The Best SNES Racing Games

Gaming Jump - October 2019

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Nintendo is probably the most famous name in the gaming industry, having created many iconic games, characters and consoles dating all the way back to the 1977 release of the Color TV-Game console.

The Super Nintendo Entertainment System, or SNES for short, was Nintendo’s third entry into the home console market and was released in 1990 as a reaction to the growing popularity of the Sega Genesis (known as the Mega Drive outside the US). The Genesis had released a couple of years before and was steadily increasing its market share at Nintendo’s expense. With the release of their new product, Nintendo triggered the beginning of what would later be called the first console war.

The SNES and Genesis were very evenly matched pieces of 16-bit hardware, with Sega’s machine having a slight advantage in processing speed. However, this was countered by the larger color palette and far superior sound of the SNES, which led to SNES versions of multi-platform games generally receiving the better reviews.

The SNES would eventually allow Nintendo to win their battle with Sega, as they dominated the worldwide market throughout the generation despite Sega’s impressive North American sales. One of the main reasons for Nintendo’s continued success during this time was their stellar line up of first party or exclusive games, such as Super Mario World, Final Fantasy VI, F-Zero, R-Type III: The Third Lightning, and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.

As the processing power of consoles has continually grown, so developers have increasingly moved toward producing racing games that are hyper realistic – with lifelike physics and graphics. But in the SNES’s heyday, that wasn’t an option. Instead, developers put their energy into truly original creations, like Uniracers – a game involving riderless unicycles performing stunts as they travel round tracks featuring corkscrews and loops. Or innovative and brilliantly fun racers like Super Mario Kart – the first in a series which remains hugely popular to this day.

In this article we take a look at some of our favorite Super Nintendo racing games and detail just what made them so good.

Rock N' Roll Racing

Released for the SNES in 1993, Rock ‘n Roll Racing is a racing game featuring lots of vehicular combat and was developed by Silicon & Synapse (much more famous today under their new name Blizzard Entertainment).

The game featured instrumental cover versions of some great rock songs, including Bad to the Bone, Paranoid, Born to be Wild, and Radar Love – giving the game a memorable soundtrack and inspiring its name.

The action is viewed from an isometric perspective as players take control of one of four cars and race for four laps around several tracks, filled with different hazards, such as snow drifts or lava, depending on the track’s environment.

But this isn’t simply a racing game, each circuit is strewn with mines and power-ups, and each competitor’s vehicle can be equipped with a variety of weapons, like missiles or energy blasts. The gameplay is actually quite forgiving though – your car will respawn just a few seconds after being destroyed and power-up supplies are replenished after each lap, allowing for constant mayhem.

Rock ‘n Roll Racing is a very fondly remembered game, indeed Blizzard re-released the classic game for free on Battle.net a few years ago.


Super Mario Kart

Super Mario Kart, released by Nintendo in 1992, is the first in the wildly successful Mario Kart series and essentially created a brand-new sub-genre of racing games.

Players first choose to compete as one of eight iconic Mario Bros. characters, including Princess Peach, Bowser, Yoshi, and Donkey Kong Jr. Each character’s kart has different attributes for top speed, acceleration and handling, as well as having access to a special power-up or weapon (although only when they’re controlled by the computer) – such as Bowser’s fireball or Yoshi’s egg.

Races take place around a generous 20 tracks in total, each featuring their own unique environmental hazards and obstacles, like pipe barriers and mud bogs. The goal is to win the race, of course, and there are lots of bonuses to help players in their attempt. The now iconic selection of weapons to be picked up during the race include a banana peel which causes other karts to spin when hit, and a lightning bolt which shrinks all other drivers and slows them down.

Super Mario Kart was praised for its excellent graphics, superb handling, and surprisingly deep gameplay and went on to become the fourth best-selling SNES game of all time.


Uniracers

Uniracers (known as Unirally in some territories) was a unique style of racing game which went on to acquire a bit of a cult status after it was released by DMA Design in 1994.

The bizarre premise of Uniracers involved self-aware riderless unicycles racing each other on ribbon-like tracks, while performing a wide array of stunts for good measure. The gameplay takes place on a 2D plane, with unicycles speeding along one of 45 well designed tracks and competing for first place and the gold rank that comes with it. A major part of the game was pulling off stunts, these flips and tricks not only looked cool but every one that was successfully landed granted a speed boost. Performing these stunts correctly was key to winning and eventually facing off against the computer controlled Anti-Uni, which had some tricks of its own. Just coming into contact with the Anti-Uni could make the controls reverse or the track disappear.

Uniracers might not have been able to match the sales of other games on this list (though that was partly because of a lawsuit brought against the developers by Pixar), but its charm and originality mean that it’s still well remembered by those who did play it.


