R4: Ridge Racer Type 4 gives me what I need

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Posted by GrantHeaslip (1869 posts) -

Note: you can find a better-laid-out copy of this post on my personal blog. I’m integrating captured game footage in ways I can’t reproduce with the GB editor.

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Before I begin, some valuable context: a week ago, Ridge Racer DS – a launch-window port of Ridge Racer 64 – was the only game in the series I’d put any serious time into. If you’re shocked that I played a ton of Ridge Racer DS – by most accounts an iffy port of an iffy entry in the series – you clearly don’t remember how dire the early days of the Nintendo DS were. Hell, I bought Yoshi Touch & Go and convinced myself that it was worth it. I played a lot of Ridge Racer DS, and I remember enjoying it. I’m sure Ridge Racer DS wasn’t the greatest introduction to the series, but despite my ten year break, hitting my first ridiculous slot-car-esque drift felt like coming home. (Weirdly, R4 offers a car type without the traditional drift mechanic – what’s the point?!)

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Ridge Racer Type 4 is a fine arcade racing game, but what really sets it apart is its striking visual and musical style. Every moment in the game feels like it was deliberately crafted – no element feels like it was thrown onto the screen without a designer getting their hands on it. Even the typography is distinctive. It’s a game that was clearly developed with an artistic vision. This level of cohesion and polish is still pretty rare, and it must have been nearly unprecedented in 1998. As far as I’m concerned, R4 is one of the most stylish games ever made.

Check out this hot menu. Note how every piece of the interface animates. Note the background animations cued to the menu music. Note the way the dialogue text fades in. Note how slick (yet clear and informative) the progress screen is. Note the cool (and totally unnecessary) stippling effect on the course data screen. Even the loading screen – while austere and blurry by necessity – has a certain distinctive flair to it. At every step, R4 is confidently strutting its style, and I love it.

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The intro and accompanying theme are cheesy (“He’s the one for me; There’s no place I’d rather be; To the finish line; Everywhere you look he’s right on time!”), and in today’s context would probably be picked apart for perceived sexism, but I think there’s something endearingly earnest and unpretentious about the vibe. It knows what it wants to be and it goes for it.

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R4 is less distinctive in-game, though it’s still quite elegant and cohesive for the time. It gets a lot of mileage out of lighting – deriving flair from what might otherwise be a fairly ordinary-looking game. The fact that the game used Gouraud Shading was apparently a big deal at the time. Edge of the Earth and Brightest Night quite effectively capture the je ne sais quoi of night driving; Wonderhill’s dusk setting is evocative, and provides plenty of opportunities for the game to show off its adaptive car lighting; Heaven and Hell – despite being a different branch of Wonderhill – manages to differentiate itself to a surprising degree by using cooler hazy midday lighting.

The usual PS1 fixed-point jittering and texture perspective issues are here in all their glory, and they sometimes converge to make the track geometry maddeningly indistinct. I can’t blame Namco for that, but it does impact the game, and I wish it didn’t. If you watched some of the linked video, you’ve probably seen moments in which I totally misjudge a turn, and the lack of visual clarity plays at least some role in that (but also, I’m not very good at the game, and haven’t yet memorized the courses). I‘m looking forward to playing later entries in the series (Ridge Racer 7 and Ridge Racer PSP in particular) and getting to experience Ridge Racer on hardware that can accurately and smoothly render 3D models and textures (i.e. not the PS1 or DS).

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I knew going in that R4 was stylish, but I didn’t know that it had a surprisingly in-depth story mode. R4 doesn’t just share visual trappings with Persona 4 – it also presents its story in a way that brought to mind some Persona social links. The French team’s story revolves around a young woman navigating – and ultimately coming to terms with – her arranged career, arranged marriage, and transparent daddy issues. The Japanese team’s manager is initially hostile, but slowly warms to you. He eventually opens up about his guilt over his role in the death of his friend and teammate Giuliano (who turns out to be the son of the hardass Italian team manager). In the surprisingly (for a racing game) poetic epilogue, he comes to terms with the incident, and decides to race again. The team managers reference your performance, and assign you cars based on their budget allocations and confidence in your abilities. Also, just in case you forgot that R4 came out in 1998: you receive fan faxes. R4’s stories are nothing profound, but they’re oddly compelling.

