gaming

The 16 Best Arcade Racing Games

cruis n blast mobile
Raw Thrills

The constant bashing of buttons and joystick twirling should concoct wonderful images of the golden age of arcades.

As a kid looking to get into some digital hijinks after school, chances are you probably act to play them out via the local arcade. Fulfilling one’s fantasy of driving as fast as possible and clearing the finish line first was carried out back then and still does to this very day. The arcades of old and new always make sure to keep their patrons entertained with the presence of quality racing games. And after spending the sort of coins that could have paid for an entire college semester on them all, we know a thing or two about which ones deserve all the accolades.

These 16 arcade racers better be a part of your local arcade and Dave & Buster’s in town!

1. ‘Cruis'n (series)

Whenever you see the logo for the now-defunct video game publisher/developer Midway, several classic arcade classics spring to mind. Before their demise, they regularly pushed out quality arcade racers in the form of the Cruis’n franchise. All of the games in the series maintained their excellence due to fast & furious races that let you hit the road with traditional vehicles and some more outlandish rides. Cruis'n USA, Cruis'n World, and Cruis'n Exotica put forth the finest installments back in the day. And once Raw Thrills got their hands on the Cruis’n’ IP, they revived it to produce the bombastic Cruis'n Blast. Racing as a unicorn and freefalling through an iceberg that’s been smashed by battling yetis is totally a thing you can do in that aforementioned racer. Which is worth the price of admission by itself!

2. ‘Daytona USA’ (series)

At one point in time, everything Sega AM2 touched turned to gold. The talented Japanese development studio produced a wealth of strong titles that delved into a wealth of genres, which included fighting, light gun shooters, racing, etc. Their winning formula birthed one of the best motorsports simulators of all time - Daytona USA. Zipping around the game’s digital recreation of the Daytona International Speedway while jamming out to its catchy soundtrack never gets old. The crisp visuals and 60fps output also have a hand in making the first Daytona USA look gorgeous to this day. Subsequent follow-ups (Daytona USA 2: Battle on the Edge and Daytona Championship USA) stuck to what worked beforehand, which was a godsend for longtime fans. Do yourself a favor and download the Xbox 360 version of the first game - you have to experience all that backward compatibility excellence in your own home. Man, we still love us some Dinosaur Canyon!

3. ‘Sega Rally’ (series)

“LONG MEDIUM RIGHT!” OVER JUMP!” WHOA!” Those familiar commands come from the excitable coach that aids you during your heated races in the Sega Rally series. Sega’s off-road racing franchise is just as enjoyable as the Daytona 500 titles - the difference between them is the cool implementation of different surfaces changing up the feel of your chosen vehicle. But the main similarity between them is just how much of a bop their original soundtracks are. Sega Rally Championship, Sega Rally 2, and Sega Rally 3 each offer a wealth of high-octane races across various biomes. Intense desert races will always remain a blast thanks to the classic Sega Rally line.

4. ‘OutRun’ (series)

Competing against a pack of other hungry racers is fun and all. But sometimes, we just like to hit the road with our special someone in the passenger’s seat and ride till we can’t go anymore. The OutRun franchise delivered that very same experience as it threw players behind the wheel of that iconic red convertible for some speedy sightseeing. That winning formula made up the bulk of the series’ arcade installments, plus Turbo OutRun gave you some fierce competition as you fought to stay ahead of your rival’s Porsche 959. The music still excels in this current day & age, which makes the simple act of driving to new locations as fast as possible while the in-game timer ticks down so gratifying. If you haven’t already, be sure to spend some time with OutRun, Turbo OutRun, OutRunners, and OutRun 2.

