The term “arcade racer” might have come from the brick and mortar establishments, where players would stick money down to compete against AI or friends in brightly coloured racing games, but the term has evolved in the years since. Arcade racers have now come to mean racing games that focus more stylised graphics, physics and overall gameplay, creating a larger-than-life experience unlike anything you’d play in a realistic racing game.
Even though racing games have moved out of the arcades and onto home consoles, that doesn’t mean the spirit of arcade racers isn’t alive and well, as there’s dozens of racing games both old and new that attempt to channel the fun energy of arcade racing. If you’re searching for the best arcade racing games to remind you of simpler times, or just want to go really, really fast, here’s what you should be playing.
The Best Arcade Racing Games
15. Cruis’n Blast
Developer: Raw Thrills Publisher: Raw Thrills Platform(s): Arcade, Switch
The Cruis’n Series has been an arcade gaming mainstay ever since Midway released the original game released in arcades back in 1994. While Midway has since gone the way of the dodo, the company Raw Thrills managed to secure the Cruis’n license and released a brand new game in arcades back in 2017. A few years later, they even ported the full game to the Nintendo Switch, making it one of the best arcade style racers on the handheld platform.
A checkpoint racer, Cruis’n Blast challenges players to complete routes around the world within a certain time limit, with the amount of time players have increasing with every checkpoint they pass. As arcade racers go, Cruis’n Blast might not be the most original out there, but the cars and vehicles on offer are what sets the game apart. There’s the usual licensed cars, then you get the more ridiculous vehicles.
If riding a unicorn or hammerhead shark sounds like your bag, this is the arcade racer for you.
Developer: SEGA Publisher: SEGA Platform(s): Arcade, SEGA Master System, MSX, PC-88
Generally when someone pictures an arcade racer, they’ll think of fast cars performing tricks or drifting around corners, but who says bikes can’t have a bit of fun too?
While the amount of arcade racers based on bikes is a much smaller list, it does include games like Road Rash, which is still a fond childhood memory for many. Still, if you want the best of the best from this specific sub-genre, Hang-On could be what you’re searching for.
An arcade racer from the 80s developed by SEGA, Hang-On caught the attention of many in the arcades due to the fact that it boasted its own rideable motorcycle, making it a more enticing prospect in a line-up of regular arcade games. The gameplay itself was simple enough, as you simply had to complete the courses in the fastest time, but with the massive bike adding to novelty, it’s no wonder that Hang-On became a huge success.
13. Buck Up And Drive!
Developer: Fabio Fontes Publisher: Fabio Fontes Platform(s): PC
Alongside racing games, fighting games held a tight dominion over the arcades, but there’s never really been a game that’s combined the two genres. That’s probably because they’re so diametrically opposed, but that still didn’t stop developer Fabio Fontes from creating this unholy blend with Buck Up And Drive!, a game that doesn’t have an arcade cabinet but would absolutely belong alongside games like Time Crisis.
Modeled after games like Outrun, Buck Up And Drive! tasks players with completing various routes as fast as possible, utilizing stunts, drifts and boosts in order to do so. What sets Buck Up apart from other arcade racers though is its control scheme, which uses quarter circles turns on the control stick, like a fighting game, to swipe cars off the road.
Mainly cops though, as apparently they hate it when you perform sick tricks like grind guard rails with a supercar. Spoilsports.
Racing isn’t just something that land-locked vehicles can enjoy, as there are a few games out there that showcase the beauty and thrill of aquatic racing. Nintendo’s Wave Race series, particularly its N64 incarnation, might immediately come to mind for a lot of players, along with the generous helping of imitators that appeared on the PS1, but the best of the best has to be the Hydro Thunder series. Turns out that speedboats are just as good for racing as cars.
Like other games in the genre, Hydro Thunder sees players competing against fellow racers, only this time you’re taking to the water, combating the waves along with your competition. With boats that range in speed and handling, along with tracks that increase in difficulty as you rack up the wins, Hydro Thunder definitely swims instead of sinking.
Even the home console sequel, Hydro Thunder Hurricane, is worth checking out, but is largely forgotten these days.
Developer: Black Rock Studio Publisher: Disney Interactive Studio Platform(s): PC, PS3, Xbox 360
Combining arcade racing with an almost Michael Bay-esque love of explosions is certainly an intriguing premise, and it’s one that Disney offered to players in the early 2010s with Split/Second, a racer that really should have been more successful than it was. Considering the fact that the game teased a sequel that never materialized, we’re a little bit bitter about the death of Split/Second, even more than a decade later.
