There are two types of racing games – arcade racers, and simulators. Simulators focus on as much realism as possible, which means very precise car physics and taking a realistic approach to driving. Arcade racers, on the other hand… they’re typically all about driving fast. Really fast.
If you’re in the mood for some high-speed, octane-fueled racing games, we’ve put together a list of the most outstanding arcade racers both past and present, sure to satisfy any speed-demons addiction to crossing the finish line.
To start this list, we have to take you back (do dodo do) to the one that started it all. RiiiidgeRaceeeer! I mean, who didn’t plunk quarters into this absolutely amazing (for its time) arcade racer in the early to mid-90s? Who doesn’t still plunk quarters into an old (or newer) Ridge Racer machine at the occasional World of Fun visit? And who wasn’t totally stoked when Ridge Racer received console ports to the original PlayStation?
In any list of “best racing games”, you have to include Ridge Racer – its mandatory. Its outdated as heck, and had some of the most offensive rubber band AI in a racing game, rivaled perhaps only by Mario Kart – but the mechanics were legendary. For a game released in 1993, Ridge Racer had surprisingly realistic car handling, including drifting around corners at 128MPH. In fact, Ridge Racer was the first arcade racing game to feature drifting as a strategy – the rest of the industry didn’t hop on the drifting bandwagon until like, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift in 2006.
You didn’t think this list was going to be all car-racing games, did you? It was really hard settling on a single motorcycle racing game to include on this list, as there’s been a handful of great ones over the years – notably Motocross Madness 2, Moto Racer, MotorStorm, even browser-based Drift Hunters. But for the sake of going with a modern AAA title, MXGP Pro certainly fits the bill.
MXGP Pro isn’t strictly an arcade racer – but neither is it a simulation either. It strikes a nice balance between the two, and you can actually configure the options to make the game feel more realistic, or more arcade-like. If you’re a fan of awesome dirt bike games, MXGP Pro is worth a look.
The Midnight Club series was a pretty stellar arcade-racing experience on the Xbox and PlayStation consoles, as it was developed by Rockstar Games. In fact, the Midnight Club series looks almost exactly like the Grand Theft Auto series, if GTA was purely a street-racing game – and that’s no surprise, because Rockstar Games used the same engines for all of their games (RenderWareuntil 2004, and RAGE afterwards).
The Midnight Club series basically focused on free-roam maps, driving around to find races, and modifying cars as you unlocked them. Graphics and car handling wise, it really was Grand Theft Auto if you couldn’t exit your vehicle. So if you enjoy the racing missions in the Grand Theft Auto series, then you should definitely try the Midnight Club series.
The Burnout series was always notable for its spectacular vehicular crashes, so much that the third game in the series was aptly titled Burnout 3: Takedown, because causing your opponents to wreck was a core strategy of the game. But Burnout wasn’t just a crash-test simulator, oh no – Burnout 3: Takedown received perfect scores from a handful of top critics, has been declared the “best racing game of all time” by several others, and even won the 2004 Spike Video Game Awards for “Best Driving Game”.
I can’t say I agree with the “best racing game of all time” claims, as I prefer more realistic simulators like Gran Turismoand Dirt Rally – but maybe Burnout could be the “best arcade racing game of all time”. Still though, if sending your opponents into jaw-dropping collisions at breakneck speeds sounds like your cup of tea, you really cannot pass up the Burnout series, especially Burnout 3: Takedown.
This is another bit of nostalgia from the PlayStation era, but the Test Drive series really had some great arcade-racing titles to boast of. There’s something like 22 titles all combined in the Test Drive series, including various console exclusives and the Test Drive Off-Road series, but my fondest memories are Test Drive 5 for the original PlayStation. It had a killer ear-bleeding industrial metal soundtrack with bands like PitchShifter, KMFDM, and Fear Factory (weren’t the 90s just so darn edgy?)
In any case, Test Drive games typically revolve around street racing exotic cars, while avoiding the police. The police chases added a really difficult element to the races, as you’d be trying to overtake opponents with police cars smacking your bumper from behind. Actually, this game was pretty rage-inducing and you might throw your controller at the wall because of it. But for nostalgias sake, the Test Drive series is highly recommended for an outstanding arcade racing experience.
Need for Speed
If we started this list with the one that started it all, we’ll end it with the king of them all. The Need for Speed series is one of the most successful racing game franchises of all time, having sold over 150 million copies of its various titles. And there’s like, 27 of them as of writing.
Where would you even begin with such a huge catalogue of titles in a single series? Well you could start with NFS III: Hot Pursuit which introduced police chases to the series back in 1998. Or you could start with NFS: Underground which focused on the immensely growing popularity of street racing, thanks to 2001’s The Fast and the Furious (notice how everyone wanted to buy souped-up Honda Civics like immediately after that film came out?).
Or you could jump to NFS: Most Wanted for the Xbox 360, which dialed up Need for Speed’s graphics to 11 (at the time). You know what? It really doesn’t matter where you land in the Need for Speed series, they’re all an example of why the series is the most successful racing game franchise.
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