10. Outrun – Sega Master System
How could a list such as this not feature at least one Outrun game? You might think we’ve gone stalk raving mad opting for the Master System version, but the truth is this is the home conversion that most will have played at the time as the PC Engine (TG16) version never made it out of Japan and by the time the Mega Drive version (which wasn’t that great because it was too easy) finally came out it didn’t have as big of an impact.
The Master System port of Outrun is of course technically limited, but it is as good as you could hope for on the hardware. It provided a stern challenge and kept you going until you could make it to the local arcade at the weekend to play the hydraulic version! A follow-up was made called Outrun 3D which supported the 3D Glasses peripheral which about only ten people in the world actually owned!
9. Exhaust Heat – SNES
After the amazing speed and Mode 7 brilliance of Nintendo's F-Zero, F1 Exhaust Heat came as something of a letdown. When you start, the game is nowhere near as fast or frantic as the aforementioned futuristic racer, and graphically it's not as exciting either - the trackside detail is pretty basic throughout. However, as with many games, first impressions aren't always correct.
Once you've progressed through the first few racers in the career mode, you get access to more powerful engines, better tyres and the all-important 'Go Faster Stripes'. Your car suddenly becomes lightening fast and it's at this point that the game really shows its true colours and you realize that it's a very different beast to F-Zero. The career mode is excellent, and the idea of being able to upgrade your car is great (at the time of release it was actually quite innovative too).
8. Rad Racer – NES
This was really Nintendo’s answer to Outrun back in the days. It’s a crime that it’s not on the Virtual Console by now, but it was developed by Square so I guess we know why! Racing fans didn’t have much choice on the NES really in the early days so this game is undoubtedly going to be remembered fondly by many. Like Outrun you aren’t racing laps here, the idea is to get to the end of the course before the timer runs out. If you reach the checkpoint you get extra time. Perhaps the most memorable impression of this game is the infamous scene in The Wizard, where Lucas Barton (Jimmy's rival) uses a Power Glove to play through the first stage of the game, a feat in itself considering the much noted unreliability of the device!
7. Turbo Esprit - C64
This game is a real home computer gem so we hope that one day the C64 version races on to the Virtual Console. It’s kind of like a very primitive Grand Theft Auto! The game features four free-roaming cities through which the player may drive as they see fit.
Each city features a grid plan of roads, and each is progressively more difficult; the first city contains many six lane motorway-like roads making speeding and dodging traffic easy, whereas the later ones have more two-lane and one-way roads. It really was way ahead of its time and is worth hunting down in one form or another to play today as a slice of retro history.
6. Overtop - Neo Geo
Not many will probably remember this, but as the Neo Geo was so bereft of racing games it would seem a shame to not include it for balance. This is another top-down view racing game, hence the name. It is a follow-up to the rather good Thrash Rally on the Neo Geo, but far better in our opinion. The graphics are superb compared to its predecessor and the playability of this arcade racer is superb too. There is lots of depth to this game and shortcuts to find. This is notoriously expensive to buy now in cart form, so a VC release would be most welcome.
5. Super Sprint – NES
Based on the classic Atari arcade game, this game allowed for up to three players to race each other across a variety of crazy-shaped tracks. The action played out perfectly with the top-down perspective which was so good at the time. The NES conversion was pretty accurate although of course it only allowed for two players.
You could have hours of fun whizzing around these tracks. This game was bettered by Championship Sprint and later on Ivan Stewart's Super Off Road, but this was the beginning of it all so it deserves a spot in the list.
4. Road Rash – Mega Drive
Road Rash was a real breath of fresh air when it first came out. Sure we’d all enjoyed Super Hang-On, but you couldn’t get your own back in that game! All this changed with EA’s Road Rash as you battled other racers with a variety of weapons such as clubs, crowbars, nunchakus, cattle prods and even police batons! The roads were full of traffic to dodge and the tracks also had realistic inclines which set it apart from other racing games of its era. There were a number of follow-ups to this game and a more recent port to the GBA. In many ways this game paved the way for games the Burnout series. Racing and fighting is a winning combo it seems!
3. Micro Machines – NES, Mega Drive, SNES
This was a real innovation at the time. Sure top-down racing games had been done before, but never with such humour. In this great game by Codemasters you get to race the miniature toy cars across different types of terrain found around a house. The Sports Cars race on the desktop, 4x4s in the sandpit, Formula 1 cars on a snooker table, etc. The gameplay was super fast and with multiple players it could get quite brutal as you played nasty tricks on each other to win first place. Later versions of this game on the Mega Drive came with two extra controller ports built into the cart to allow for 4 simultaneous players. This was the ultimate party game for its time.
2. Excitebike 64 - N64
Excitebike 64 is an update to the original Excitebike for the NES (which is on VC). The outrageous jumps and precision timing required in the original have been translated into a modern 3D racing game. If you’ve played Excite Truck on the Wii you’ll have a good idea of what to expect here. In addition to fun of jumps and stunts and excellent track design, this game even boasts a track editor so you can create your own masterpiece to play in the game. This game is quite likely to end up on the VC eventually as it is on the Chinese iQue player, but expect that the original NES game of Excitebike will be hacked out should that ever happen!
1. Super Mario Kart – SNES
This game doesn’t really need any introduction does it? A sickening obvious choice for the number one spot, but we couldn’t have it any other way! This game converted the Super Mario universe into a kart racer flawlessly. 20 brilliantly designed tracks featuring ghost houses, Bowser’s castle and Choco Island and 8 well balanced racers make this the ultimate racing game for the SNES. In one player mode the game runs out of steam eventually, but with two players this game is as good as it ever was.
There are also 5 battle courses too when you fancy a change from racing each other. Whilst it’s follow-up Mario Kart 64 is already on the Virtual Console many fans of the series still think of the original game as the definitive game in the series. This is long overdue to make it to the VC in our opinion!
So what racing games did we miss from our list? Rev your engines and let us know your thoughts below!