Since the beginning, racing video games have been the bread and butter of the video game business, standing tall alongside side-scrollers, sports games, and role-playing games as the foundations of many a great company. They’re a simple sell: put some fast vehicles and exotic locales in digital form in front of a demographic that can’t legally drive, and you’re certain to get some traction.
- Top Gear / Top Gear 2
The Top Gear games brought together several significant themes that had previously been explored in earlier Super Nintendo racing games but never in the same bundle. Top Gear (later built upon by Top Gear 2), in particular, allowed for split-screen racing versus a friend and the option to modify your car as you progressed through the races. It was groundbreaking for its day, and the less said about the franchise’s third installment, Top Gear 3000, the better. Top Gear’s gameplay and aesthetics were inspired by Gremlin Interactive’s Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge trilogy of PC games, which never made it to the SNES but did have a brief run on the Sega Genesis.
- Ivan ‘Ironman’ Stewart’s Off-Road Machine
When Ivan ‘Ironman’ Stewart’s Super Off-Road originally came out, it was tough to ignore because it was that crazy arcade game with three steering wheels. It took a simple concept – racing miniature Baja 1000 trucks on a confined course for a defined number of laps – and made it more enjoyable by adding pick-up bonus cash, nitro bursts, and steering wheels that spun an endless number of degrees in any direction. The game, released on both Nintendo and Sega consoles, matched you against the ‘Ironman’ in each heat. Fun fact: Off-Road was one of the few games of the era that allowed you to play the entire event backward and piss off your buddies by striking them in the face over and over again.
- Daytona International Speedway
In the mid to late 1990s, when polygon-style visuals started to come into their own with full texturing and color, racing videogames became a lot more serious. Daytona USA, released in 1993, was one of the first arcade driving simulators to strive for a blend of fun and realism, featuring three tracks on which you could pilot your stock vehicle against up to four live competitors with varying degrees of physics adherence. Daytona USA would be released on every major console and followed by three sequels of its own, taking texture mapping to new heights.
- The Sega Rally Championship
It was only a minor step to translate the rally racing experience to ones and zeros once video game companies realized that you could have as much fun in the dirt as you did on the asphalt. Sega Rally Championship and the four other games in the series were perhaps the greatest of the initial wave of games that attempted to mimic the intense insanity of WRC competition, paving the way for the next wave of console games.
- Extreme Racing in San Francisco
In 1996, Atari’s San Francisco Rush was unlike anything else when it originally hit the arcades. On the surface, it was a physics-free bit of driving notion akin to the Cruis’n USA series, but throw in a token, and you’d soon discover a much-expanded playable world compared to traditional driving games, with short-cuts, epic jumps, and hidden passages separating you from the rigidly-defined borders of conventional racing games. Then there was the sense of Speed, which signaled the arrival of a new generation of coin-op driving. Rush, like Cruis’n USA, spawned a slew of sequels that found their way into arcades and video game consoles with different degrees of success.
- Super GT by Sega (SCUD Race)
The idea was straightforward: Choose between a Porsche 911, a McLaren F1, a Ferrari F40, or a Dodge Viper, and then race them against your friends in remarkably (for the time) immersive surroundings that pushed the boundaries of where a race might take place. Sega based this game on the bones of Daytona USA, although you’d never guess it based on the vastly different gameplay and ability to drift through turns at random. This game ate up more of our school-boy quarters than any other, and it’s still had us scouring eBay for used sit-down cabinets (and worrying where we’ll put them because you can’t play this one solo).
- Need For Speed
Since the debut of the Playstation 2, which announced that consoles could handle the visuals and Speed demanded by racing sim fans, many PC game series have come and gone, but Need For Speed has remained. Because it was so good at being real enough to pass the sniff test with enthusiasts but also fun to the point where real-world physics were occasionally thrown out the window in favor of a good time, NFS has gifted the world with so many spin-offs. At its publication, the original was a breath of fresh air in an industry that desperately needed it.
- Mario Kart: Double Dash
It may be argued that owning a Super Nintendo is worth it just to beat your friends/siblings/arch-enemies at Super Mario Kart. Mario Kart was a goofy concept that eschewed the testosterone and realism of the racing world in favor of a simple idea: how about we stick familiar 8-bit and 16-bit characters on low-powered go-karts? Mario Kart was a goofy concept that eschewed the testosterone and realism of the racing world in favor of a simple idea: how about we stick familiar 8-bit and 16-bit characters on low-powered go-karts? Putting players on short, easy-to-remember tracks and allowing them to gather coins, power-ups, and launch turtle shells at each other turned Super Mario Kart into a bloodsport that sparked competitive zeal in anybody who played it. It is a fantastic racing game, but it’s also a great game in general, more than two decades later.
- Gran Turismo 2
Some feel that the release of Gran Turismo 3 on the Playstation 2 secured the series’ position as one of the best racing games on the market, alongside the more current Forza Motorsport. Still, we have to remember Gran Turismo 2 for the PlayStation 1, which fascinated us with the available customization choices, great track design, and absurdly deep dive into obscure Japanese autos. We played it for days, weeks, and months, and it set a precedent for later Gran Turismo games on the next three Playstation platforms.
In our opinion, F-Zero is the best classic racing game ever released. It was one of the first games to put the SNES on the map by demonstrating its rendering speed and sound playback (called ‘Mode 7’ by Nintendo’s marketing wizards), and it included a soundtrack that is still being remixed by electronic music musicians today.
While there are only four hero ships to choose from, each has its own set of game-altering characteristics that make them rewarding but difficult to master, and while there are only four hero ships to choose from, you better get it right. Even with only one hand, we can beat the game.