90s arcade racing games – my top 5

      12 Comments on 90s arcade racing games – my top 5
Daytona Usa cabinet

After previously looking at the top 5 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 arcade version

One of my friends called this game “wild mint”. I asked him why and he replied: “Because it’s everywhere!” LOL. Well, he was right, very fun and very successful at the time, any arcade worthy of its name had a Cruis’n USA cabinet.

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 arcade version

A first-person racer… Well, not my favorite way to play a game actually, but RR is undeniably great. Had it been third-person, it would have definitely ranked higher on this list

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)

Sega Super GT for arcades

Have you ever played a sixteen-people offline game? If you have not, you really need to put this on your to-do list! A life-changing gaming experience…

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.
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2) Sega Rally Championship (developed and published by Sega in 1994)

Sega Rally Championship arcade version

Amazing on the Saturn, Awesome on the arcade! Best rally game ever in my heart…

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.

Honorable Mention:

Crazy Taxi (developed by Hitmaker, published by Sega in 1999)

Crazy Taxi arcade version

Oddly enough, CT was also an honorable mention on my list of the 10 best Dreamcast games…

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)

Daytona Usa arcade version

Aside from Swos, I cannot think of any other game that makes me more nostalgic than Daytona…

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!

PS.

Any disagreements with my picks? And what about your favorite decade for racing games? Please voice your opinion in the comments section.

About Andrew A.

Andrew is the founder and owner of RetroGamingLoft. He considers himself a natural-born gamer and is on a mission to keep our younger gaming years alive through the medium of Retro Stories. His event recount includes hopes, dreams, broken joysticks, magic, nostalgia and another final boss defeated.

12 thoughts on “90s arcade racing games – my top 5

  1. Henderson

    This helps to bring back some very good memories of the games I used to play in the past with a couple of my friends. I remember always going to the arcade enter to enjoy some racing games. I think the game we were used to playing was the Sega gt. Was a very nice one. Maybe i should try out some more games too. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
    1. Andrew A. Post author

      Hello Henderson, glad to hear from you again.
      No need to thank me, you know how much I love to bring back good memories, especially those to related to the arcade days. Racers and fighters were the games I enjoyed the most when with friends. 🙂
      Thanks again for your nice comment, till next retro post!

      Reply
  2. Bella

    These raving games will always be remembered for their wonderful time and I can clearly recall playing the Sega Super GT those time too. Arcade racing games are some of the most engaging games you can play and your top five best games of the ’90s is really cool. Although I didn’t play some fo them at all, but the little time i spent playing my sega will always be remembered.

    Reply
    1. Andrew A. Post author

      Hello Bella and welcome to my retro blog.
      Sega Super GT is a game that many remember, my friends often mention how hard, but how cool racing at night was… Plus the graphics were next level for the time. I too have fond memories of it.
      Thanks again for stopping by, hope you become a regular, here.

      Reply
  3. Heisenberg

    I didn’t actually play very many arcade racing games from the 1990’s but I did play a ton of Street Fighter 2! However, I did play a little amount of arcade racing games. One racing game from Sega that I always wished had been ported to arcade was Road Rash. My brother and I played a TON of that on the Sega Genesis. Hey do you know the most affordable way to buy or build an arcade these days? It would be awesome if I could get a Street Fighter 2 arcade game in my apartment lol

    Reply
    1. Andrew A. Post author

      Hello Heisenberg and welcome to my website!
      I wished that too and there were rumors back then, but sadly it never materialized. There are a bunch of home video games that deserved to be ported to arcade, maybe I will make a list of it soon. 😉
      Concerning your question, you can check * Liberty Games: among other things, they refurbish and sell old arcade machines.
      Thanks again for your comment, I really hope you become a regular here!

      Reply
  4. Rodarrick

    By the 90s, I was already a full time gamer and I played extensively well. It was not easy switching around games then but them, the arcade racing were really top notch then. From this list alone, I played three and the one I love most then wsd the Sega rally championship. It was dope and really interesting. I just wish I can have a go at it again.

    Reply
    1. Andrew A. Post author

      Hello Rodger, I am pleased to hear from you again.
      Yeah, without a doubt racers and fighters were the most popular arcade games in the 90s, sometimes we had to wait for hours to get to play our favorites, lol.
      Concerning your question, both * eBay and * AliExpress sell consoles featuring hundreds if not thousands of arcade games built-in. 🙂
      Thanks again for your nice comment, stay tuned for more arcade lists!

      Reply
  5. Nimrodngy

    Wow. You did an extraordinary job.
    I gladly remember these games and you made me go back in time, to relive my childhood. One of these 5 games gave me the passion for cars – Sega super GT. Because of this, today i’m an automotive engineer for a big company.  I remember when I got the first computer, this was the only game I installed and played every day.
    Thanks so much for this article and I can’t wait to see other games, maybe some action and strategy. 

    Good luck! 

    Reply
    1. Andrew A. Post author

      Hello Nimrodngy, what a nice comment you put a smile on my face.
      It is not the first time that someone tells his passion for gaming led them to become what they are today, but this is very peculiar. 🙂
      It is also great to know that I got a new fan! Yeah please stay tuned, great things are coming!

      Reply
  6. PeterMinea

    Hello Andrew!

    I am glad to find your beautiful article about arcade games! I played myself console games in the 90s, you know, those with cartridges, by connecting the console (kind of ancestor for nowadays’ PlayStations) to the TV, and I clearly remember having played and loved Race America, that was made by Nintendo Entertainment Systems!

    I really loved this game very much, dreaming about it in my sleep… There were 2 cars involved (Racer 1 and Racer 2), Racer 1 was purple and Racer 2 was blue, and there were two different gaming options: 2 human players or a human player versus an opponent that was chosen by the system – there were 8 different opponents, and the strongest of them was called AJ Turbo!

    There were nine rounds (levels) in the game, supposed to cross the USA from Boston to Los Angeles. The first round was the shortest (210 miles), and the last, the longest (990 miles).

    There were also other racing games that I played (on the PC too), if I remember well there was also something called Accolade or something like that, when I was five years old in 1995. However, Race America (NES) stays my beloved one!

    Also, the games you listed here should be beautiful – we can tell it even by simply looking at the pictures.

    I am waiting for your next retro rides! Good luck and best regards!

    Peter

    Reply
    1. Andrew A. Post author

      Hello Peter and thanks for taking time to write such a nice comment.
      I know Race America very well, and should I make a list of the best console racing games, it would definitely be in the top ten.
      Thanks again for dropping by (great to have a new fan lol), I hope you enjoy my future posts!

      Reply

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