Gotta go fast.
Kyle – We are big racing fans here at Pixel Die, especially when the heyday of weird racing came to a head in the 1990s and 2000s. And while our first draft turned into a slugfest of every racing game that we held close to our hearts, we realized it would run 6 pages and we don’t even want to read that much, much less write it. So we’ve boiled it down to a few select genres and dropped our picks for games you should try to play if you haven’t, and enjoy the memories of the games you have.
Demetri – I’ve never entirely understood why Mario Kart became the gold standard of its genre when Rare completely outclassed it with Diddy Kong Racing. More and better tracks, an item system that isn’t a complete mess, better controls, and as if that wasn’t enough they gave us 3 – THREE – vehicles! The fact that it has a full single player adventure mode and boss fights is an absoludicrous amount of game, and it’s all great.
Kyle – I think people like it because it’s Mario, not that it’s “good”. But I feel it’s one of those cases where Mario walked so Crash could bang. Mario put the karting subgenre on the map in 1992, with it’s big jump, Mario Kart 64, coming out 2 years (1997) prior to Crash Team Racing (1999). But CTR builds on everything Mario Kart was and tuned it to perfection. The eye-popping stages, the depth of characters even for a karting game was crazy, and CTR still has some of the most satisfying and clean drifting mechanics in racing. It just never fails to become stale even after 20+ years on the road and a certified banger of a remake to boot.
Demetri – Credit where credit’s due, CTR is a better technical racer than DKR. It’s one of the deepest kart racers out there and I like it a lot. Either way you could do far better than settling for the bad plumber game. Eat your kart out, Mario.
Kyle – In an alternate universe my family members are a litany of wildly successful racers, but here we are a mildly successful brand of gaming racers. The laundry list of racing titles that pilfered my childhood is long (oh how I miss IndyCar Racing on MS-DOS, just don’t pick the Buick), so I’ll pick my personal favorite:
The PlayStation introduced me to the world of Gran Turismo, and man. Though GT3: A-Spec can be considered a retro game now and that hurts my feelings, I lived and breathed GT1 & 2. A near infinite amount of hours built into countless cars and customization to fine tune whatever experience you were wanting was a monumental achievement and showed Polyphony as pioneers pushing innovation on the Sony hardware.
Demetri – I’ll confess that realistic racers have never been my go-to. Kyle has a lot more expertise in that arena; I was too busy with anything that let me pilot a flying metal deathtrap. But when I dug into the PS1 long after its heyday the one that left the greatest impression on me was Ridge Racer Type 4. It’s an absolute joy to play, with drifting as silky smooth as its soundtrack. But what makes it more than just a great racer is the surprisingly human element of the short GP stories for each team. I remember these characters, their struggles, and their bottomless stock of opinions on my racing ability. Having the Italian team lead berate you for taking second is a stark contrast from the underdog Americans breaking out the champagne just for making the podium. It’s fantastic.
Kyle – And that’s something I love about that too, you don’t see really fleshed out campaigns and backstory in racing games nowadays, but R4 gives you a legit reason to give a shit about your driving besides just winning. It’s a lovely touch.
Demetri – There was a period through the 90s and 00s in which futuristic racers were oddly common, and hoo boy did people pick sides. Wipeout warriors, Extreme G guys, Jet Moto for the weird kids, and Star Wars Episode 1: Racer (NOW THIS IS POD RACING – Kyle) which turned the one good part of that movie into an entire game of its own. But you can not – can NOT – convince me that F-Zero isn’t the best of the lot. And regrettably, painfully, every single one of them could count as a retro pick as we haven’t had a new entry in the series since 2004. If you asked me to pick a favorite I would say F-Zero X for the pure eye-searing speed enthusiasts and F-Zero GX for someone looking for something a bit more fleshed out and modern. If you were to then twist my arm and demand that I name one and exactly one game I’d eventually name X, but I would complain the entire time. Both games are masterworks of lightning fast AG racing. Once you’re good enough to take on the higher difficulties you’ll end a grand prix with dry eyes from forgetting to blink, a mark of excellence for any racer.
