after a while, asking the question: is the time investment for Game X really worth it? And, in a particular time such as this, the answer in the magic 8-ball of my brain always says “No” for a lot of stuff.

So, what happens? I play Hearthstone a lot, due to the sunk cost fallacy my brain operates under (and the fact that I got my father into it too – that’s a whole other article). And, sometimes, I dabble in a bunch of games to see whether or not any of them really work. But here’s the thing: video games are suddenly really complicated. Learning a bunch of dense systems layered on top of each other in a strategy game certainly pleases the intellectual side, but that takes a lot of time and effort to get into the groove of grand strategy. Even the simplest of AAA action games just don’t resonate with me at this particular moment, either – shooting people and/or things only gives so much enjoyment. The goals remain too complicated, and the means to get there complicated as well. If you can’t sum it up in a set of bullet points, I’m just not interested right now.

In sum: I want a game with nuance and depth, but not so much the intellectual kind. A game of pure reflexes, if you will, with depth that comes as a natural outpouring of the game’s systems. That’s a hard thing to nail, but it does exist in a type of game that seems to have disappeared: arcade games. And what better game to play than the king of arcade racing (depending on your perspective), Ridge Racer? Since every system launch, a new one has appeared, but the series quietly disappeared from console and emerged again on mobile. But, I am mostly definitely not playing the game on mobile; give me a controller!

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Thus, I decided to play Ridge Racer Type 4, which might seem an odd choice – a game that wasn’t released in arcades, and that came out at the tail end of the PS1’s dominance of the console market. But, it seems the game enjoys a long and stellar reputation as the polar opposite of Gran Turismo’s simulation aspirations. You press gas hard, you go fast – nothing more, nothing less, and with none of the baggage that realistic car physics offer the person who wants something simple and direct.

Further, learning drifting becomes quite a unique treat. The physics on this game feel completely different than later entries in the series; while Ridge Racer 6 and 7 offered the “Nitro” system, which gave you tons of speed boosts in exchange for drifting like a maniac, Type 4 offers no such “comeback” mechanics. The earlier Ridge Racers reward precise drifting and course knowledge more than anything else, since losing speed will often make you lose the harder racers right from the starting block. A bad start, even, can pose a massive challenge to obtaining first place, and the 4 last races of ANY circuit require placing first! Namco’s classic stomps on sloppy play, which is certainly a surprising change of pace.

But, it never feels like the controls get away from you. Drifting, in this game, is surprisingly simple. To drift, you usually turn into a corner, let off the accelerator and brake, and your car will go into the slide. You’ll know you are in a drift from the tire screeching noise, and at that point you can push on the accelerator when coming out of the turn to stop it. Alternately, you can turn into a corner, let off the accelerator, and turn until the drift is started; at that point, you can push the accelerator once again. The car will almost slide in a straight line, then shoot the direction you are intending on going – it sounds weird in text, and doesn’t look any more natural in practice, but it sure looks cool either way.

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There’s not a lot of screenshots of it…but, there is this photo of a car going 158 mph, which is insane.

Both means of drifting actually slow you down significantly, despite the speedometer telling you otherwise! Thus, the drift exists as a means to allow you to step on the gas as long as possible, rather than a thing you just do repeatedly. Drifting takes some practice, for sure; you never want to hit other cars, walls, or go even slightly offroad for fear of losing that ever-precious speed. But, drifting’s a reckless, necessary risk in Ridge Racer, and you’re doing this repeatedly to avoid every potential obstacles. Plus, you also figure out which corners don’t require much, if any, drifting at all. Minimizing drift time, and navigating a car that’s almost sideways through a very narrow corridor, remains a wonderful, simple pleasure.

Did I mention the presentation of this game, both the music and otherwise, is pitch perfect as well? I’ve never played a more chill racing game!

Despite this game being from 1999 (or 1998, depending on your country of origin), it still holds up as a fabulous arcade racer, and a time where racing wasn’t nearly as much about complicated simulation mechanics as it was about the feeling of racing cars really, really fast. Video games can certainly be complicated pieces of work, but they can also be very simple experiences devoted to one core cause. I am glad God allows us to enjoy such simple pleasures as these, because I’m not sure what the world would be like without them – whatever they are, whether arcade racing games from the late 1990s (insert your favorite simple game here) or simply enjoying the fruits of your labor, sometimes we just need to slow down a little bit and enjoy.

24 There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and [s]tell himself that his labor is good. This also I have seen that it is from the hand of God. 25 For who can eat and who can have enjoyment without [t]Him?

Ecclesiastes 2

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.
  • There’s something to be said about simpler video games. I think that’s why classic games from the Atari and NES eras haven’t gone out of style. They’re timeless classics.