5. ‘Crazy Taxi’

“YEAH YEAH YEAH YEAH YEAH!” *queues up The Offspring’s “All I Want”* 90s babies get super nostalgic whenever that signature piece of audio enters their eardrums. That’s because they probably played the hell out of the hellacious taxi simulator known as Crazy Taxi. Grabbing passengers and proceeding to haul ass to their desired destination never grows stale. The original arcade variation holds up the best since it features all those real-world retail stores (WHO’S TRYNA GO TO KFC?) and licensed music. It’d be nice if we got another console entry to the Crazy Taxi series, but that seems like a far-off dream scenario at this point. For now, we’ll just have to appreciate the greatness of the unsurpassed original. “HEY HEY HEY, IT’S CRAZY TAXI!”

6. ‘Mario Kart Arcade GP’ (series)

The home console Mario Kart games are marvelous racers in their own right. But there’s also a sub-series of equally amazing titles that bring a ton of fun to the arcade scene. The Mario Kart Arcade GP titles owe their existence to Nintendo and the fine folks at Bandai Namco, who are responsible for developing each entry in the sub-series. Each game offers its own cool spin on the kart racing formula - the first entry throws in some beloved Bandai Namco mascots, the second one includes color commentary & new racing cups, and the third installment features two of Mario Kart 7’s features & two new modes of play. It’d sure be nice if Nintendo & Bandai Namco ported those three gems over to the Switch, wouldn’t it?

7. ‘Ridge Racer’ (series)

“RIIIIIIIIDGE RACER!” We’re sorry Kaz Hirai, but we’re never gonna live that infamous moment down. But we totally understand why he tried to hype the crowd during his E3 2011 stage demo of the PS Vita version of Ridge Racer - the series as a whole offers a ton of onroad excitement. Racing across mountain roads and a slew of other alluring locales has always been the main allure of Bandai Namco’s signature racer. The original Ridge Racer, its many subsequent updates, Ridge Racer 2, and Rave Racer are arcade racing greatness personified. Crisp visuals, a super chill OST, and a satisfying feel when behind the wheel are the main characteristics of Bandai Namco’s beloved arcade racer. It’s about time we got a reboot of some kind at this point!

8. ‘Hydro Thunder’

Hitting the rampaging waves with speedboats can only mean one thing - you’re probably thinking of Hydro Thunder! Midway Games was definitely in their arcade racing bag for years and one of their best efforts is this one. Each of the game’s speedboats looks and feels awesome to control as you drive through a collection of lively and sometimes treacherous locales. Carefully managing your boost, landing sick jumps, and speeding past numerous environmental hazards all combined to turn Hydro Thunder into an amazing arcade racing experience. There’s a severe lack of speedboat-focused racers these days - there needs to be something made on par with the greatness of Hydro Thunder. Revert to the Xbox One backward compatible version of Hydro Thunder Hurricane if you’re looking to surf the high seas.

9. ‘Rush’ (series)

If you adored the Cruis’n games, then you must have an infarction with the equally similar Rush series. San Francisco Rush: Extreme Racing embodies the same spirit of the Cruis’n franchise by incorporating fast cars and crazy track layouts. The abundance of clever shortcuts seen throughout the Rush series did a good job of setting itself apart from the competition. San Francisco Rush: Extreme Racing and its update San Francisco Rush The Rock: Alcatraz Edition started the IP off a strong note. Then came San Francisco Rush 2049, which upped the ante by introducing flying cars and a futuristic rendition of San Francisco. The Rush franchise made speeding San Francisco so damn enticing!

10. ‘Star Wars: Racer Arcade’

When Sega got its paws on the Star Wars IP, they made sure to honor it by creating some memorable titles. Star Wars Trilogy Arcade is one of those classic coin-op games, of course. But the one we always love spending a few coins on is this blindingly fast racing game based on the Podrace segments from Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. The design of the cabinet is certainly a part of this games’ appeal - the two throttle controls fully embrace the fantasy of trying to zip through the desert as a young Anakin Skywalker. Star Wars: Racer Arcade is a bonafide Sega racing classic.

