Ridge Racer 64 is the outsider of the Ridge Racer series. Namco had minimal to do with the production and, in fact, the game was developed and published by Nintendo who were wanting a serious racing game for the Nintendo 64. Nintendo actually gave asked their Washington-based studio, Nintendo Software Technology, to develop the title. In order to maintain the series' characteristic electronic style, sound director Lawrence Schwedler decided to hire an experienced external game composer to handle the title, Keith Arem. The soundtrack was also later adapted for the remake Ridge Racer DS. Speed Nation - The Original Ridge Racer 64 Soundtrack was enclosed with the German release of the Nintendo 64 game and features the various themes. Let's look at what is offered...
The first racing theme, "Revolver", features fast-paced techno just like equivalent themes by Hosoe and co. in previous games in the series. However, the soundscapes are smoother and richer overall due to the use of improved technology and contrasting sections. Indeed, it sounds much more like professional dance music rather than game music, although many would argue that is part of the problem and prefer the more individualistic themes from Japan-developed games in the series. It is nevertheless clear that Keith Arem is aware of the series' history. The passionate female vocals of "RR64 Menu" are reminiscent of those of Ridge Racer Type 4, for example. The sampling isn't great and a live performer would have been more effective, but it but works well in conjunction with the electronic grooves. The opening fanfare features similar vocals and squeezes in a nod to the American announcer of the old Arcade games, though is necessarily only 12 seconds long.
Although the soundscapes remain quite similar throughout, there is a variety of moods in the soundtracks. "Evolution" is ideal for darker scenes in the game with its fast breakbeats and moody bass lines, though it's a little frustrating that it switches rapidly between seemingly unrelated sections rather than really building the core ideas. On the other hand, "Cruise Control" liberates listeners with warm synth pads and piano passages, sounding a little like Nobuyoshi Sano's work except without the quirkiness. There are also a few aggressive tracks with a rock emphasis. "Speed Nation" combines moody guitar work reminiscent of Perfect Dark with hard techno lines. It has its bland sections, but overall it's a worthy title theme. In contrast, "Manual Override" is a slightly more upbeat and flashy rock-techno hybrid, though lacks direction much like the other pieces on the soundtrack.
While quite a mainstream electronic album album overall, Keith Arem offers occasional hints of classic game music styles. The opening of "Gun Runner" seems like a direct homage to Hosoe's Ridge Racer main theme and the rest of the theme maintains a funk focus. On the other hand, "Motion Blur" blends aspects of conventional electronica with those of a stereotypical game music piece, contrasting lighter sections dominated by bubbly beats with hard-edged ones featuring catchy orch hit lines. While professionally done, it is certainly more exciting in the game and sounds a little repetitious on its own. Although its direct inspirations are unclear, "Ridge Racer Roots" has a very gamey sound too despite its lack of melody. It does a good job hybridising the funk, rock, and electronic elements of the soundtrack as the centrepiece of the album. In series' tradition, the final track is a bonus arrangement of Galaga and Pac-Man themes with a nice retro feel. It's a pity it's short relative to those on the series' main soundtracks.
Overall, it's difficult to find major faults with Ridge Racer 64's soundtrack on a functional level. Keith Arem succeeded in bringing conventional techno to the race circuits with high quality sampling equipment. The soundtrack is also moderately diverse, fits the game well, and includes a few nods to Namco's history. That said, there are very few themes that are particularly melodically engaging and few that are particularly creative. Most tracks seem to be more of a collection of eight bar ideas rather than something that builds on a central idea and this risks alienating stand-alone listeners. A work that is professional at best, generic at worst, it's better for listening to in context rather than enjoying on a stand-alone level.