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I, of course, have to mention R4’s fantastic soundtrack, which draws from a wide variety of influences to produce an iconic mix that nicely complements the game’s visual style. The title track (“One More Win”) is remixed throughout the game, including the aforementioned intro, the course data theme, the climactic final course theme, and the catchy house remix featured in the credits. The menu theme does a great job of getting you hyped to race. I could highlight practically any of the course themes, but in the interest of brevity, Your Vibe, Lucid Rhythms, Burnin’ Rubber, and Quiet Curves are favourites.

While I’m sure no control method will ever rival the Jogcon (which I’d love to try and probably never will), I think the Vita’s nimble, low-travel analog stick is very well-suited to R4. When I booted the game on the PS3 to capture footage, I ended up using the imperfect d-pad in lieu of the comparatively-sluggish-feeling DualShock 3 analog stick. R4 benefits a lot from analog control, and the Vita’s analog stick provides a nice compromise between immediacy and granularity.

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R4 has been a welcome reminder that – despite my lack of engagement with the genre – I do actually care about racing; I just don’t care about cars. I’m sure Ridge Racer’s irreverent and slapdash approach to cars makes it feel archaic to many accustomed to a genre that’s consolidated around realistic car enthusiasm, but to me, it’s a breath of fresh air. I don’t need fanatically-modelled licensed cars I’ve never heard of; I don’t want to master racing lines or meticulously tune car parts for maximum performance around the Nürburgring; I just want to select automatic transmission and hold down the accelerator and do ridiculous drifts around hairpin corners. I get that out of Mario Kart, and I suppose I could still get that out of the recent Ridge Racer games, but it seems like arcade racing is mostly a relic of the past. Here’s hoping Drift Stage and 90’s Arcade Racer reignite the genre.

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#1 Posted by csl316 (15038 posts) -

R4 was a damn fine game. I played a ton of the original, but this one was just hard to put down.

Gran Turismo 2 was the sim game I needed on the PS1, with R4 and Hot Pursuit being the top arcade games.

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#2 Posted by chaser324 (8720 posts) -

R4 really is a terrific game, especially in terms of its design aesthetics and incredible jazz breakbeat soundtrack (I still listen to it on a fairly regular basis). Happy to hear that you were able to get enjoyment out of it even as someone not fully engaged in the racing genre.

Since you seem to be interested in trying more games in the franchise, I will just stay that the general consensus is that the games start to get decidedly worse after RR5, and I'm inclined to agree with that.

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#3 Edited by Jeust (11739 posts) -

I still have the game, and I really like it too. And like you I'm not a big fan of simulators, being of racing, or sports.

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#4 Posted by PufferFiz (1501 posts) -

R4 is hands down the BEST in the series, so good.

also if the ost on youtube is not in your playlist your doing something wrong!

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#5 Edited by ProperKROE (38 posts) -

A great read! Thanks for sharing!

If you are looking to further the Ridge Racer series I just can`t recommend RR Vita enough. Like R4, Vita has some real slick menus and a great OST made up of nearly 100 tracks if I recall correctly. The courses and cars are a mish-mash of favorites from more recent RR titles as are the "machines". If you want to see some of the best the series has to offer, the Vita version is perfect.

Upon release it was lambasted for selling it`s content a la carte even though all together it added up to the price of a regular Vita title if you purchased it all.

Oh, and this...

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#6 Edited by flippyandnod (758 posts) -

The JogCon is really not very good at all. The NeGCon is still a far better input method, despite not having force-feedback. NeGCon is certainly the way to go, better than analog stick, better than even a full-size wheel (for this game).

The JogCon might have been good for RC car driving games, but the action is too heavy really even for that and it's awkward to hold compared to a RC controller which has the trigger accelerator.