An arcade racer with a cinematic edge, Split/Second wasn’t so much concerned with vehicle on vehicle carnage, as instead, players could activate hazards along the track that would cause other racers to crash. These hazards could be something as simple as a truck full of explosives blowing up, to a literal plane being crashed into a runway, completely altering the layout of the track for the rest of the race.
Criminally underrated, we hope that Split/Second will get its second chance one day soon.
10. Crazy Taxi
Developer: Hitmaker Publisher: SEGA Platform(s): Arcade, Dreamcast, PC, PS2, PS3, Xbox 360, GameCube, Mobile
While not a racer in the typical sense, Crazy Taxi contains all the hallmarks of a brilliant arcade racer, including excellent soundtrack, drift happy physics and a constant drive to earn the best score.
You’re not competing against other racers, you’re competing yourself, along with your passenger’s unrealistic expectations of how quickly you can drive around San Francisco. Getting to Pizza Hut in under 30 seconds is harder than you think it is, Karen.
At this point, explaining the concept of Crazy Taxi is likely redundant, as the game has become such a legendary part of many modern-day gamers’ childhoods. Whether it’s the vibrant main characters, the incredibly fun mechanics and mini-games or just that iconic soundtrack of mostly songs by The Offspring, Crazy Taxi has become a core memory for a lot of players out there, and a key fabric in the tapestry of arcade racing history. It’s even had a couple of spiritual successors.
9. Virtua Racing
Developer: SEGA AM2
Platform(s): Arcade, Genesis, Saturn, PS2, Switch
You can usually gauge the success of a video game by how many imitators it’s spawned, and Virtua Racing has had its fair share over the years.
Another SEGA racing game, Virtua Racing helped cement the Japanese giant’s racing game chokehold in arcades, with the game actually ranking among the highest grossing titles in arcades in the early 90s. It also helped pioneer 3D racing games as a whole, while its Genesis and Saturn ports offered some of the fastest racing you could have in the home. Its legacy cannot be understated.
A brightly coloured, low-poly take on the Formula 1 style of racing, Virtua Racing might feel a bit more rudimentary these days compared to other racing games. There’s only three tracks and a handful of cars, but the game itself was truly groundbreaking. Again, it pioneered 3D visuals for the entire genre, while also allowing players to choose different transmission types, and even which camera view they’d like to use.
8. Horizon Chase Turbo
Developer: Aquiris Game Studio Publisher: Aquiris Game Studio Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Sometimes, it takes a modern touch to really make an old school concept shine, and that couldn’t be more true than with a game like Horizon Chase Turbo. Inspired by a lot of the games you’ll see on this list, Horizon Chase Turbo infuses classic arcade racing sensibilities with a few modern trappings. The online leaderboards might have been removed post-launch as the team works on the sequel, but those 4K visuals and hundreds of unlocks are still there.
With a huge career mode, and a wide array of post-launch updates and DLC, there’s enough within Horizon Chase Turbo to keep players occupied until a new generation of arcade racers launch, and with the addictive and rewarding gameplay on offer, that actually could become a reality.
When it comes to the best arcade racing games, Horizon Chase Turbo is certainly on the horizon, even if it never received its own arcade machine.
7. SEGA Rally Championship
Developer: SEGA AM3 Publisher: SEGA Platform(s): Arcade, SEGA Saturn, PC, PS2
Before the likes of the licensed WRC games began to have a huge monopoly on things, the rally sub-genre of racing games was pretty competitive. Between the Colin McRae games, V-Rally and others, there was a lot of competition over which racing game could play around in the mud the best. Of course, there was one series that had them all beat, and it was called SEGA Rally Championship.
Much like Virtua Racing before it, SEGA Rally Championship is considered to be a truly groundbreaking moment in racing game history, as it was the first game to incorporate driving on different surfaces as a feature rather than a punishment.
This was gamer’s first taste of cars handling differently depending on the track, something that’s become a staple of the genre these days, so for that alone, SEGA Rally Championship deserves its flowers.
6. Daytona USA
Developer: SEGA AM2 Publisher: SEGA Platform(s): Arcade, SEGA Saturn, PC, PS3, Xbox 360
The racing game with arguably the most iconic theme music of all-time, Daytona USA is yet more proof that SEGA knew how to make an excellent arcade racer. Like how Virtua Racing was SEGA’s take on Formula 1, Daytona USA replicated NASCAR-esque stock car racing, upping the vibrancy to 11 and adding more character by including a slot machine on a cliff-face, for some reason.
While Daytona USA might not be able to boast firsts like some of SEGA’s other games, there’s no denying the level of success that Daytona USA managed to achieve in arcades, becoming another one of the highest grossing arcade games of the 1990s. Daytona USA’s success in arcade also led to a few home console ports and even some sequels, which haven’t seen the light of day outside arcades.
