Ever since I can remember, racing games have always been a part of my life. It all started with games like Mario Kart, Cruisin’ USA, and Road Rage. I later moved into the more realistic racing sim franchises like Gran Turismo, Dirt, and Forza Motorsport.
Recently I discovered that I always have not just one, but usually a few different racing games in my current gaming library. These games consist of different types of racing games from the extremely realistic to the highly stylized to the super goofy. I can even think of some racing adjacent games.
Many of the top genres in gaming — including Sports, First-Person Shooters (FPS), Role Playing Games (RPG), and Racing — can all be broken down into smaller subgenres. I wanted to dive into a few of the different racing game subgenres and mention a few of my favorites, along with some recently played ones.
*The Racing genre can be broken down in many different ways. Below are just a few different subgenres I thought of to include in this post:
KART RACERS: The Silly, the Wacky & the Goofy
The biggest series in this group is definitely Mario Kart, with an emphasis on the latest entry Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. It’s crazy to think that this game was first released back in 2014 (eight years ago) on the Wii U. The Deluxe edition was later ported to the Switch and has been a top seller ever since.
When it comes to kart racers, Mario Kart is king, but there are also many great alternatives (and some not so great). One of the early disrupters came in the form of Diddy Kong Racing. Their message was “We’re like Mario Kart, but we have planes and boats too. Also, new weapons and power ups.” I remember receiving a VHS tape in the mail promoting Diddy Kong Racing as a kid.
Later on, other big characters started to get their own racing games, Crash Bandicoot got Crash Team Racing and Sonic the Hedgehog got Team Sonic Racing. To me, these both felt like Mario Kart, but for pros. These are a bit faster and tougher to learn. Sure, Mario Kart has different settings from 50cc, 100cc, 150cc and 200cc depending on how fast you want to go. These other two games required a more skilled type of driver.
The latest in the kart games, and one that’s coming soon as a Free-to-Play fiesta is Disney Speedsters. I recently had the chance to play some of the closed beta and I will describe the gameplay as somewhere in between Mario Kart and Crash Team Racing/Team Sonic Racing.
Disney Speedsters also looks and feels great. Not only does this game feature a cast of Disney characters from different worlds, the levels are also designed for specific characters. Many even feature new and remixed music.
RACING SIMS: The Real Deal
Back in the days of PlayStation 2, I got into Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec. This was before I was even allowed to drive a real car. Later on my Xbox 360 I got into Forza Motorsport 2. I may have even played these games driving in automatic.
It wasn’t until a few years ago that I jumped back into the realistic racing sims with GT Sport (PS4), and today Gran Turismo 7 and F1 2022. I’m no pro racing sim driver, but I have gotten a lot better over the years.
The latest Gran Turismo games feature rally cars and certain rally tracks. Because of this I decided to try out DIRT 5 and DIRT Rally 2.0 when they were FREE PS Plus titles. While Gran Turismo made the rally races feel a bit different than normal tracks, the DIRT games are a whole different beast.
ARCADE RACERS: Too Fast & Out of Control
This subgenre consists of two minor subgroups. First, you have your more realistic arcade action racers. This includes games like the Need for Speed series, Midnight Club, and Wreckfest. While they are based in the real world they aren’t quite a racing sim. The driving experience is less real world and more simple and fun.
The second group consists of futuristic, sci-fi and non-realistic driving worlds. A few games that come to mind are the F-Zero games, Fast RMX, and Hot Wheels Unleashed. These three games are high-speed and out of control. You’re not really using real-life driving techniques in these.
XTREME RACERS: Extreme Sports Racing!
I recently had the chance to play two extreme racing games featuring dirt bikes: Monster Energy Supercross: The Official Videogame 5 and MX vs ATV Legends. In recent years they added dual-stick control of your vehicle to these games, and once I got used to it I really enjoyed it.
Back in the day, I played games like Wave Race 64. The extreme wave runner racing game for the Nintendo 64. I also remember playing 2xtreme on the original PlayStation at my buddies house, which featured blades, bikes and boards.
What made these “Xtreme Racers” exciting was the ability to perform tricks.
ARTISTIC RACERS: Race Against Time
Artistic Racers usually feature time trials. Art of Rally is more of a stylized race against time. It’s a time trial based race where you try to beat other driver’s times. The tracks are rally tracks so it’s all about using your speed, sliding and brakes.
A game like Eggcelerate! is also based on time, but with a twist. You must complete each track as fast as you can without dropping and cracking your egg. The egg is in an open basket on the roof of your vehicle.
Urban Trial Tricky is another fun time trial where your main goal is to get the high score by performing tricks as you make your way through a track. This one follows the Tony Hawk Pro Skater formula with high scores and objectives in each level.
I spent a great deal of time in High School playing Crazy Taxi on my Sega Dreamcast. This is another game where you’re really just racing against time to get paid a full cab fare.
While the games I listed are all sort of the same in some ways, they are also each a very different experience.
NON-RACING RACING GAMES: Different Vehicle
There are two kinds of non-racing racing games. First you have games that may feature race levels, even though the gameplay does not necessarily rely on controlling a vehicle. While all competitions in Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout are not obstacle course races, many of them are. And, even though you aren’t controlling a vehicle on wheels, your Fall Guy is sort of that.
Rocket League is not a racing game, but instead a sports game where you’re playing soccer while controlling a vehicle. This is the other version of a non-racing racing game. While you’re driving a vehicle and using certain mechanics used in some racing games, the developers created something new — in this case soccer cars.
The cool thing about racing games is that there are so many different types for everyone to choose from. There are also different ways to enjoy the same game. While I enjoy playing through the Gran Turismo games campaigns, I have a buddy who is all about racing online. I also know plenty of people who love kart racers and arcade style games, but can’t get into racing sims.
This case can be made with all video game genres. Just because someone likes certain RPGs, that doesn’t mean they will like any game that’s an RPG. The same goes for shooters, sports, metroidvanias and pretty much every game genre.
What’s your favorite racing games and sub-racing genres? Did I leave games or sub-genres out you’d like to include? Share your thoughts in the comments below, or reach out with any suggestions.