Slip slidin’ away

When it comes to arcade-style racing games, few have proven as everlasting as Ridge Racer. Over three decades of existence, the series has permeated nearly every gaming platform imaginable, including mobile. With the franchise returning to a casual platform for the first time since 2010, however, Namco Bandai knew they’d need a lot more than brand recognition to overcome the stigma usually associated with app-based racers.

Ridge Racer Slipstream tries to overcome this by doing its best to deliver everything we’ve come to expect from the series—simply pared down in order to fit phone and tablet parameters. From the second the game starts and franchise mascot Reiko Nagase’s introduction video plays, Slipstream looks and sounds like so many other Ridge Racer games before it, even if it looks like a slightly older game in the series due to the technical limitations.

Slipstream also features a lot of typical arcade-racer motifs, such as made-up cars that require drifting to fill up a nitro bar that can help you speed through the game’s fictional tracks. The titular “Slipstream” feature adds some semblance of strategy: You can gain speed by drafting behind cars, and a special symbol on the HUD appears to let you know just how well you’re staying on your opponent’s tail. In the end, though, it’s all about getting first place after three laps in order to advance through the various tournaments in Career mode.

The game offers a ton of options, not only in how you customize your cars’ look and performance, but in how you handle them as well. Four different control schemes are available—two with the touchscreen, and two by tilting your device. I found using the iPad itself and tilting it all over the place reminded me of the good old days in the arcade when I’d sit in a padded chair in a pod and grab an actual steering wheel. I just wish I’d had a stand I could’ve rested the iPad on, since I got tired of holding it up after a while and had to change the control scheme. I found all the options responsive and accurate when it came to how I wanted my car to handle, though, so it’s all a matter of personal preference, really.

Unfortunately, while Slipstream may offer a lot of options to drive with, there’s not a lot here for you to actually drive. Only a dozen cars and 10 tracks (20 if you count mirror options) are available through the single-player mode’s 108 races. And while the game’s $2.99 price tag doesn’t warrant the numbers you’d get from true console or arcade racers, it’s a bit too measly a number to leave me satisfied.

Besides cars and tracks, there’s also not much to the game beyond single-player. Sure, you can check out time trials and use social features to share with your friends and let them know how you’re doing, but that’s it. The lack of a true versus mode really puts a crimp on the replayabilty.

The worst part about the game, though, is the microtransactions. To be fair, Namco Bandai has designed Slipstream so that players can beat the entire game without spending a single cent more than the initial download price, which is uncommon in racing apps. It just becomes a bit of a chore after only a few races, since the game encourages players to spend money to unlock more cars, more parts, more tracks, or consumables like nitro boosts to help win races. And there is, of course, a two-currency system that locks several of the better cars behind the “premium” (harder to acquire) option. I appreciate the fact that the microtransactions aren’t necessary, but Slipstream sure does try to make it tempting.

Ridge Racer Slipstream is probably one of the better racing apps out there, but that’s not necessarily saying much. The actual act of racing is fun, and the control options are a nice touch—almost everyone should find one they’re comfortable with. The game also pays homage to previous Ridge Racers by maintaining the series’ look and feel. But, like so many other mobile racers, microtransactions can muddle the fun. And with so few car, track, and mode options, it’s easy to tire of the experience quickly. If you’re just looking for something to kill a few minutes a day and don’t mind the grind, though, Ridge Racer Slipstream is a decent value for its purchase price.

Developer: Namco Bandai • Publisher: Namco Bandai • ESRB: N/A • Release Date: 12.19.13
This app stays true to Ridge Racer’s arcade roots, but the lack of content coupled with the grind of unlocking everything—which is only conveniently alleviated by microtransacations—is a major speed bump in this otherwise smooth ride.
The Good Multiple control schemes appeal to wide range of players.
The Bad Grinding through races to avoid microtransactions. No versus modes.
The Ugly Definitely not race queen Reiko Nagase. Nice seeing you again foxy lady.
Ridge Racer Slipstream is available on iOS and coming later to Android devices. Primary version reviewed was for iOS devices (iPad 2).