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#7 Edited by GrantHeaslip (1869 posts) -

@csl316 said:

R4 was a damn fine game. I played a ton of the original, but this one was just hard to put down.

Gran Turismo 2 was the sim game I needed on the PS1, with R4 and Hot Pursuit being the top arcade games.

I played a bunch of Hot Pursuit on the PC back in the day. I remember finding the police chatter really cool, for whatever reason.

R4 really is a terrific game, especially in terms of its design aesthetics and incredible jazz breakbeat soundtrack (I still listen to it on a fairly regular basis). Happy to hear that you were able to get enjoyment out of it even as someone not fully engaged in the racing genre.

Since you seem to be interested in trying more games in the franchise, I will just stay that the general consensus is that the games start to get decidedly worse after RR5, and I'm inclined to agree with that.

The soundtrack was the thing that convinced me to give the actual game a shot :).

Do you think the later games (RR PSP and RR7 being the ones I’m eyeing) are worse RR games, or just games that should have better at the times of their releases? To put it another way, setting aside their context in the history of games, am I better off playing the PSP release or the original? I have a feeling that – even just because of their clearer graphics – more recent entries will be more enjoyable to me.

@jeust said:

I still have the game, and I really like it too. And like you I'm not a big fan of simulators, being of racing, or sports.

The sports comparison seems apt. The last licensed sports game I remember enjoying was probably NHL Hitz 2003. The new stuff just looks way too complicated, and my interest in hockey died off around 2004 (if you’re wondering why, look up the Leafs’ playoff record).

R4 is hands down the BEST in the series, so good.

also if the ost on youtube is not in your playlist your doing something wrong!

Yup!

A great read! Thanks for sharing!

If you are looking to further the Ridge Racer series I just can`t recommend RR Vita enough. Like R4, Vita has some real slick menus and a great OST made up of nearly 100 tracks if I recall correctly. The courses and cars are a mish-mash of favorites from more recent RR titles as are the "machines". If you want to see some of the best the series has to offer, the Vita version is perfect.

Upon release it was lambasted for selling it`s content a la carte even though all together it added up to the price of a regular Vita title if you purchased it all.

Oh, and this...

I was actually eyeing it earlier tonight and couldn’t figure out what to make of it. I already own 7 and can pick up PSP for $15 on PSN, but I’ll definitely keep it in mind should it get discounted.

Also, that video is dumb in a way I can really get behind :).

The JogCon is really not very good at all. The NeGCon is still a far better input method, despite not having force-feedback. NeGCon is certainly the way to go, better than analog stick, better than even a full-size wheel (for this game).

The JogCon might have been good for RC car driving games, but the action is too heavy really even for that and it's awkward to hold compared to a RC controller which has the trigger accelerator.

Interesting. I honestly only mentioned the Jogcon because I saw it referenced in the manual and remembered Jeff mentioning it.

The whole concept of Namco internally developing custom Ridge Racer controllers is intriguing in its ridiculous audacity. The landscape is so different today – I can’t picture anyone (not the least of which a risk-averse Japanese publisher) doing something like that now.

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#8 Posted by flippyandnod (758 posts) -

Namco developed not only the two Ridge Racer controllers (NeGCon and JogCon) but the PuchiCon also (for Puchi Karat). And their light guns were the canonical designs too.

Indeed it is a whole different world now. No more Steel Battalions. I guess we still have the rare fighting stick and steering wheel once in a while.

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#9 Posted by ViciousReiven (983 posts) -

Hmm, I kinda want to play a Ridge Racer but apparently the crazy drifting and nitros arn't introduced until later games, which one of the nitro era games would you guys recommend?

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#10 Edited by egg (1666 posts) -

R4 is a terrible game, shit graphics, incredibly cheesy dialogue, worst drifting in the series, the tracks aren't connected (completely defeating the point of a ridge racer game) and the worst branching system ever in a videogame. (You have to lose races in purpose to unlock certain cars) Only some tracks are connected, but the game acts like you're on a racing tour across the world, so one track takes place in for example NYC and later you have to race in the same course but this time its los angeles or whatever the cities were. Iirc the game did that with all its courses and I could NEVER get over that. If three of the courses are variants, then the game shouldn't say it's a different city.

