To The Bitter End

Ridge Racer Type 4

A Perfect Circle

R4: Ridge Racer Type 4 closes by finding revelation in the perfect lap.

By Anthony John Agnello • December 10, 2012

Games are often left unfinished. Sometimes they’re too difficult, too vast, or too repetitive to see all the way through to the closing credits. To The Bitter End is The Gameological Society’s look at those endings that are worth fighting for—or at least worth reading about.

The story goes like this: Back in the day, Pope Boniface VIII wanted the finest painter in all of Italy to make him some arts, so he sent out an aide to scour the land. When the aide arrived at the workshop of Florentine artist Giotto and asked for a work to prove Giotto’s greatness, the artist picked up a sheet and drew a perfect circle in red. The pope’s agent balked. “What the hell kind of art is this?” he said. (I’m paraphrasing a bit.) “Paint me some sweet angels exalting the blessed mother or something!” But Giotto said nah, the circle will be enough for his holiness.

It was. Giotto got the gig and, apocryphal or not, his feat still stands some 700 years later as the litmus test for artistic achievement. The final course of R4: Ridge Racer Type 4, a speedway called Shooting Hoops, isn’t precisely a perfect circle, but the circuit invites you to pull the racing game equivalent of a Giotto by making perfect laps. In essence, the game ends by asking you to discard all the skills you’ve honed throughout its grand prix to find revelation and release in the loop.

The circle is an unnatural shape in the Ridge Racer world. In the pantheon of driving games, Ridge Racer is the god of angles. Leading up to Shooting Hoops, the courses are defined by supremely tight corners, and the player’s most important skill is learning how to drift your car around them without losing too much speed.

The scenery varies. Sometimes you’re driving through farm country, tearing around the curves of a steep hill trying to pass the leader. Other times, you’re jockeying for second place in a neon-lit underpass that runs through the game’s fictional capital, Ridge City. No matter where you race, the grand prix races escalate the same way: Tighter corners, faster cars. More complexity, more strategy. The middle heats of R4 can be infuriating. Tiny mistakes don’t always damn your run on a given course, but learning how to come back from a slip-up is often as difficult as learning how to drive well in the first place.

And then it all culminates with an expression of simplicity. What the hell did I do all that hard work for? It took me 13 tries to nail that second corner on Heaven And Hell. Now you’re telling me that sliding through a perfect arc in a souped-up muscle car isn’t the point?

Shooting Hoops proves enlightening, though—not to mention a lot harder then you’d think. While a remixed version of the R4 theme song blasts in the background, the course pushes you through twice as many laps as normal, and each run around the track needs to be immaculate if you’re going to win. Elsewhere, you can recover after you bump a wall or juke another racer—you might even use it to your advantage. But here, any loss of speed torpedoes your race. Once you lock into first place, maintaining the course takes blissful focus. You have to deal with the tension without allowing it to bloom into anxiety. We often say we’ve “won” or “beaten” a game when we finish them, but it’s not often that victory comes with a pure sense of completion like it does on Shooting Hoops.

R4 brings its characters full circle, as well. Unlike the rest of the Ridge Racer series, or most driving games for that matter, R4 has melancholic tales to go with each of the four teams you can sign up with. For instance, the team manager of the Pac Racing Club blames himself for the death of his first driver. Sophie Chevalier, owner of Team Mappy, lives in the shadow of her father and is trying to prove that a woman can thrive in the racing world.

They’re simple characters with archetypal problems, but they’re affecting all the same. All of them find catharsis when you finish Shooting Hoops. Yazaki lets go of his friend; Sophie is released from her insecurities. There stories close in the best possible way, not with perfect happiness but a new beginning in life. They close a loop, exiting one chapter in life and entering into the next.

