We love a NES Top Ten, yes we do! Andy (aka UKNESBoy – go follow him on Twitter) comes up with the goods yet again! Racing games were not a ‘strong suit’ of the console but there’s at least ten good (ish) ones which range from burnin rubber on tarmac to tearing it up on the waves. All to make AA’s Top Ten NES Racing Games!
10. Days of Thunder
The handsome folk here at Arcade Attack (why thank you, good sir – Ed) reviewed this game already here (well worth a read!)
However for a quick synopsis:
- The initial presentation looks quite pretty allowing you to ignore the complete lack of any options in the game
- the in-game graphics are bang average, with the cars poorly animated and the tracks bland
- The car feels like it’s going at 30mph despite the awful speedometer saying different.
- Sound effects lacking jazz or panache
Oof, from the looks of things not a great game to kick off the list of top racing games so having read the team’s review, come back over here as things can only get better from here on out, right? Well……
9. Galaxy 5000
Back in the good old days of gaming, when a “futuristic” game was first powered up and there was the short introduction video, the year was always magical, like 20xx and the world seemingly a robotic automated place. So imagine how brilliant it is when a game comes along that laughs in the face of being set in 20xx but raises this bar by three whole millennia…that’s right, Galaxy 5000 is a racing game set in the 51st Century (crikey that’s far away – Ed)! The game was published by Activision and you race along in ships, firing weapons in order to win – nothing too complex or convoluted here. You can, like other racing games that will feature on this list, upgrade your ship so that it has shields or more powerful weapons which is always nice to have.
You have two different control schemes and it’s a really personal choice as to which is better, although they both take some getting used to but shies away from the whole “hold the A button to move” that pretty much all the racing games seem to employ. The game also has two player local co-op which is a plus compared to the co-op style of say Super Mario Bros. which meant only one player at a time on screen (and the other player waiting for the on-screen character to die before they get a turn).
It was different to other racing games by being set in space. Stereo-typically there are lots of black sky and dark colours around to suit the space theme, it was nice to have a racing game that was away from the norm of other more well-known NES titles. The control schemes can be a bit janky and if you do crash then the computer flies past you without a chance of catching them back up so it can be quite the challenging game. But if challenge is your type of thing and you enjoy space-themed games then this could be the racing game for you.
8. Road Fighter
Road Fighter was developed by the fine folk at Konami and the racing element to this game is to reach the finish line before you run out of time, colliding with other vehicles or running out of fuel (although you can refuel your car by hitting a special type of car). The stages come in different flavours, ranging from water bridges to the seashore, a mountainous region and finally a forest-type area. When playing you may notice you can only reach a certain top speed however in conjunction with holding one button, if you pressed the other it maximises your top speed to double what you were originally doing – it begs the question why the top speed could not just be set using one button press, when the other button could be used for something fun like even-more speed or launching a projectile? Anywho… the game can at times be challenging, as by rushing to reach the end of the course before time runs out, you may then hit other cars which causes damage and your car to slow down, with your car not reaching the end of the course (think I’ll give this one a a miss, bud. Ha ha! – Ed).
7. Turbo Racing
Turbo Racing (or Al Unser Jr Turbo Racing for those in the US) was an adaptation of a 1989 Famicom Game entitled “World Grand Prix – Pole To Finish” but aspects of Mr Unser removed as to be honest no one aside from the most ardent racing fans outside the US of him. The controls for the game are as simple as can get for a racing game on the NES – the A button accelerates and the B button brakes. Again, like a lot of racing games on the NES you have to be careful for hazards from signposts or other racers on the road, however you also have to be careful as due to limitations with the console, sometimes bends and turnings can appear from seemingly nowhere so like driving or racing in real life you have to keep your eyes peeled at all times. The graphics on the screen are crisp and the information bar at the bottom is detailed, so it feels like Rad Racer where you have information easily accessible on the bottom of the screen. Not the greatest racing game on the console, a pretty average game but one to check out should you tire of playing more well-renowned racing games.
(Now we’re talking – Ed) Excitebike is a racing game of the motocross variety, released as a black box game at the start of the console’s infancy. You race both on your own and against competitors, however rather than racing to finish in a certain position, you are racing against time which at the end marks the position you are awarded – beat the time on screen and naturally you come first.
You can either choose to race on your own, against competitors or finally can create your own tracks to design and race on. This was a unique feature of the time which worked well in Japan as you could record your tracks on the Famicom Data Recorder. But as this was not released in the US or Europe, it made the design feature a bit redundant as you were not able to save your designs. It is nice to create your own tracks, even if you cannot save them and get your friends to race on them. As a game that was released at the start of the console’s lifetime, the music and sound effects are impressive to say the least, with the graphics being clear and crisp. Copies of the game are cheap to obtain and was released on a multitude of virtual console services right up to the Nintendo Switch Online service. It’s worth a check just to be impressed at a game developed and released so early on the NES but performs a lot better than games developed later for the console.
