The racing game genre has never sat well with me. Every year, I wish for a racing game that will stretch my imagination and let me create my own high-adrenaline experiences. I am not a fan of realistic racing games, so it is hard for me to find the perfect game in this mediocre genre. I never get an adrenaline rush whenever I play a realistic racing game. Instead, it feels like I am driving in circles with no extra value tacked on. I may be able to side swipe a car or T-bone them, but it still does not live up to the unrealistic racing games I truly love.
There are three upcoming racing games that stand out from the rest: Mario Kart 8, Burnout, and Need for Speed Rivals. The game qualities that stand out compared to series like Forza and Gran Turismo include the more unrealistic speeds, crashes and nostalgic value, all of which persuade me to buy Mario Kart 8 or Need for Speed Rivals as my next racing game.
It’s-A Me, Mario!
My very first racing game was Super Mario Kart; that game was incredible. To this day, it is still my favorite Mario Kart game in its long-running series. My racer of choice was always Yoshi. I have no idea why, but I always felt like he went faster than the other racers. The game had 3 cups to race in, the Mushroom, Flower and Star, with an unlockable cup called the Special cup. With each cup came three different speeds, 50cc, 100cc and 150cc. To give you an idea of what each speed is like, think of 50cc as your average turtle Olympics, while 150cc is a speed that could technically break your neck in real life. Also, the fact that different items and weapons could be used in this game made it even better. I remember perfectly when I threw red and green shells at racers to throw them off the track, which always turned the entire race around. Even more satisfying for me was when I used the mushroom item, which acts like a speed boost, right at the end of the race so I could move up to first place instead of second. This game entertained me for possibly hundreds of hours over the years I played it.
Normally, I raced on 50cc or 100cc, but I remember trying to do 150cc. Never in my life have I so badly wanted to throw my controller through my television, all because of the Ghost Valley 2 race track. At 100cc, I usually fell off that track every 5 seconds. Not only is the track pitch black with a rickety bridge, but the blocks on the side of the bridge that prevented racers from falling into oblivion would disappear after hitting them once. I do not want to think about the outcome of a race on this track at 150cc. I remember yelling at my television because Donkey Kong or Mario would give me a little tap, and I go flying off the bridge. The reason I got frustrated with Super Mario Kart is because I wanted to be the best. As Ricky Bobby would say, “If you’re not first, you’re last.”
Besides my few frustrations with Super Mario Kart, I had a lot of fun. The best times to play was when a friend would come over, and we would race against each other all day. The other racers, played by the computer, could not talk trash to me, so having a friend sitting next to me, laughing and yelling, made the experience much more satisfying. The next game in the Mario Kart Series, Mario Kart 64, had many of the same experiences as its predecessor. Both of these games were solid racing games that always held my attention. After Mario Kart 64, I quit. I was onto other types of games and my GameCube would gather mostly dust during the time new Mario Kart games were released. Since I bought the Wii U, I decided to give the franchise another try with Mario Kart 8.
Mario Kart 8 is one of the best racing games I have ever played. It feels and acts like its predecessors, it reuses many of their popular race tracks, and it gives me the same enjoyment that Super Mario Kart and Mario Kart 64 gave me. The Mario Kart series has come a long way by adding more vehicle customization and newer items that make Mario Kart 8 more strategic than ever.
For example, one of the new items in Mario Kart 8 is the Super Horn. This horn emits a giant shockwave around the racer that defuses any item that might damage or slow down the player. It is super effective against red, green and blue shells, which can alter the race entirely. The shells are some of the most deadly items in Mario Kart 8 since they can make racers suddenly stop for a brief moment or even knock racers off the track if timed right. Whenever I get one of these horns, I try to save it until the very end of the race. At that time, many racers start getting items that could easily knock me out of first place. Holding onto this weapon is a key strategy that many Mario Kart enthusiasts use today.
Mario Kart 8 looks beautiful on the Wii U. I normally race on the gamepad, but I am truly in awe every time I use my television. The racing is always smoother, playing online brings new challenges, and seeing race tracks from old versions of the game updated in this game reminds me of the great experiences I had with Super Mario Kart and Mario Kart 64. Below are a couple of videos I recorded from my racing experiences:
All I Do Is Crash
While I believe Mario Kart 8 is one of the best racing games on the market, my all-time favorite racing game is Burnout. This racing game felt like the first of its kind. In 2001 and 2002, Burnout was released on the GameCube, Xbox and PS2. I remember the first time I played it all those years ago. I was at Blockbuster and saw tons of advertisements for the video game. The media kept showing how beautiful crashing could look, so I was intrigued and gave it a try. After bringing it home, I played non-stop. I wanted to be the best at this game and I have not felt this way about a racing game since the Mario Kart franchise.
Insanely high speeds and the spectacular crashes were two things that made this game different from other racing games. The high speeds made realistic racing games look like Driving Miss Daisy and the crashing mechanics created slow motion Matrix-style movie theatrics. Burnout was oddly addicting, but hard to master.
