After previously looking at the top 5 80 arcade racing games, today I am going to focus on the next decade. The 90s were a great time for arcade goers. New innovations in cabinet technology were making experiences more immersive. The mall was awash with the neon glow and the soft phosphor dot haze of hundreds of CRTs monitors.
While it wouldn’t be long before the arcade’s eventual decline, the 90s were where you went to see the cutting edge of gaming technology. One of the greatest displays of graphics and cabinet design was racing games. There were a ton of awesome ones released during that decade, but after meeting with a team of certified fun technicians and funologists (my real-life retro friends lol), I have managed to narrow that number down to the top 5 90s arcade racing games.
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5) Cruis’n USA (developed and published by Midway Games in 1994)
Cruis’n USA is a classic from the decade. It was launched in ’94 right before the Nintendo 64. It came out in arcades to drum up interest in Nintendo’s new console, boasting a bold identification for Ultra 64 hardware. The cabinet itself boasted a bucket seat and a stick shift and music that you could change mid-race.
You could not walk into an arcade or even a pizza place without running into one of these bad boys. Our lives were the richer for it. At the time it was pushing some serious graphics, as well as addictive gameplay. It was the natural technological progression from Outrun.
4) Ridge Racer (developed by Namco, published by Namco; JP and NA 1993, EU 1994)
Ridge Racer is a great racer that took full advantage of the drift racing trend going on in the mid-90s in Japan. The techno soundtrack blasted over the sound of a high compression engine, redlining around tight mountain roads. Namco created the game with Japanese audiences in mind and did not even think about how successful it would be in the west.
Considering that it is one of the best arcade racers ever created, I can safely say that it was a hit here as well. Ridge Racer is a beloved classic, and its drift racing mechanics were top-notch at the time. The soundtrack matches the ridiculous speeds you can go. Beating your opponents down the twisted mountain path that you have to drive on is exhilarating.
3) Sega Super GT (developed and published by Sega in 1996)
SCUD Race or Sega Super GT in North America was a racer built from Sega’s Model 3 arcade chipset. It is the same power and graphics hardware that made Virtua Fighter 3 so gorgeous at the time. This gave SSGT a clean and polished graphical appearance that fits well with the real-life cars modeled for the game.
It was created by the same team that made Daytona USA, and while it shows a similar level of craftsmanship, the playstyle lends itself towards aggressive acceleration into a drift, which ends up giving the game a completely different feel. The tracks range from easy daylight affairs to more difficult and technical courses set at night.
The cabinets themselves could be joined together to make a bank of 16 players, and they all had the telltale Sega attention to detail that made them one of the top arcade hardware manufacturers. This is a great game to play with friends. If you can find an arcade in your area that has a bunch of them joined together, drop a couple of dollars and trade some paint with your friends. You will not regret it.
2) Sega Rally Championship (developed and published by Sega in 1994)
The game so nice it made the list twice! No, you are not witnessing a glitch in the Matrix, you have definitely seen this game on my last list. It bears repeating, though. The main reason why it was on the Saturn list is because the Saturn version was a near-perfect port of the arcade game. Unlike the console version, the arcade cabinet features a tiny rally car to sit in.
Just like the console version you can play co-op racing, as well as a head-to-head race to the finish. It is a great game to play at home, but for the ultimate experience, you gotta play at the arcade.
Crazy Taxi (developed by Hitmaker, published by Sega in 1999)
Before we get to the number one spot, we have to take time out to go over the honorable mention. You would be hard-pressed to find a game more representative of the time period it was released. It was hard not to put this on the main list, but it had to be represented. This game drips with 90s nostalgia. The soundtrack is The Offspring, and one of the taxi drivers is sporting a neon green Mohawk.
In the era of edgy and extreme, this game is all that and more. Instead of being a standard racer, you have got to pick up fares and drive them to their destinations within the time limit to earn money. The game stops when you fail to find a fare and get them to where they want to be within the time limit. It has got jumps, extra points for near misses and the passengers scream at you, if you screw up. It is something that will take you back to your childhood.
Alright, number one is next! Yet another Sega game? Yeah, but this is one of a kind…
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1) Daytona USA (developed and published by Sega; JP 1993, Worldwide 1994)
Ok, here is the selection you have all been waiting for, the number one! Daytona USA is my top pick for many reasons. First, let us talk about the tech. The cabinet itself is designed to be hooked together with other cabinets to have a pool of eight total competitors. The other amazing thing is all the tracks you can race on were modeled after satellite imaging, to make them as accurate as possible.
The car physics were as close to real-life as possible as well, with the ability to drift and powerslide in your arsenal of technical driving maneuvers. You can also draft your opponents and pass them. How many racers do you know that take advantage of aerodynamics?
That is not the only compelling reason to play. This game holds a special place in my heart. I have many fond memories of challenging my friends to races, and it was always a good time to get the crew together and whiling away the hours vying for race track supremacy. This game brings me back every single time. I cannot pass by the cabinet without smiling. I can easily recommend any of the games on this list when you are out at an arcade bar, but this one is a must, if you get a crew out for a good time.
Thanks as always for going back to the most extreme decade of them all. All of these games are a guaranteed good time for all you racing game aficionados and retro folks, out there. If there is any on this list that you have not tried, you owe it to yourself to give them a spin. Remember to check back often for more lists like this one, and enjoy the classics.
Till next retro ride!
Any disagreements with my picks? And what about your favorite decade for racing games? Please voice your opinion in the comments section.