ViciousRaven - all ridge racers have the crazy drifting. But the nitro games make the drifting slightly crazier. It's like a flanderized version of previous ridge racers, but I guess its better in the sense that it let's people know that the drifting is like that on purpose instead of ppl thinking "hurr durr this game is glitching, shit sux lol"

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#11 Posted by Fitzgerald (610 posts) -

Yup. This game was the closest thing we'll get to a Persona racing game.

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#12 Edited by chaser324 (8720 posts) -

@grantheaslip said:

Do you think the later games (RR PSP and RR7 being the ones I’m eyeing) are worse RR games, or just games that should have better at the times of their releases? To put it another way, setting aside their context in the history of games, am I better off playing the PSP release or the original? I have a feeling that – even just because of their clearer graphics – more recent entries will be more enjoyable to me.

There's not necessarily anything wrong with the games post RRV, but the nitro oriented gameplay does put off some fans of the earlier entries in the franchise. The content in those games also started to feel like there was a lot less creative passion behind it - less inspired visuals/audio, poor AI (either far too easy or far too difficult), recycled content, stretched out career progression that just feels like it's long and time consuming for the sake of being long and time consuming.

I'd imagine a lot of those issues probably had to do with it becoming increasingly difficult to crank out a decent game in time for the launch of more powerful consoles. It's a bit of a shame that Namco took the franchise down that path of being almost strictly platform release fodder. Given some proper time to actually develop and iterate within a console cycle, they may have been able to do more with the franchise.

@viciousreiven said:

Hmm, I kinda want to play a Ridge Racer but apparently the crazy drifting and nitros arn't introduced until later games, which one of the nitro era games would you guys recommend?

Probably one of the PSP games or RR7. There's essentially no reason to play RR6 unless you only have a 360.

@egg said:

R4 is a terrible game, cheesy story, worst drifting in the series, the tracks aren't connected (completely defeating the point of a ridge racer game) and the worst branching system ever in a videogame. (You have to lose races in purpose to unlock certain cars) Only some tracks are connected, but the game acts like you're on a racing tour across the world, so one track takes place in for example NYC while another takes place in Los Angeles but its literally the same geometry in both. I could NEVER get over that.

I can understand some of your complaints - the drifting in R4 is decidedly different than the other RR games, the story stuff isn't what some people are looking for in a racing game, and the path to unlocking all of the cars is ridiculous. However, I'm a little confused about how stuck you are on the tracks being connected. Why is this such a big deal to you? Why do you associate it with being such a big part of the RR franchise (I don't really feel that it is, especially not in the games before RRV)?

Also, I think you might be mistaken about the track location stuff in R4. Each track takes place in Yokohama, Fukuoka, New York, or LA. There is some slight overlap between a few tracks, but those are tracks that are indicated to be in the same city.

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#13 Edited by egg (1666 posts) -

"Why is this such a big deal to you? Why do you associate it with being such a big part of the RR franchise" Ridge Racer games almost felt like a metroidvania game sort of with the way you unlocked new pieces of the track one at a time. It seems like a fickle thing to demand from the series, but the RR games that don't do this never managed to have the same appeal as the ones that did.

I guess that's not really related to R4 specifically, though, since it's now normal for RR games not to do this. But at one time in recent memory R4 was the only game that did it, and I didn't care for it. Now that RR games do it all the time, I shouldn't hate R4 anymore for that reason, but I still hate it for other reasons. The game is abominable. When you finish the last race and the announcer goes on his "yer a great racer" speech, I can only wince. And the intro.. oh dear.

As for the whole story-in-a-racing-game idea, there is a game I played, Race Driver 2006, that did it pretty well. Unlike R4 it was with live action (like Command & Conquer! yay!) and the story was linear, but one thing it had in common with R4 is that it was in first person. Modnation Racers did it too come to think of it, and even that game used first person after you unlocked character modding.