The main gameplay revolved around the Championship mode. It involved a selection of events with a few races, and the level of difficulty would rise after each event. Once the racers completed certain events, they could do something called a “Face Off.” These were challenges that would unlock new cars if the racer beat its competition. Burnout never focused on brand named cars. The only types of vehicles used were small compact cars, sedans, pickups and muscle cars. Each vehicle drove differently, but the controls felt extremely accurate compared to other racing games.
Burnout received a great consumer response, but the series itself peaked when Burnout 3: Takedown came out for the PS2 and Xbox. After playing the past Burnout games, I knew I should buy this one instead of renting it. Burnout 3 played very similar to its predecessors, but it included one new feature that would change the entire series, a feature that was cleverly hidden in the title: takedowns.
Takedowns happened when racers knocked out the competition. This new gameplay mechanic made crashing even more reliable and involved some strategy. If a couple cars were behind me, I would slow down to rear-end them into medium or oncoming traffic. This new mechanic also brought a new game mode called Road Rage. During Road Rage, racers had to takedown as many vehicles as possible in the allotted time to get a certain medal. I remember playing this mode for hours and hours. Each Road Rage event had a number of takedowns I had to reach to get a bronze, silver or gold medal. I would usually takedown at least 5 extra vehicles over the requirement for a gold medal. This was also the first Burnout game I introduced to my friends since it had head-to-head racing and Road Rage, so my friends and I would usually go back and forth trying to kill each other. This game is easy to play, but hard to master. This reason, coupled with the multiplayer modes, helped us bond through video games when many of my friends were not hardcore gamers like myself.
I Feel the Need for Speed
Years have passed since the last real Burnout game in 2008. Burnout Paradise released in 2009. It was fun, but it never felt like the original that I truly loved. In the meantime, I had to look elsewhere, but I was skeptical about the Need for Speed series since their previous games looked too realistic for me. Since I purchased the Xbox One, I wanted to try as many new games as possible. I decided to give Need for Speed Rivals a try; that was one of my best gaming decisions since purchasing my new console.
Note: I recently wrote about Need for Speed Rivals on Polygon. I have lifted much of the text from there to help me write this section. If you would like to read my past writing, please click here.
Need for Speed Rivals is no ordinary racing game, just like Burnout and Mario Kart. Forza 5 came out around the same time, so Rivals had some competition upon its release. Both racing games featured breathtaking graphics, new features, and unique driving mechanics, but one thing made me favor Rivals over Forza 5: unrealism. As I stated at the beginning, I hate realistic racing games. Forza 5 was too real for me, and did not involve high speed crashes like the Burnout series. Undoubtedly, Rivals was Burnout with a fresh coat of paint (pun intended).
Rivals had beautiful cars that felt great when handling them on the road. The entire game was open world, so driving anywhere at any time was welcoming, but I was always wary of the police. This game was meant to be played online at all times, since the police and other racers on the road could be real people. It made for an interesting concept, but I would have liked to have individual modes for me to play without interference from other players, like in the old Burnout games.
Every vehicle in Rivals handled perfectly during any weather situation. Drifting felt tight more sensitive compared to the Burnout series but was easy to maneuver with practice. Plus, the further I upgraded my vehicle, the more powerful I became on the road. Rivals had a little Role-Playing game in it since upgrading vehicles was important. I could be driving faster, use new power-ups to fend off police, or use boost for longer periods of time. Not only that, but I was able to upgrade my cars durability to take more damage, maneuvering and strength so I could total police vehicles much easier. However, the one thing I hated and loved at the same time was crashing.
The crashes were great, but still nothing compared to the Burnout series. It was fun driving reckless, but if I hit an onlooker at 70 mph with the police on my tail, there was a good chance my car is about to be totaled. If the car takes too much damage, it could mean losing the points accumulated by driving recklessly or completing events which, in turn, means no upgrades or new vehicles. Every second lost, turn taken, and point made mattered in this game.
Here is video that shows off power-ups from the game. Racers could use an Electrostatic Field that could immobilize anyone hitting the car, an EMP blast that had to lock onto cars and delivered a pulse that shuts down their car, a Jammer that hides cars from the map, and the reliable Turbo that boosts cars to unbelievable speeds.
I recommend Rivals to anyone wanting a new Burnout game. There is a story mode that is very forgettable, but the gameplay will keep on giving, just like Burnout games always did for me. I also recommend Mario Kart 8. This game plays like Super Mario Kart and Mario Kart 64 more than any of the other game in the series by reaching back to its roots and creating memorable moments.
The main reason I play racing games is to experience something wildly unrealistic and beyond belief. I will most likely stick to these types of racing games because I know I will never be able to do anything from those games in real life. The more power ups, speed, and crashing, the more chance I will love the racing game. Maybe someday I will give realistic racing games a try, but for now, I want to live in racing world where recklessness is my middle name.