5. Cobra Triangle
Rather than racing with land-based cars, why not pick up a racing game involving speedboats (and not just in a one-off capacity like in Micro Machines)? If that is your jam, Cobra Triangle has you covered. The game itself has 25 levels for you to conquer and master and is presented in an isometric angle just for giggles. The controls and the music in the game are as good as any on the console, and was developed by those fine folk over at Rare. You would think having 25 levels the game may get stale. However, the variants (such as finishing the race, or picking up survivors) keep the game fresh and appealing.
The difficulty does ramp up over the course of the game, so although to start the game seems pleasant and genteel, don’t let that fool you as later on you will need to be on top of your game to progress in the game. There are no save states nor password systems here to help you, so be mindful of this. But overall, the gameplay, graphics, music and controls are of a higher quality than a lot of the games in the NES library so definitely one to look out for.
4. Rad Racer
A racing game that has on-command a 3D element to it alongside being featured in a motion picture and also used in the infamous Nintendo World Championship? Triple-tick Rad Racer for that! The 3D was quite a novelty but one that makes the game memorable and gives you a reason to bust out those fabulously-fashionable red and cyan coloured 3D glasses. As well, the game was featured in The Wizard, a film that was primarily a vehicle for the upcoming release of Super Mario Bros 3 and spawned the quote about loving the Power Glove, it’s so bad…
Digression aside, Rad Racer is a racing game where you could choose between a red Ferrari or a standard Formula One racing car to drive, but make your way through eight driving stages. Like most games, the computer gets more difficult the later in the game you get so this is where you need to hone your driving skills as alongside other competitors you have to dodge obstacles which can cause your car to flip and crash. The on-screen display is really useful as it shows the time remaining, the speed at which you are going and also your score. It was a well-developed game that sold well-over 500,000 units on the console, and is more memorable for its 3D ability than the gameplay itself but still one worthy to have in your collection just so you can distract your friend who may be playing it by pressing the Select button and seeing how well they drive…
3. Micro Machines
Micro Machines was one developed by Codemasters, themed on the toy brand of the same name about miniature racing vehicles. The game however did encounter legal difficulties and was unlicensed on the console (due to Codemasters not obtaining a licence from Nintendo. Should you see the game it doesn’t come on a standard grey cartridge but on a plug-in device like another Codemasters product, the Game Genie or comes on a funky-looking cart. Regardless of the legality of the release, the game is a top-down racing game and the environments that you race in can vary, anywhere from breakfast tables, pool tables, treehouses and a whole lot more.
The vehicles themselves vary as much as the tracks you race on, from speedboats, tanks, formula one cars, anything you can think of. On-screen you have to keep within the confines of the lines of the track – if you stray away from this for too long then alas your vehicle gets obliterated and you lose precious time, time that you may need to get to first place. The game has a unique charm due to the unconventional vehicles and unconventional tracks on which you race on, which make it a firm fan favourite and spawned a number of sequels.
2. R.C Pro-Am
R.C Pro-Am is a racing game with which the vehicles you control are actually small remote-controlled cars racing round a track with the added bonus of weapons to destroy your opponents – who doesn’t want a racing game with weapons as the ultimate combination? Along the way you get to collect power-ups that help improve grip on the car, higher top speed and temporary turbo boosts. Graphically, the colours are bold and well-defined which does make the screen pop and doesn’t make the game look dreary. It also has a nice mini-map on the bottom of the screen which was unique for racing games on the console at the time. The music’s upbeat and jazzy and lives long in the memory even after you switch the game off with typical racing sound effects thrown in for good measure.
Overall, it is an easy racing game to pick up and play that doesn’t ask much from you, and with the added bonus of weapons to assist you in “racing” to the top (pun intended).
1. Super Off Road
A racing game named after the famous American driver Ivan “Ironman” Stewart, Super Off Road is a racing game which (like number two on our list) has miniature-looking cars but without the weapons. Super Off Road is all about you and your driving skills that make Lewis Hamilton jealous.
A key feature of the game was the ability to play four players at once using the NES Four Score or NES Satellite – it was rare to have two players on screen at the same time playing co-op but four players? Mind. Blown. One of the best features of the game was that you got a cash prize at the end of the race, the higher you placed the more you got. This in turn meant you could upgrade your vehicle in one of six different categories to try and beat the opponent and leave them eating your dust.
One criticism of the game was that no matter how much you upgraded your vehicle the CPU was always quicker and would fly past you with no chance of catching them up. Ultimately, Super Off Road is one of the finest racing games to have on the NES, one to bust out when you have three other friends over and testing who has the reflexes of a Formula 1 driver and those that can’t even control a milk float.