Gentlemen, start your engines! It’s another Arcade Attack top ten and this time it’s Mega Drive racing games. I figured it would be an easy list to come up with, but it was a little trickier than I anticipated.
Although there is a small core of indispensable racers on the MD, outside of those it’s all a matter of personal taste. Considering there were some 800+ games released for the console, there’s a real shortage of top-quality games in the genre.
With that being said, I was still able to pick out 10 worthy racers. Read on to find out which games made it onto the podium. And, which were in serious danger of being lapped….
10. SUPER SKIDMARKS – Codemasters/Acid Software – 1995
I see you sniggering at the back…. Bringing up the rear (sorry) in this list of Mega Drive racing games is an isometric effort from Codemasters. If I’m honest it was a close-run thing between this Amiga conversion and Super Off-Road for 10th place. But that will always be a Nintendo game in my mind, and it’s just so ugly on the MD compared to the SNES version.
Super Skidmarks is a blast in short bursts, and has some nice fun touches like the 4-wheel drive cows… Yes, you read that right, you can burn udder around the racetrack in control of a brightly coloured cow. The best part about this one is the fact Codemasters released it on one of their famous J-Carts. This enabled 4 player split-screen action without the need for a multi tap. Nice one Codies!
9. ROCK ‘N’ ROLL RACING – Interplay/Blizzard – 1994
Come on, a racing game with a soundtrack that includes licensed digitised versions of Black Sabbath and Deep Purple tracks? Count me in!
Another isometric racer, I always enjoyed the futuristic comic book mood and feel of this game. It’s another one that’s most fun in short bursts and in 2 player. It makes 9th place mainly on the strength of its aesthetic. Special mention goes to the commentator “Loudmouth Larry”. His regular soundbites add another fun element that you rarely heard in racing games of the 16-bit era.
This one is currently available digitally on modern consoles as part of the Blizzard Arcade Collection compilation if you fancy checking it out.
8. F1 – Domark – 1993
An official FIA product, featuring licensed teams, drivers (apart from a certain A. Senna – more on him later) and tracks from the 1992 Formula One season. This is a game that I’m sure a lot of people would have higher in their top ten Mega Drive racing games.
The big thing that sets F1 apart from its contemporaries is not only the combination of 2d and 3d graphics, but the buttery smoothness of its game engine. The polygonal trackside assets, bridges and tunnels gave a real sense of speed and realism. It’s also got a split screen 2 player mode, and a cool “turbo” option. This reduces the size of the sprites and polygons in order to run the game at a higher speed.
The only reason it’s fairly low down in my top ten is that despite the smooth racing, it’s a fairly bland affair. Definitely one for serious F1 fans.
7. OUTRUN – SEGA – 1991
Now we’re bringing out the big guns. A classic whichever version you play, Outrun is an essential arcade racer. It might seem low down on this list, but that’s only because the MD version pales in comparison to the arcade and later Saturn port.
It was unfairly maligned by the games mags of the time, but that was mainly down to the fact it was a 5 year old arcade game at the time of its 1991 release. Of course, the passing of the years and the wisdom of age has led people to realise that a great game is still a great game no matter how old it is.
The colours are a little off, and it’s generally not as pretty as the arcade. Despite that, it’s flippin’ Outrun and it was always a shoo-in for my top ten. (Even if I don’t love this version quite as much as some people…Hi Tim!)
6. SUPER HANG ON – SEGA – 1989
The second of two legendary Yu Suzuki arcade racers. This beats Outrun to a respectable 6th place on account of how close it feels to the arcade version. Sure, it’s a little choppier and there are fewer racers on screen at any given time, but apart from that it’s spot on. Something made all the more remarkable by the fact this was an early MD release.
Jump on your bike, choose one of 4 continent specific tracks that range in difficulty. And then pick one of four incredible music tracks to race to. Like Outrun it’s a simple set up, and a bit bare bones for a console game. But, it’s a fantastic recreation of the arcade experience.
I absolutely suck at this game, but it always keeps me coming back for more and as someone who loves motorcycles, I had to find a spot on my list for the 2nd best bike racing game on the system.
5. STREET RACER – Ubisoft/Vivid Image – 1995
I got Street Racer for my 13th birthday in 1995 (yes, I’m THAT old) and I have fond memories of it, hence its lofty position in 5th place. It was one of the last games I got for my original Mega Drive before we moved onto the Saturn. It’s an excellent little kart racer.
Graphically it’s got that bright, colourful cartoony look that a lot of later MD titles had. And although it lacks the SNES version’s fancy Mode 7 powered tracks, it’s still quite the looker. It’s fascinating to compare the track detail in this game to the likes of Outrun and see how far developers had come in the space of a few short years in terms of what they could get out of the Mega Drive’s visuals.
It might not have aged so well
There’s a cast of slightly iffy and oh-so-nineties stereotype characters (African tribesman, Arabian guy on a flying carpet, Japanese Sumo etc) to race with and against. Combat is a big part of the gameplay. Your car has a health/damage bar and there is a slew of weapons and items to use.
As well as the normal races, there are also fun little diversions to be found in the ‘Rumble’ and ‘Soccer’ modes. The former is a sumo-like affair where the aim is to force your opponents from the arena. The latter is a free-for-all with a giant football where everyone is trying to score in the same goal.
Is it the Mega Drive’s answer to Mario Kart? Well, no. But it’s still great and highly recommended if you’ve never tried it.
