Saturday, December 20, 2014

What Makes A Great Racing Game?

One of the first racing games that left an impression on me.
There's just something about racing games that fuel the competitive fire in gamers, as well as bringing gamers together to have fun and joke around. However, what exactly is that something? What makes a racing game great? What brings gamers to the virtual racetracks? As simplistic as racing game concepts appear to be, they are actually more complex in areas where you wouldn't expect them to be. Like all other video game genres, racing games need to follow a certain formula in order to retain their integrity, as in game developers need to know whether or not there will be point systems, power-ups vehicles can collect,. if grand prix circuits and championship tournaments will exist, how difficult the racetracks will be, etc.

One of the first racing games that caught my attention was Beetle Adventure Racing for the Nintendo 64. Of course it is now an obscure game that not many gamers of today wouldn't know much about, but I got familiar with this game right away once I started playing it. Beetle Adventure Racing was the kind of game that although silly and ridiculous at times, it was something that I could play over and over again and not get bored with. There were plenty of things for me to do in this game, and notably trying to smash Point Boxes that contained 1 point, 2 points, 5 points, 10 points and even 25 points. If you collected enough Point Boxes you would be awarded a continue, and this was very helpful for the latter parts of the game.

Mario Kart Double Dash: A unique tag team-themed racing game
A racing game series I have always enjoyed playing has been the Mario Kart series, and highlighting this game in particular, Mario Kart Double Dash was a racing game that featured 2 characters racing in a single cart, working together as a team to cross the finish line first. The fun thing about this game was that 2 players could work together in the same races, with one player driving the cart and the other character managing the items that they collected on the track, and this led to genuine communication skills being used by both players. Mario Kart Double Dash was certainly fun but challenging in this respect.

Need For Speed: Rivals
Although not specifically labeled as just a racing game, Need For Speed: Rivals is certainly a recent example of the player having the freedom to engage in as many races as he or she wants. The Need For Speed series has featured a ton of games where players could freely roam through territories picking which races they would like to participate in, and some of these races were far from normal races. Some of the races that players engaged in would eventually get police cars involved, and then things only got more dicey as these races went on. We can easily say the same thing about Grand Theft Auto, but really, GTA contains much more variables that we can't call that a straightforward racing game at all. With Need For Speed, the main focus was on your car, what it could do, what kinds of upgrades are available to make your car perform better, and what you could do to customize the look of your car. If you won a race, you would get either a subtle reward or a hefty reward depending on the race's level of difficulty.

Excitebike 64 - A racing game featuring motocross bikes
Perhaps the racing game genre is the most expressive genre in the entire Video Game Industry, and we do have a bunch of racing games to look at to back this theory up. You can go way back to the times of the NES and see a good amount of racing games blossom onto your television screen. As awkward and wonky as the controls in NES racing games were, we can't deny that the simplistic formulas of racing games were easily applied to the 8-bit NES system for a reason. Racing games are also expressive in the sense that it isn't mandatory to use cars to race. Excitebike 64 is one of many examples where we can use motocross bikes (or anything else) instead of cars and still generate that racing interest. We can also look at the F-Zero series which pioneered some racing game mechanics.

Diddy Kong Racing 64 - A classic game that was sadly never duplicated
Looking for something cartoony for your racing game interests? Look no further than at a game like Diddy Kong Racing 64, which sadly never saw a sequel. I am sure that many gamers back in the heyday of the Nintendo 64 would have loved to see such a sequel because Diddy Kong Racing left an impression on gamers. There were some features about this game that were flat out hilarious and zany and it's these features that make Diddy Kong Racing a well regarded classic.
Gran Turismo - The Creme de la Creme of racing games

Who can forget Gran Turismo? This series is probably one of the most influential racing game series that spans over a few gaming generations and it all began on the Sony Playstation 1. Gran Turismo games look professional in presentation and nearly world class in execution as gamers get a realistic look at how races are done. From the driving mechanics to learning how to obtain better positioning on the racetrack, gamers soon understand that more goes into a race than just holding down on the accelerator button. Gran Turismo constantly tests you to make the right turns on the track, to pick your spots whenever you feel like you need to pass another racer, and when to pull back when you know you don't have an opening. Gran Turismo is certainly a more sophisticated kind of racing game series that is still casually fun and enjoyable.

Destruction Derby 64 - I love the creativity of this game
On a soft note, I can't help but mention a personal favorite of mine in the racing game genre. That favorite would be Destruction Derby 64, a racing game that combined the element of cars racing each other... but also destroying each other. Destruction Derby certainly lived up to its name as it featured 12 cars that you would normally see in the county fair tearing each other apart in a demolition derby. By going through the main mode of this game, you were pitted with the task of guiding your car of choice to victory, first by winning some races, but then the gloves would come off for one part and you would go back to using your demolition derby car for its real purpose. I love the creativity of games like this one because two elements were boldly meshed together to create a very unique concept for a racing game.

A racing game has to be fun, but aside from that it has to be something that gives players the freedom to imagine just how loose and creative a racing game environment can truly be. Game developers are often told to give players choices, and we want to be able to give players the kinds of choices where they truly are the drivers of their racing vehicles. We don't just want to let players know that they are driving vehicles in a race. We want to confirm to players that they have control of their vehicles and that they can actually feel the racing environment. Put your foot on the gas, grip the steering wheel tight and buckle up because when you play a racing game, you should know that the heat will be on.

I'll see you guys at the checkered flag.

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