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#14 Edited by Jeust (11739 posts) -

@grantheaslip: I see your disappointment with the Leafs. I'm also not very interested in sports nowadays either, and sport's games seem way too complicated. About simulators, I feel that it has reached a point in complexity where it is preferable to engage in the real sport than spend time learning the gameplay of a sports game, if we can.

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#15 Edited by GrantHeaslip (1869 posts) -

@egg said:

R4 is a terrible game, shit graphics, incredibly cheesy dialogue, worst drifting in the series, the tracks aren't connected (completely defeating the point of a ridge racer game) and the worst branching system ever in a videogame. (You have to lose races in purpose to unlock certain cars) Only some tracks are connected, but the game acts like you're on a racing tour across the world, so one track takes place in for example NYC and later you have to race in the same course but this time its los angeles or whatever the cities were. Iirc the game did that with all its courses and I could NEVER get over that. If three of the courses are variants, then the game shouldn't say it's a different city.

ViciousRaven - all ridge racers have the crazy drifting. But the nitro games make the drifting slightly crazier. It's like a flanderized version of previous ridge racers, but I guess its better in the sense that it let's people know that the drifting is like that on purpose instead of ppl thinking "hurr durr this game is glitching, shit sux lol"

I agree that the unlock system is dumb, but I don’t really care since the unlocks (as far as I can tell) only matter for time trials and versus mode, neither of which really matter to me. I might hop into some time trials to get to experience the earlier courses with faster cars, but I’m not at all concerned with filling out the roster. I might have felt differently if I’d bought the game at full price and expected to get a lot of playtime out of it.

@grantheaslip said:

Do you think the later games (RR PSP and RR7 being the ones I’m eyeing) are worse RR games, or just games that should have better at the times of their releases? To put it another way, setting aside their context in the history of games, am I better off playing the PSP release or the original? I have a feeling that – even just because of their clearer graphics – more recent entries will be more enjoyable to me.

There's not necessarily anything wrong with the games post RRV, but the nitro oriented gameplay does put off some fans of the earlier entries in the franchise. The content in those games also started to feel like there was a lot less creative passion behind it - less inspired visuals/audio, poor AI (either far too easy or far too difficult), recycled content, stretched out career progression that just feels like it's long and time consuming for the sake of being long and time consuming.

I'd imagine a lot of those issues probably had to do with it becoming increasingly difficult to crank out a decent game in time for the launch of more powerful consoles. It's a bit of a shame that Namco took the franchise down that path of being almost strictly platform release fodder. Given some proper time to actually develop and iterate within a console cycle, they may have been able to do more with the franchise.

Ah, okay, I see where you’re coming from. I’ll be checking out PSP and 7 since they’re the only other games available on PSN, but I may eventually... track down earlier entries to get a better sense of how the series evolved.

The way RR has evolved (setting aside the outsourced spinoffs) into a launch-only series really is weird. As someone who didn’t own a PS1, I basically entirely associate the series with system launches. I suppose it makes sense from a business standpoint, since they can put out a largely rehashed game with pretty graphics and sell a bunch of copies without (presumably) much development resources.

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#16 Posted by xanadu (2053 posts) -

Man I loved this game so much. My parents bought it for me right after I got out of the hospital for my appendectomy and it made the recovery time go by quickly. I still dream about those drifts, no other game has done it better.

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#17 Posted by Nasar7 (3224 posts) -

For the lazy, one of the best intros to any video game ever:

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#18 Posted by MEATBALL (4234 posts) -

Ridge Racer Type 4 is totally one of my all time favourite arcade racers.

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#19 Posted by JohnLocke (758 posts) -

Naked Glow is one of my favourite in game music tracks. This game was fantastic and I hope we get a new game at some point that can capture the feel of the older games whilst entering a modern gameplay mechanics and modes.

