Pressing down on the gas pedal you hear the roar of a virtual engine, electronic squeal of rubber tires on hot macadam, and coded cheers of excited onlookers - there are few gaming experiences more adrenaline-pumping than sitting behind the steering wheel of an arcade racing game.
Since the industry’s beginning, arcade game developers have sought ways to offer players the most thrilling experiences. Time and time again, racing games have pushed the boundaries of technology, game design, and arcade technology. In this post, we celebrate high speed gaming action by looking back at the best (and most influential) arcade racing games of all time.
Night Driver (1976, Atari)
Night Driver is one of the earliest first-person racing games. Based on the German arcade game, Nürburgring 1, Night Driver puts the player behind the wheel of a car speeding across dimly lit city streets.
The player’s goal is simple: steer the vehicle without hitting the reflective guard rails on either side of the road. The longer you drive without colliding with the rails, the more points you score.
By today’s graphics and gameplay standards, Night Driver is a very simple game. However, its first-person point of view and pseudo-3D graphics helped to springboard racing game design. Subsequent games would tweak, refine, and evolve the genre.
Hang-On (1985, Sega)
Motorcycles have always carried an adventurous allure. They appeal to the free spirit, the thrill seeker, and the adrenaline junkie. Sega’s Hang-On was one of the first arcade games to truly capture the excitement of riding a motorcycle at high speeds over an open race track.
Designed by Sega’s Yu Suzuki, Hang-On features a time-attack style of game play, challenging players to hit checkpoints within certain time thresholds. Doing so extends playtime, allowing the player to continue the race.
Hang-On was a huge success, becoming one of the highest grossing arcade games in 1986. Its success also paved the way for future arcade racing games, including one of the most influential arcade games of all time.
Hydro Thunder (1999, Midway)
Midway’s Hydro Thunder hit arcades right at the turn of the century. Like the earlier Hang-On, Hydro Thunder offered arcade-goers and gamers a leap forward in boat-based racing games.
Players control a rocket-boosted boat as they race across dangerous, watery courses - from the arctic to ship graveyard, littered with obstacles. The game's high-speed, breakneck pace and bright, modern graphics made it a critical hit.
Subsequent arcade games would attempt to match the tight water tracks and high speed gameplay established by Hydro Thunder. While future development was planned for the series, these plans were put on hold after Midway’s closure and its intellectual properties were bought up by Warner Brothers. Nonetheless, Hydro Thunder is widely regarded as an excellent example of an over-the-top arcade racer.
Crazy Taxi (1999, Sega)
It might be unfair to call Sega’s Crazy Taxi a racing game. Maybe the title “arcade driving game” is more accurate. Unlike the other games on this list, the player isn’t confined to a designated race course in Crazy Taxi.
Instead, the player is free to cruise around an open city and pick up fares to transport around town. The catch is, speed and high-risk driving are the core of Crazy Taxi’s gameplay.
Known for its unique take on the driving game genre, eclectic upbeat soundtrack, and thrilling gameplay, Crazy Taxi is one of the most original and trendsetting racing games to come from Sega.
Pole Position (1982, Namco)
Some arcade games have had a lasting impact on game design. Few have had as substantial of an impact as Namco’s Pole Position.
Released in 1982, Pole Position was a leap forward for arcade racing games. Pole Position featured a “chase cam” style third person view, a real-world race track, check point system, sharp graphics, and tight controls.
Co-designer Shinichiro Okamoto wanted to create a racing game that offered players a realistic driving experience, featuring real-world maneuvers. Pole Position requires players to complete a qualifying lap and then race against computer-controlled opponents.
Regarded by many gamers and critics as one of the most important video games of all-time, Pole Position set the course for future racing games.
Daytona USA (1994, Sega)
Daytona USA was developed by Sega and released world-wide in 1994. It’s one of the highest selling arcade cabinets of all-time.
Making their foray into American stock car racing, Sega positioned Daytona USA as a competitor to Namco’s Ridge Racer which had been released in 1993. With cutting edge graphics, including incredibly smooth 60 frames per second gameplay, Daytona USA was a big step forward in arcade racing game development and design.
Daytona USA won several industry awards, and many critics consider it one of the best racing video games ever released.
Out Run (1986, Sega)
Few arcade games have influenced future game design, soundtracks, popular culture, and aesthetics in the way Sega’s Out Run has. Released in 1986, Out Run was a truly monumental arcade game. It’s widely regarded as one of the most successful video games of all time. Its pop culture impact is still felt and seen today, over three decades after its release.
Designed by Yu Suzuki, Out Run built upon the success of Suzuki’s Hang-On. The gameplay remained mostly intact from Hang-On, but it built upon the graphics, showcasing bold, sweeping landscapes for the player to tour. Out Run also offered more courses, which the player could enjoy in a non-linear fashion.
The original Out Run has received numerous sequels and ports through the decades, yet none have stirred the same drive as the original. It both epitomized and helped define the style, aesthetic, and feel of the 1980s, of arcades, and of what makes fast cars so cool.
Shop For New & Classic Arcade Racing Games
If you’re a fan of arcade racing games or simply want to add a new and exciting game to your business or arcade, M&P Amusement has a wide selection of new machines and professionally refurbished racing games.
Shop our selection of driving games to find the perfect addition for your home or business venue.