11. ‘The Fast and the Furious’ (series)

It made all the sense in the world for the highly lauded arcade game publisher Raw Thrills to hop on The Fast and the Furious franchise. The games that came from that deal ended up being a worthy entry into the long line of amazing arcade racers we’re mentioning on this list. Just like the first couple of films in the big-screen blockbuster series, The Fast and the Furious lets you hit incredibly high speeds with a nitro boost and pull slick jumps off of the backs of your competitors. The tricked out rides in that game and its sequels (The Fast and the Furious: Drift, The Fast and the Furious: Super Bikes, and Fast & Furious: SuperCars) made you feel like a true boss as you put your pedal to the metal and fought hard for first place during every race. If you appreciate the Cruis'n series, then you’ll definitely love everything about The Fast and the Furious arcade games.

12. ‘Nitro Trucks’

Midway put out its own line of arcade racing games devoted solely to the thrill of commanding big trucks via Off Road Challenge and Offroad Thunder. While those racers are solid enough, we gotta throw our full support behind the far superior arcade truck racer from Raw Thrills. Their entry into the sub-genre is Nitro Trucks, the high-octane dirt racer that delivers the very same sentiment that its publisher is named after. Nitro Trucks’ replay value comes from the fun produced from picking up nitro boosts & vehicle repair items across each track and hitting the ram button to deal some damage to the rest of the pack. The cabinets for this game sure are pretty too, which is why we never pass up a chance to give it for a spin.

13. ‘Virtua Racing’

Once a slew of video game publishers pushed their development teams to start pursuing projects within the growing realm of 3D, gamers were treated to some interesting titles that took advantage of the striking visual style. Sega played its hand at creating some 3D games of its own and one of its more successful efforts came in the form of this polygonal arcade racer. That game is Virtua Racing, a Formula One-themed racing game that’s still a blast to play. It proved to be an immensely gratifying “proof of concept” 3D experience thanks to its crisp visuals, multiple camera view options, and entertaining racing action. If you come across the rare deluxe arcade model of Virtua Racing, make sure you give it the lengthy playtime it deserves!

14. ‘Hang-On’ (series)

Yu Suzuki is the genius developer that’s responsible for helping Sega craft a vast collection of classic games. His digital venture into the world of motorcycle racing proved to be a smashing success via the Hang-On series. With the inspiration coming from real-life GP 500 racing, Suzuki and the rest of his development team at Sega produced an addictive arcade racing game that replicated the feeling behind taking tight turns by leaning hard in either direction on your arcade cabinet’s ride. Super Hang-On went big by adding new tracks, new tunes to jam out to, and even a turbo button. Sega’s motorcycle racer has and always will be an awesome arcade experience.

15. ‘Scud Race/Sega Super GT’

Do you know what hurts our souls? Not being able to play Scud Race/Sega Super GT within the comfort of our homes. It has (and always seemingly will be) an arcade exclusive, which is simply a crime. Modeled after the real-world BPR Global GT Series, Scud Race puts forward a clever fantastical take on the racing series by giving you the opportunity to race within someone’s house as a miniature car. The game’s more reality-based tracks are just as fun as that one and evoke the nostalgic feel of Sega’s Daytona USA games. The game’s output of 60fps makes the onscreen racing competition look as crisp as possible. This Sega arcade exclusive is rarer than a unicorn these days, but it’s still worth giving it all the arcade tokens in your pocket.

16. ‘Pole Position’

Namco’s long history within the arcade scene is known by anyone that considers themselves hardcore or even casual gamers. Classics such as Pac-Man, Galaga, Dig Dug, etc. are just a sampling of the top-tier titles that solidify that known fact. One of Namco’s best arcade racers is without a doubt Pole Position, which may seem tame by today’s standards but it still must be recognized as a trendsetter for the arcade racing sub-genre. The signature Formula One race car you take control of lets you compete against the clock in a time trial race before you compete against CPU-controlled drivers. And to this day, that format remains as fun as was when it first came to be in 1982. Pole Position is one of the most influential games of all time for good reason.

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