Best Racing Games: Drop The Bananas And Pick Up The Pace
Take off the helmet and grab your joystick, it’s time to race on fantasy tracks with rocket powered cars
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Not all of us can, or even want to have a dedicated driving-sim rig at home. Sometimes you just want to crush your family members while drifting and trash talking your way to the wednesday night post dinner time grand prix. For those occasions you want a racing game, not a simulator. But, there are literally hundreds of titles available for all the different gaming platforms including consoles and PCs.
Selecting the Best Overall of what's available wasn't a difficult choice, but looking at the huge variety of the constantly expanding choices made selecting the best in other categories more interesting. We weighed age group, skill level, overall enjoyment, and our perceived value in making the decision. Even if these aren't necessarily perfect for your expectations, they will get you headed down the right road, pun intended.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Edition
- The best racing game for all ages
- Graphics are cartoon-like and perfectly suited for this type of game
- Multiple modes make it easy to pick up and play for beginners, turning off driving aids keeps it challenging
- Car modifications are tough for beginners requiring some real research
- Requires a large TV for four-player split-screen mode to really work well
- Constant action in vehicles ranging from supercars to farm equipment
- Easy to pick up and play or take part in career mode
- Good graphics and physics but put to use in more arcade style format
- Probably not appropriate for the young gamers in your household
- The AI racers are named after celebrities and share their racing abilities
Hot Wheels Rift Rally
- Turn your house into arcade style tracks with graphics and effects added on your TV screen
- Race over 140 different Hot Wheels vehicles that are fully customizable
- Can handle up to four drivers and chameleon RC vehicles
- Only includes one car so multiplayer racing is going to get expensive
- Works best on hardwood or tile flooring and not well on deep carpet
The first driving game I played, Night Driver on the Atari 2600 may have been the original first person driving game. I have played everything from simplistic smartphone based games to costs-more-than-a-spec-Miata, ultra-realistic full motion simulators. This guide is focused on games; simulators will be left for another day. Smartphone games were also ignored as 5-inch screens and no controller is best suited for Solitaire or Sudoku. Besides my years of experience, I also consulted with an actual expert, my 11 year-old son.
Now in its eighth generation and available with seemingly never ending downloadable content upgrades, it's the perennial pole-sitter in the arcade driving game genre. Mario Kart 8 lets you play single player or up to four players on one screen and one Nintendo Switch. You can also play online or by connecting Switches over a LAN. Pick it up and play a quick race by yourself, or host a nightlong racing party, it works for everything.
The game is currently up to forty-some characters, some dating back to the dawn of video games, so it appeals to all ages. It also works for all skill levels; this version even has a Smart Steering option to help newbs and younger gamers get up to speed in their first few laps.
Gamers can enjoy classic racing action, with or without weapons and power-ups, in a huge variety of modifiable vehicles. There are also five different types of battles, which are more like tag or capture the flag, but motorized. New battle stadiums are being added just like tracks. Whether you're more of a Mario, definitely a Donkey Kong, or literally a Link, you will enjoy hours of gameplay on your Nintendo Switch.
The gold standard of arcade style racing games
Huge variety of tracks, characters, vehicles, modifications, along with racing and battles
Appeals to all ages of gamers with characters dating from 1981 all the way to the most current
Only available on Nintendo platforms
It's a little pricey for a Switch game once you get all the content
If you're looking for a racing game that has great graphics, good physics, a lot of action, and more carnage per dollar than amateur prowrestling, this is your jam. It looks as if the a group of totally sane and competent game designers started building a perfectly normal racing game and at some point, a neurotoxin was released into their cubicles turning them into depraved crash-obsessed deviants – I mean that in the nicest way possible.
Wreckfest has one of the most diverse catalog of vehicles ever seen. You can drive racecars and supercars, or get weird and get down in combines and school buses. The AI racers leave a lot to be desired, but they all have celebrity names, so maybe their racing skills are more realistic than I think. You can modify your car with everything from real performance upgrades and armor, or add decorations like chainsaws and poop emojis – maybe too on the nose since you can race a motorized outhouse.
As you may have already guessed, this may not be considered appropriate for the younger racers in your house. Some themes are questionable and the damage models are incredibly real. Wreckfest is available on Switch, PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox, and XBOX One. Some versions are available for a fraction of the price of most other games and downloadable demos can help decide if it's for you.
Wreckfest delivers the action and carnage it name promises
Graphics and physics are comparable to most driving games out there
This may be one of the most cathartic games currently available for gamers who have to commute on crowded freeways
This probably isn't the game to buy for your six year old nephew
The game's slogan is, "DRIVE HARD. DIE LAST." and we can see how that isn't for everyone
The term, game changer, is thrown around way too often these days. Velan Studios has delivered a truly expectation shattering experience with it's latest version of augmented reality gaming. Yes, this isn't the first attempt, that involved Mario Kart and a large scoop of disappointment. Now teamed up with legendary Hot Wheels brand, it delivers everything you fantasized about as a kid and wanting to actually drive around inside your house.
Included with the game is an RC car with a camera, along with four racing gates, which define the layout of the track in real physical space. Once setup, you can race around your house in first person view while graphics and narrative are added by your console.
Rally Rift offers arcade style racing, with the typical power ups, but also offers stunt driving and obstacles courses you would expect from Hot Wheels. You can choose from over 140 different Hot Wheels cars to drive in the game, although the physical RC car doesn't change. If you buy more cars, you can race multi-player, otherwise you can race AI cars. The stunt modes may be the most entertaining, so you won't feel like you have to add additional cars immediately. The downside, is you need a decent amount of floorspace in your home, and you almost have to have to have hardwood or tile floors for the car to perform well. It is pretty simple to setup and it is an experience that would absolutely shock your seven year-old self.
Takes the driving game to an entirely new level by interacting with the physical world
Huge selection of cars in the game, even if only in the game
Dude, we are totally living in the future
You will absolutely have to pick up all the Lego, put away those shoes, and it might even scare your poodle
Buying an extra car by itself doesn't appear to be an option at time of writing
The Best Overall pick is the Gold Standard of arcade style driving games, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Edition. But, if you're looking for something more grown up and filled with action and carnage, then Wreckfest might be more your speed.
Features to Consider
The most obvious thing to consider when choosing a racing game is what platform it'll be compatible with. If you want to play Mario Kart 8, and not one of the hundreds of inferior clones, you have to have a Nintendo Switch. Many other games are offered on multiple platforms like Playstation and Xbox, but there are plenty of one platform examples. The next thing is a combination of age and skill level. Driving simulators offer incredibly realistic driving experiences, but require too much practice and commitment for either young or casual gamers. Lastly, look for what you, or the person your buying for is passionate about. Hardcore NASCAR fans probably aren't going to be into rally racing and neither of them might be interested in being Bowser in a bumper car racing around Rainbow Road.
Q: Can I cross-play from one console to another?
A: This largely depends on the racing game. While many video games allow you to play against friends with an Xbox and PS4, others will not. Check with the maker of the game to see if they enable cross-play.
Q: If I have two consoles, do I have to buy two copies of the game?
A: In some cases, yes, you will have to buy two copies of the game. For instance, if you have two Nintendo Switches, then you will need two copies of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. However, if you have two Xbox Ones, you may not need separate copies. Microsoft has set up a system that connects one Xbox to another to allow both to play digital games owner by either owner.
Q: Do all racing games support a racing wheel?
A: No, not all racing games will support the connection of a racing wheel. The majority of PC games will work with one. Xbox, PS4, and Nintendo games may enable the use of one, but you should check with the system you own to see if there is a wheel that works with them.
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