Side note: Retronauts actually discussed arcade racers last week. I swear, I started writing this blog before I knew that was the topic. Figured I should give a shout-out to them though as they jolted my memory into remembering some other games.
Racing games were one of the last games people went to arcades to play, and are often used in demonstrations of the new hardware's capabilities.
Those gorgeous cars can show off the new lighting effects as streetlights and buildings reflect off of the hood of the car. It can show how the physics engine uses the processing power of the console to create realistic damage.
My first memory of a racing game is a little foggy, but I know it was in an arcade. It was either Pole Position or Cruising USA.
I played Pole Position much later than most people did because it was only a quarter a play, but I hated the game. The wheel gave no feedback and the pedal was in an awkward position where I always missed the brake.
I was a victim of the digitized graphics of the early 90's. I thought Donkey Kong Country and Mortal Kombat were some of the best looking games I had ever seen. So sitting down in the giant arcade cabinet and driving through California was an overstimulating experience. I didn't play Cruis'n USA as much as I would like since it was one of the first machines to break that dollar line.
One of the first racing games I remember playing at home was Nigel Mansell's World Championship Racing on DOS. I didn't understand Formula 1 racing (I still don't) but loved this game. Yes, that irritating buzzing noise was consistent during your entire play time, but I couldn't hear that because I had Disney Radio blasting the Bartman while I played.
A few years later, Virtua Racing for the Sega Genesis again captured my F1 imagination with the deliciously classic Sega "Virtua" look. (See Virtua Fighter) Sega had an entire line of games that looked like Max Headroom to show off their game system, and I admit, Virtua Racer still looks beautiful to me.
This game came on one of the larger cartridges and actually has the honor of being the game that ruined my first Genesis. Something fried and I had to get another Sega.
Ridge Racer spun in my Playstation 1 for more hours than a one course racing game should, but damn did the graphics blow my mind.
I think my favorite racing game of all time is Ridge Racer Type 4 for the Playstation 1. After all, it is the best looking racing game of all time according to critics of the mid to late 1990's.
The drifting in this game is beyond unrealistic, but it's fun, and that is what is important to me. Most of the racing games I've talked about are arcade racers rather than simulations. I don't understand or care to understand enough about cars to slowly tweak my setup for Gran Turismo or Forza.
I still play through Ridge Racer Type 4 on my Vita about once a year, slowly unlocking all the cars again. It surprises me how many cars I remember from my childhood.