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#20 Posted by Vessel28 (213 posts) -

Love this game. Still play it from time to time. I usually always listen to either Naked Glow, Your Vibe or Move Me when playing it. The exception is for Silhouette Dance in the second night time stage which seems to sync up very well with a plane flying over on the last lap on most difficulties providing you race well (I think). I also don't really care for cars but love racing games. 90's Arcade Racer looks like it could be great, hadn't heard of Drift Stage though but it looks cool. I wish we still got more arcade racers

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#21 Posted by kewlsnake (197 posts) -

I knew going in that R4 was stylish, but I didn’t know that it had a surprisingly in-depth story mode. R4 doesn’t just share visual trappings with Persona 4 – it also presents its story in a way that brought to mind some Persona social links.

Wow, I need to play this game!

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#22 Posted by GrantHeaslip (1869 posts) -

I knew going in that R4 was stylish, but I didn’t know that it had a surprisingly in-depth story mode. R4 doesn’t just share visual trappings with Persona 4 – it also presents its story in a way that brought to mind some Persona social links.

Wow, I need to play this game!

Just to be clear, it’s not at all worth playing just for the story :). When I said “surprisingly in-depth story,” it was relative to what I expected out of an arcade racing game (which is to say, little to nothing). The character arcs have a similar vibe to some of the secondary P3 and P4 social links and I thought that was interesting, but they’re more of a curiosity than anything.

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#24 Posted by GrantHeaslip (1869 posts) -

@riveting said:

Seems there are some misunderstandings about this series...

I don't know of anyone who's ever seriously said that Ridge Racer 64 was such a sketchy game. That is a completely unsubstantiated rumor that keeps getting passed around by people who haven't actually played it. From what little I've played of it, RR64 itself is easily one of the best entries in the series due to the sheer amount of content (real content) and being a well-made package... all by non-Namco staff. From what I understand, DS is a very good port of that.

Gouraud shading was apparently fairly intensive for most of the 3D consoles at the time, so not a lot of games used it. Funny enough, the first game with Gouraud was Namco's arcade racer SimDrive, one of the string of Ridge Racer prototypes.

Like I said, I remember quite enjoying Ridge Racer DS. What I was getting at is that Ridge Racer DS wasn’t well-reviewed (fairly or not, I don’t know), and Ridge Racer 64 doesn’t get as much attention as the PlayStation games. “Iffy” wasn’t the right word – maybe “lower-profile”?

@riveting said:

@grantheaslip said:

The whole concept of Namco internally developing custom Ridge Racer controllers is intriguing in its ridiculous audacity. The landscape is so different today – I can’t picture anyone (not the least of which a risk-averse Japanese publisher) doing something like that now.

Um, they're definitely not Ridge Racer specific controllers... the neGcon was Namco attempting to introduce proper analog control to console video games before the N64 ever did, and Ridge Racer just happened to be a good killer app for it. The Jogcon was Namco attempting to outdo the neGcon and the DualShock, particularly for racing games; it also introduced not just simply built-in rumble, but full force feedback... except they gave up about halfway through development (the Jogcon is only RR-exclusive because noone else wanted anything to do with it). A friendly near-second-party developing things for a first-party console manufacturer... these controllers are best compared to Intelligent Systems developing things like the Super Scope.

You’re right. I guess I just meant that they’re controllers heavily associated with the Ridge Racer games (the Jogcon was bundled with R4, right?). There’s not a whole lot of that these days outside of plastic guitars, NFC portals, and the occasional rhythm game oddity. It’s something I kind of miss in modern games. I’ve still got my DK Bongos in a box somewhere :).

@riveting said:

@grantheaslip said:

Just to be clear, it’s not at all worth playing just for the story :). When I said “surprisingly in-depth story,” it was relative to what I expected out of an arcade racing game (which is to say, little to nothing). The character arcs have a similar vibe to some of the secondary P3 and P4 social links and I thought that was interesting, but they’re more of a curiosity than anything.

But you're also only speaking relative to a huge drawn-out RPG like Persona, and even then I'd wager that R4's plotlines are better than a lot of "beloved" RPGs.

Oh, it’s not a fair comparison at all – I was just making sure I didn’t come off as overselling it. I liked the R4 stories for what they were, but I wouldn’t suggest anyone play the game for them.