As arcade cabinets go, few are as impressive as racing machines. Massive and bright, the steering wheel, bucket seat flashing dashboard and brightly lit screen are almost irresistible to kids and adults alike, making racing games some of the most popular in any arcade. Street Fighter may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but no one who has ever entered a real arcade willingly can say they haven’t been tempted to get behind the wheel and go for a ride on a racing game.
Below are some of the most iconic titles that had gamers putting the pedal to the metal and endless pennies into racing arcade machines.
Unlike many racing games on the list, Sega’s Hang-On put players on a motorcycle. Oftentimes, barely. The game’s deluxe cabinet used motion control, which in 1985 appeared on very few machines.
Hang on. Or not.
And the game knew exactly how to maximise the tech. Leaning left and right to take tight corners, bobbing and weaving through opponents–the game truly lives up to its name. Your in-game rider is launched off their bike when players veer off the road. Balancing precariously on a plastic bucket seat, many a gamer came close to feeling exactly how that would feel like. It’s also one of the first racing games to simulate 3D graphics, a stark departure from flat 2D graphics of the day.
Released in 1982, Pole Position secures its spot on any greatest driving game list by being the grand-daddy of many arcade racing games. It was lauded for its use of parallax scrolling, driving physics, and fondly remembered by many F1 racing fans as the first game to use realistic racing elements such as a qualifying race and a track based on a real racing circuit.
The line where many racing games began
The game’s cabinets came in two versions: upright and your typical cockpit cabinet. The upright cabinet replaced the joystick-and-buttons control interface with a steering wheel and gear shift. A single pedal was built into the base of the machine. The cockpit cabinet encased players nearly completely, adding to realism, and was built with two pedals instead of one.
OutRun is the second racing brainchild of Yu Suzuki, the creator of Hang-On. Released a year after the famed motorcycle racing game, players now found themselves on the lush seats of a Ferrari Testarossa. The game’s deluxe cabinet uses the same motion-controlled technology as Hang-On, and would jerk and vibrate based on what was happening on-screen.
Sweating it out in the desert isn’t so bad...
The game was also made special by its use of branching endings, something you won’t usually find in a modern racing game, let alone one from the 80s. The last stage of the game prompts players to choose from five locations, each one ending in a different cutscene at the finish line. Beat the race in the dry outback, and the heat claims your Ferrari as payment. Camels, a magic lamp, and a harem greet you at the finish line in another.
Sega Rally Championship is a racing game for true motorsport fans. The game was distinguished for its use of different terrain, which affected how your car handled throughout the race. Winning meant nailing calculated powerslides and drifts, and not just flooring the gas. There were only three available vehicles, but each one had different strengths, and were modelled after real life, iconic rally cars.
The different terrains made drifting extremely satisfying–for those who could pull them off
Cars could either be driven by manual or automatic transmission, and the stages were more relay than frantic dash to the finish line. Players didn’t need to win the first few stages, but positioning carried over to the next levels and affected your chances at victory–like a real rally. Cabinets supported up to four-players instead of the usual two, another feature that made it a favourite amongst racing arcade game enthusiasts.
Daytona USA took everything Sega Rally Championship did right, and kicked it to even higher gear. The game’s slick 3D polygonal graphics were a marvel of its time–who doesn’t remember scenic drives around the Lakeside Castle stage?
Players even had their very own polygonal pit crew
The game is also known for setting an even more frenetic pace for a driving game. Racing against twenty to forty computer-controlled cars, where one wrong turn can send you careening back to last place, made for tense and hyper-focused play. Daytona USA is also the first racing game to use massive 8-cabinet machines, making it the perfect competitive game for large groups of friends looking to burn rubber.
Before Twisted Metal and Need for Speed, there was Sega’s 1987 action-packed hit, Road Blasters. The game gave arcade players the first taste of combat on the road, blasting enemy cars while dodging bullets from roadside turrets. A plane would occasionally drop a more powerful UZ cannon onto your roof. It was mayhem that would’ve made Mad Max’s Furiosa proud.
Not your average sunset drive
The goal in the game isn’t to come first, it’s to reach the finish line at all. Players fought against a rapidly depleting gas tank–apparently cannons aren’t fuel efficient–not a timer running down to zero.
Many driving games put you in the racing gloves of professional racers, zipping from one finish line to the next in fancy rally or sports cars. Not Crazy Taxi. Released near the tail end of the arcade gaming era, the game took its liberties with the genre and veered a clear path away from its siblings with its unique premise, punk rock soundtrack, and utter indifference for pedestrian safety.
Crazy Taxi, where not even gravity can get in your way
Unlike typical racing games, you didn’t rack up points in Crazy Taxi from completing laps in record time or by coming in first. You break through the scoreboard by the amount of money earned within the given time limit, which can be prolonged based on how fast you can drive passengers to their destination. Players are given a lot of ways to cut through traffic, most of them involving insane stunts and civilians desperately barrel rolling out of the way.