One of the early fine titles for the Nintendo Entertainment System, Excitebike is an absolute granddaddy in the racing genre. Certainly not sophisticated, the game could only remain so fresh for so long because the hugely skillful timing one needed to get beyond the middle levels. Excitebike was also one of the early adopters for in-game customization, allowing would be gurus to design their own track. There may have been a tendency towards making courses that consisted of only unreasonably massive jumps, but it was good fun nevertheless.
Why did early race game designers feel the need to litter every corner of every track with oil slicks? Come on, these are radio-controlled cars; they’re not leaking that much oil guys. Despite the profusion of slick little puddles it’s hard not to love R.C. Pro-Am’s simple charm, especially with access to turbo boosts and sticky tires. Plus RCPA got hard fast, leaving the weak and the slow (the “amateurs” here we’d guess) behind.
Race, win money, buy faster sport bikes. That solid, if unoriginal premise would’ve been plenty for most racing games in the early 1990s, but Road Rash moved the game on with the ability to beat the living hell out of your competitors. Feet, fists, and various clubs are at your disposal for the dispatching of your opponents, though care must be taken not to get captured by the ever-present police. The in-game violence may not even register against some of today’s bloodier games, but the Sega Genesis title was pretty raucous for its time.
Modellista may not have been the sales hit that games like Project Gotham or Forza were (to say nothing of Gran Turismo) but it probably looked better than any of them. Using the very hip cell-shaded graphical style to make every screen appear to be hand drawn, Modellista looked a every bit like an animated racing movie. The art-like presentation was aided by gameplay that encouraged drivers to modify their cars in near limitless visual ways, as well as presenting a vast array of mechanical mods.
Auto Modellista’s biggest problem was that it just wasn’t that good a sim, perhaps publishing company Capcom was still too hung over from the very arcade like Ridge Racer series.
One of the more iconic stand up arcade games of all time, if we close our eyes we can still feel Pole Position’s thin-rimmed, deeply-dished steering wheel in our hands. Gameplay was brutally simple, involving hanging onto the track as best you could while trying to pass a near endless stream of identical robot racers. Despite the straightforward nature of the game, Pole Position was utterly addictive, claiming thousands of Mom’s quarters before we moved onto bigger and better racers.
There have been a ton of later versions of the game, from PC adaptations to consol racers, even an iPod version. Nothing can replace the original though.
Mario Kart Series
Since its first installment in 1993 (Super Mario Kart), the Mario Kart series has been providing endlessly entertaining, yet straightforward racing thrills for you and your friends. MK is no simulation but the physics of all of the games remain both compelling and consistent, broken only occasionally by the dreaded red shells. The newest version for Nintendo’s good-for-all-ages Wii console is perhaps the best yet, making superb use of the nifty (if expensive) Wii Wheel.
The battle mode won’t entice those who only have room in their hearts for racing but it is awfully addictive. We’ve seen more than one real physical battle stem from repeated beat downs in this mode though, beware if you’re challenging a known hot-head (or your older brother).
Grand Theft Auto Series
Before you even say it, we know. Not one of the illustrious members of the Grand Theft Auto series is really a driving game. But while we can’t deny that there is a strong non-driving element to GTA, we’ve always thought of the pervasive vehicles as being uncredited stars in the game. Publishers Rockstar have backed this notion up a bit in their latest iteration, offering an online head-to-head racing feature that is sure to keep the title feeling fresh, just in case you worried that random shootings and jumping out of the helicopter might grow boring (not likely).
Colin McRae Series
McRae’s signature video game series pretty much set the standard for rallying games, though it took awhile to make it over to the U.S. spec Playstation. In addition to providing full-blooded tail out thrills, the first McRae game also treated players to the terror of trying to follow Nicky Grist’s instructions at 140 miles per hour. Who knew the phrase “Five right, don’t cut” could be so terrifying? The series always looked phenomenal too, with physics that put Gran Turismo’s first stabs at off-road action to shame.
Ayrton Senna’s Super Monaco GP II
Following up on the successful Super Monaco GP for the deliriously cool Sega Master System, Ayrton Senna lent his Formula 1 cred, his expertise, and some weird trophy to make the sequel even better. ASSMGPII (sorry) starts a player out as a green F1 driver, you, who is then asked to work his way up through the ranks of the teams. The goal is of course to beat the master himself, winning a spot on the top “Madonna” team; your best Alain Prost impression will be useful here.
Gran Turismo Series
The Gran Turismo series of games is one of those select titles that have attained a certain rock star status. Important enough in its own universe to pull in buyers for Sony’s Playstation (2, 3 etc), it has also been postulated that Gran Turismo is influencing a whole generation of car buyers, especially in the U.S. Certainly there are a huge number of Millennials that might never have been interested in products like the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution before GT taught them how hot it was.
The reasons behind the Gran Turismo success are many, but at its core it is simply the most realistic driving simulator to be had, bar none. We’re saving some vacation time for use around the launch date of the full GT5, no kidding.