Maybe we’ll see Daytona USA 3 pop up in an arcade hall in Like A Dragon 8.
Remember this one? Namco’s premier racing game series, Ridge Racer hasn’t had the best of times in recent years, with the last mainline game being Unbounded, an unashamed rip-off of Burnout whose only highlight was the ridiculous track creation tools. Since then, the series has only spawned weak mobile game spin-offs, but at the peak of its powers, the Ridge Racer series could stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the best of them. The PSP version in particular is perhaps the best of the best.
A sort of compilation/greatest hits of the series as a whole up until that point, Ridge Racer for the PSP includes a huge variety of cars and tracks, celebrating everything that fans had come to love. However, Namco weren’t afraid to crib some notes from the competition, introducing nitrous boosting in Ridge Racer for the PSP to give players that extra bit of speed.
Ridge Racer was already a classic, but adding a feature that’d become a mainstay in other racing games made it just that much better and one of the best racers to play handheld ever too.
4. OutRun 2006: Coast To Coast
Developer: Sumo Digital Publisher: SEGA AM2 Platform(s): PC, PS2, Xbox, PSP
Another SEGA classic, Outrun has long been seen as the inciting incident in making people think that driving a Ferrari while the sun sets with your partner in the passenger seat is peak goals. To be fair, it’s not wrong in that assumption either, as that image alone has become one of the most enduring and legendary aspects of racing game culture, cementing Outrun’s place amongst the greats of the genre.
As for the greatest Outrun game of the lot, Outrun 2006: Coast To Coast is seen by many as the best version, taking the arcade version of Outrun 2 and building another game entirely off the back of it; both of which are then available for players.
The classic five stage, choose your own difficulty experience is still there, but there’s a full career mode complete with unique races and mini-games, improving the longevity of this classic game immeasurably.
3. F-Zero GX
Developer: Amusement Vision Publisher: Nintendo Platform(s): GameCube
We’ve already covered how arcade racers cover a wide gamut on this list, but one subgenre that’s perhaps the most popular is the futuristic racer. The genre is filled with forward-thinking premises of racing games, whether they’re anti-gravity racers like WipeOut, or brain-melting games like Grip, but the undisputed king of the lot, and the game that most deserves a re-release, is the GameCube‘s F-Zero GX. It even had its own arcade spin-off in the form of F-Zero AX, so it more than qualifies.
A blisteringly fast, extremely difficult racing game, F-Zero GX sees players regularly breaking the sound barrier as they compete on massive tracks across the Earth. Or maybe some other planets too, it’s not super clear. The gameplay is easy to learn, but mastering all of the intricacies while the computer is bearing down on you, especially on harder difficulties, takes incredible patience.
Throw in an endlessly replayable but sadistically difficult story mode that demands one more go every attempt, and you’ve got a recipe for one of the best arcade racing games ever that deserves something new.
2. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
Developer: Nintendo Publisher: Nintendo Platform(s): Switch
We couldn’t talk about arcade racers without talking about kart racing, and while there’s been a few games out there that have come close to the crown, such as Sonic & SEGA All-Star Racing Transformed, there is no better kart racing game than Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. The results speak for themselves, considering the original version of Mario Kart 8 launched in 2014, and Nintendo have just been improving on near perfection ever since.
Originally launched for the Wii U, Mario Kart 8 was ported to the Nintendo Switch as MK 8 Deluxe, complete with new tracks, characters and enhanced online play, making it a pretty definitive package already. While they were late to the party in making it happen, Nintendo are even improving Mario Kart 8 Deluxe even further, with the Booster Course Pass adding 48 more courses to the 48 that were already on offer in the base game.
As arcade racers go, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is about as complete as it gets.
1. Burnout 3: Takedown
Developer: Criterion Software Publisher: Electronic Arts Platform(s): PS2, Xbox
Our love for the Burnout series has been made pretty clear over the years, so it’s probably no surprise to some to see Burnout 3: Takedown take the top spot as the best arcade racer ever made. It might not have received its own arcade release, but when it comes to embodying the spirit and gameplay of the arcade racing genre, Burnout 3: Takedown can consider itself at the very apex of those design philosophies.
A fast-paced racer that champions aggression above all else, Burnout 3: Takedown rewarded the player for making their rivals crash with precious boost, meaning that placid, friendly racing would lead to players finishing last. With dozens of tracks, vehicles across multiple classes and a wide range of unlocks to acquire, Burnout 3: Takedown stakes its claim as the best arcade racer ever made.
Plus, if you ever get tired of the racing, the also brilliant Crash Mode lets players loose on busy roads to cause as much carnage as possible. It’s not racing, but it is great fun.
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