4. MICRO MACHINES 2: TURBO TOURNAMENT – Codemasters/Supersonic Software – 1994
The ultimate 16-bit multiplayer experience, the truly great thing about the Micro Machines games was that anyone could pick up and play them. The controls were kept simple (especially in 8 player mode!!!), the tone was light-hearted and fun. Yet, the competition would always be fierce!
As with the toys themselves, Micro Machines is such a simple yet appealing concept. The sheer sense of childlike joy at racing toy cars around the edge of a bathtub, across a marmalade-strewn kitchen table or the baize of a snooker table hasn’t diminished one bit over the years. The sequel makes the list over the original as it added more tracks, more vehicles and err, Violet Berlin.
I’m a big fan of arcade racers, as well as more sim-type driving games, but Micro Machines 2 stands apart from those as a game I’ve played and enjoyed not only with friends, but with siblings, cousins, partners, parents and more recently my own Son. It’s for that reason that it takes a very impressive 4th place in this Mega Drive racing games list, just missing out on the podium.
3. VIRTUA RACING – SEGA – 1994
As we climb up the steps to the podium, I feel like I should point out that on any given day this top 3 is likely to change, and it was very difficult for me to choose between them. Having said that, as I type this on a grey Wednesday afternoon in February, I’ve decided to put Virtua Racing in third.
It’s hard to overstate how big a deal it was for this game to make its way to the humble Mega Drive. This was the arcade smash Virtua Racing, the fully polygonal cutting-edge Model 1 arcade game. Sega even had to create the SVP (Sega Virtual Processor) chip especially for this port.
The arcade on your 16-bit console
That chip (which incidentally was far more powerful than Nintendo’s weedy Super FX chip) made the cart prohibitively expensive. It retailed for around £70 when it was released here in the UK. Sadly, that meant I had no chance of owning it. But I do remember renting it (for an inflated price, of course) when it first came out. I can tell you one thing – 12-year-old me didn’t notice that it ran at 15FPS instead of 60FPS…. No sir, I was playing VIRTUA RACING on my Mega Drive, and it was glorious.
The console port didn’t add much extra value to the basic arcade gameplay for your £70. There is however a 2-player mode (which was a pretty big deal in itself) and it’s still worth playing now.
Although a 32X version came along shortly after which is far superior, this version still stands tall as one of the very best racing games released for the Mega Drive.
2. SUPER MONACO GP/AYRTON SENNA’S SUPER MONACO GP 2 – SEGA – 1990/1992
Okay, so I’m cheating a bit here. The thing is, the first Super Monaco GP is the game I owned back then, the one I spent the most time playing, and the one I have the strongest memories of. The sequel did improve upon it in a few small ways, but to me they’re essentially the same game, so they share 2nd place.
A conversion of the Sega arcade game (which itself was a sequel to 1979’s Monaco GP), it was the first racing game I owned for the Mega Drive. It’s one both me and my Dad sunk countless hours into. The championship mode was really involving, yet the racing itself still retained that accessible arcade feel.
The teams and drivers may have been fictional, but I wanted to earn a seat racing for the Firenze team just as much as I wanted to drive for Ferrari in real life! (Sadly, the Blanche team was about the limit of my skill).
Smoother than F1, right?
No, it’s not as smooth as F1, but it’s still not a bad looking game. And although some of the sound effects grate after a while (the sound of downshifting gears is still burned into my brain 30 years later), there are some brilliant music tracks, especially ‘Concentration’ which is an all-time favourite of mine.
The sequel is most notable for the involvement of the great Ayrton Senna (hence why he didn’t appear in Domark’s F1). Senna was involved in the development of the game, consulting with the designers and offering advice throughout. He lent his likeness and his voice to the game, and for me it’s a nice little reminder of the glory days of both Formula One and Sega themselves. After all, it was around this time that Sega sponsored the Williams team, and at one point Sonic himself appeared on both Damon Hill and legendary Frenchman Alain Prost’s helmet designs.
Whether you choose the original or the sequel, if you want an F1 game to play on your Mega Drive you can’t go wrong with Super Monaco GP. It’s a game I’ll always have a special fondness for, even if I only play it occasionally these days.
1. ROAD RASH 2 – Electronic Arts – 1992
“Totally mondo-zondo, man… Some race!”
You said it Slater! It ended up being a very close-run thing, but Road Rash 2 came sliding sideways out of the final corner, smoking the rear before wheelieing over the finish line in first place. There’s no cheating here – for me, Road Rash 2 is the best in the series on the Mega Drive. It added what the first game was missing (namely a 2-player split screen mode) and improved the visuals. Also, it didn’t tamper with the frantic gameplay that made the original an instant classic.
Take to the roads with chain and club
Why is it my favourite MD racing game? Simply because Road Rash captures all the excitement and frenetic pace of a motorcycle race. This, while simultaneously throwing the proverbial kitchen sink at you. Opponents out for blood, cops out to bust you and Sunday drivers clogging up the road. Trees, telegraph poles, houses, barns and even cows at the roadside just waiting to wreck your bike and ruin your day. It’s pure carnage on two wheels.
Is it the best-looking racing game on the console? No. The best sounding? No. The most refined? Definitely not. Is it a fun, immensely playable game with an enjoyable single player campaign and a brilliant 2 player mode that’s still worth playing 3 decades later? You’re damn right it is. And that’s why it’s the best racing game on the Mega Drive*.
Right, that’s me done. I’m off home before Dyl realises Lotus Turbo Challenge isn’t in the Top Ten and starts throwing things at my head….
*In my opinion, on this particular Wednesday in February.
If you like Keith’s list of Mega Drive racing games, why not check out Dean’s video of his favourite Mega Drive/Genesis games on our YouTube channel.