Super Chase H.Q.

Released for the SNES in 1993 by Taito, Super Chase H.Q. was an unusually creative racing game that was ahead of its time in many ways.

The simple plot has players take on the role of a Tony Gibson, a policeman from a special taskforce who must apprehend criminals as they attempt to flee in a high-speed pursuit. The action is viewed from a first-person perspective, which was uncommon for console racing games at the time, as the player is informed of their target and must reach them before the timer runs out. This requires players to speed along highways, avoiding civilian traffic until they catch up with the criminal and the next part of the game begins - apparently the only way to stop the perp from escaping is to repeatedly ram his vehicle until it bursts into flames. On later levels this is made more difficult when biker gangs start shooting at you, or you need to dodge the gunfire coming from a heavily armed helicopter.

Super Chase H.Q. was clearly an influence on games franchises like Burnout and Need for Speed, but this fun arcade racer sadly never got the console sequels it deserved.


F-Zero

F-Zero, released by Nintendo in 1990, was a pioneering game which effectively started its own sub-genre of futuristic racing games, and was a clear influence on many other game developers including the creators of the Wipeout series.

The game is set in the far future, when the super-rich try to fight their ennui by indulging in dangerous and exciting races using high-speed hover cars. Players can choose from one of four driver characters, each with their own hover car bearing unique attributes.

The goal is to reach the finish line in first place and eventually earn your place in the most difficult competition, the King league. Winning is made more difficult not just by your AI opponents but by the presence of mines, slip zones, and magnets – all of which seek to damage the player’s car or send it off the track completely. The game also features jump pads and speed boosts spread liberally over the course of its 15 well-designed tracks.

F-Zero was noted for its sense of speed and revolutionary graphics. The extensive use of the Super Nintendo’s advanced rendering technique (called Mode 7) created fast and fluid visuals, and helped F-Zero become one of the most influential racers ever made.


Super Off Road

Created by Leland Corporation and based on the successful arcade game of the same name, Super Off Road was released on the SNES in 1992.

As you might have guessed, this is an off-road racing game with players racing their truck around 16 different tracks, trying to reach the finish line first and collect the most prize money. The action is watched from a static overhead viewpoint, which allows the whole track to be seen at once. Each circuit contains plenty of rough terrain and jumps, as well as hazards like bales of hay or pools of water.

Super Off Road was one of the first games to allow players to upgrade their vehicle by spending some of their prize money on improvements, such as a faster engine, better tires for more grip, or extra nitro boosts. The gameplay could be pretty hectic, especially when trying to time your speed boosts correctly, and playing against friends through the multiplayer mode only made things more maddeningly chaotic and fun.

Super Off Road may not have received the plaudits of other classics on this list but we loved the game, with its excellent soundtrack and upgrade system being particular highlights.


Micro Machines

First released for the SNES in 1994, Micro Machines is a brilliantly creative top-down racing game developed by Codemasters.

The game involves players racing a wide variety of toy vehicles around really original tracks – for example, driving tiny Formula 1 cars all over a snooker table, complete with chalk, cues, and pockets all acting as hazards. Or how about speeding through a circuit in a bubble bath with a toy powerboat?

The action is viewed from above as players compete against three AI opponents, with the aim being to finish first and move onto another one of the 21 fantastical tracks, such as a sandpit or kitchen table. As fun as this is, the multiplayer mode is by far our favorite part of the game. This features two players competing against each other over 9 select circuits, but had a non-traditional way of determining the winner. Each player starts with four points but can gain more by getting so far ahead of their opponent that they’re forced off-screen – the first to eight points wins the race.

Micro Machines received widespread critical acclaim upon release, with particular praise being reserved for its unique track environments and innovative multiplayer mode, and went on to produce many popular sequels.


Top Gear

Created by Gremlin Graphics and released for the SNES in 1992, Top Gear is a fun arcade racer in the same mold as the iconic OutRun.

Players must aim to become the fastest driver on Earth by competing against the best the rest of the world can offer. Players are given four different cars to choose from, each with its own unique stats for attributes like grip, speed, and even fuel consumption.

Races take place around 32 circuits in countries all over the globe, with players competing against a host of AI drivers, or against a friend in the game’s split-screen multiplayer mode. There are occasional hazards on track, such as traffic barriers and rocks which will slow your car down. And, unusually for an arcade racer, the longer races require you to enter the pits every so often to keep your car topped up with fuel – failing to do so results in disqualification as well as a broken-down vehicle.

We loved Top Gear for its pure arcade joy and terrific sense of speed, especially during night races. The game quickly received two sequels but their slightly more realistic nature meant we always preferred the original.


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