R4 echoes these character arcs in its racing. The path to the final race doesn’t have to be perfect—you can face setbacks, or take third place and still advance. Those setbacks are woven into the story too, with your team manager getting frustrated or doubtful about your ability. But once you get to Shooting Hoops, you have to get it just right. That you can stumble before you soar gives real power to Shooting Hoops and the absolution of the game’s characters. You’ve learned a craft and lived a life, R4 says, and now you have to prove it. Draw a circle.

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2,424 Responses to “A Perfect Circle”

  1. Sam Saper says:

    Reminds me of this classic Onion clip:

  2. Keith says:

    I feel like I played through R4’s campaign dozens of times back when it came out. Something about those eight courses and those four little stories was so addictive. Now I really want to find my copy and play it again.

  3. GhaleonQ says:

    Aw, this was a really nice one.

    Sorry if I’m a bit undereducated on racing games, but do any others do this?  I’m glad that most big series are indebted to/came from the early- and mid-1990s arcades, but that’s made them a bit homogenous when it comes to “final tests.” And when they do try, it’s in stuff like F-0, which turns into a twitch-fest and cordons it off to the AX (arcade import) circuit and out of the grand prix mode.   The Route X Oval is in a simulation game, which is pristine but not entrancing.  Bayshore Midnight doesn’t capture the speed and makes it a minigame.

    It’s too bad, because it seems like a super-effective method of seeing the GAME’s limits rather than the player’s.

  4. Dunwatt says:

    I wouldn’t have figured Gameological to be the site to stoke an interest in racing games, but between this, the Forza Horizon review, and a comments discussion about Driver…man, I wish I hadn’t abandoned this genre back when I was a teenager and I first discovered irony.  To quote Comic Book Guy:  “Oh, I’ve wasted my life.”

  5. Destroy Him My Robots says:

    I have nothing to say, really, but only 4 comments for this makes me sad, so here goes: Great article.

  6. Moonside_Malcontent says:

    The Four Noble Truths of Racing Games:

    Wipeouts are a part of life, and bring suffering.
    Suffering, and thus wipeouts, come from holding down the acceleration button.
    One may cease to hold down the acceleration button.
    Cease to hold down the acceleration button by following the Eight-Fold Drift.
    Run the loop of Shooting Hoops, and see the Buddha.

  7. When my family finally purchased a PS1 one Christmas, we had this game, Tekken 3 and Crash Bandicoot Warped (a perfect triumvirate if you ask me).

    And while I came to rule the ring with Hworang, and beat Crash Bandicoot more times than I can count, I never truly mastered Ridge Racer 4.  It wasn’t punishing like hardcore sims such as Gran Turismo  but as the author stated in the article, it can be unforgiving to mistakes, which as a young man graduating from the Sega Genesis to this duel analog madness, really left me feeling destroyed.

    I never played another racer (outside of Burnout because of course) more than R4 but I never got that good at it.  Oh well, I’ll always have this…

  8. Girard says:

    Speaking of video games and driving, driving in Russia is apparently horrifyingly similar to driving in GTA games:

  9. ferrarimanf355 says:

    I could never get into Namco arcade racers. When R4 was out, I was too busy having fun with Daytona USA 2 in the arcade.

  10. Spacemonkey Mafia says:

    I’ve never heard the Giotto’s circle anecdote before.  It’s a very zen parable.
       Is zen possible with a racing game?  Or is it more a harmony of complete control as it sounds written here?

    • GhaleonQ says:

      OutRun 1 is exactly that.  The series as a whole is top-notch, but is much more arcadey and skill-focused.  1 has the soundtrack, moderate difficulty, lack of barriers, and style to cause the player to lose himself.

    • GhaleonQ says:

      OutRun 1 is exactly that.  The series as a whole is top-notch, but is much more arcadey and skill-focused.  1 has the soundtrack, moderate difficulty, lack of barriers, and style to cause the player to lose himself.

  11. Matthew McGrath says:

    I loved the “Yeah, it’s a new record!” announcer clip in this game so much.

    Move Me, Movin’ In Circles, and Motor Species are all in my exercise/driving mix.  Such great songs.