Kyle – I know you and your love for F-Zero, but if we’re talking AG, my go-to was easily WipEout. Bring me back to the days where 10 year old me was taking the turn of the millennium to understand some of the most realistic, hardnose AG physics, a blistering sense of speed (though F-Zero absolutely takes it farther), and a high-risk/high-reward style of play that was almost mandatory to podium. Add to it this funky, underground, mucky techno to pull you in close to the screen and while this is allegedly in the future, the designs are so fucking 1990s it’s amazing. But I never really gave AG’s a whole lot of love because strangely a lot of the genre was on Nintendo consoles, and I was more of a Sega and Sony kid when my racing genes kicked in.
Demetri – Wipeout is damn good. For some reason I’ve always mentally considered it a kart racer with all the items and all, but that does a disservice to how ridiculously satisfying Zone mode is.
Demetri – I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how much I adore Daytona USA, one of the single greatest arcade racers to ever grace a cabinet. The trademark Sega blue skies, gorgeous colors, and iconic soundtrack win me over every single time regardless of what other games any given arcade has available. Am I good at it? Hell no, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy every moment of it. Zipping through an entire race without needing to coast my busted ass through the pit is a point of pride.
Kyle – Yeah, there’s no comparison. While franchises like Crus’n, Rush, and Virtua were great back in the day, nothing really puts up memories or entertainment like taking the Hornet #41 for some 200mph spins. I would sell a few organs for a minted arcade cabinet to play this game until my body fails me.
Demetri – Fun fact: this piece began as a “where did vehicular combat go” special. I remembered losing untold hours to every type of car-with-guns game you could imagine back in the day. It was after I went and played the genre’s notables recently, some of which I played years ago and others I hadn’t, that I realized I didn’t miss vehicular combat as a whole. I only missed Vigilante 8.
V8 is just a joy to play. There’s a frankly ridiculous amount of automobile and terrain destruction to be had, which directly leads to the best combos the genre has to offer. Send a baddie into the path of a plane taking off with Torque’s Bass Quake, followed with a volley of rockets to total them practically instantly. Put someone in the blender by popping them with the Cow Puncher, then follow up with the Crater Maker so they can’t escape. Stall someone out with Chassey or Molo’s special then rapidly fire Cactus Mines out of your ass before they can restart their engine. None of it is remotely fair, and all of it is glorious.
Kyle – Yeah, whoever brought the idea of vehicles and violence needs a life raise. If you want total carnage while also grabbing a checkered flag, Destruction Derby 2 will fill those hands. A diverse track lineup with aggressive AI and a pseudo-thrash metal soundtrack put the adrenaline into 5th gear. DD2’s racing ran buttery smooth (though it had FPS dips like any PS1 title), with sharp controls and a damage system that rewarded smart driving amidst all the chaos. An absolute gem of a video game even before you add Destruction Derby’s battle arenas.
Demetri – It seems like every time we do a piece like this we end up talking about SSX. It’s the absolute greatest snowboarding series there’s ever been and the second is the best of the lot. Sure 1080 and Cool Boarders came before, but SSX did it better and Tricky perfected it. The dual incentives of hitting clean lines for max speed and performing tricks to fill the boost meter (eventually permanently with high-risk Ubertricks) make mastering courses a unique challenge for each character, and what a great cast of characters we got.
Kyle – SSX will show up on every list because it damn well deserves it, and while I agree with you: let me throw the not-so-well known PS1 Classic(?) of Running Wild in here. Take control of anthropomorphic animals from elephants with teeth, to humanlike bunnies, to goats in full Army general attire. Race around the world in arctic ice caps, barren deserts, city streets, or the Moon because why not. It’s weird, janky, but plays really well if you don’t ask too many questions about what you’re looking at. A piece of my childhood that is hard to explain, but still enjoyable to this day.
Demetri – I recently played this without even knowing that it was one you grew up with and definitely enjoyed it, but Boris the Teeth Elephant will haunt my nightmares for the foreseeable future.