Take a trip down memory lane and relive some of the nostalgic racing games we still love (and play)

Even if you’re not a petrolhead, there’s no denying that the allure of the racing game has gotten to us all at one point or another.

Whether it’s screaming at your family because you’re playing the annual round of Mario Kart and you’ve been shelled on Rainbow Road again despite begging for the next course to be Coconut Mall, or you like to put your proverbial pedal to the proverbial medal and race very fast in a very nice car around an iconic track, there’s something for everyone.

Today we’re shining a spotlight on some of our favourite games from our childhood, indulging in a little nostalgia and reminiscing on some lovely memories.

And some that should perhaps be confined to the annals of time.

Though most of these games are still around in some form or another, there’s something quite nice about their more simplistic ancestors where the story began.

So, whether you like the police chase and carnapping elements that either Simpsons Hit & Run or Grand Theft Auto bring, or you prefer entertaining your pretend passengers as you cart them around at very high speed in a very unsafe manner in Crazy Taxi, we’re sure you’ve played one of these nostalgic racing games before.

Round of Mario Kart, anyone?

I’m taking Princess Peach.

Yellow taxi signs against cityscape

Crazy Taxi

There’s something universally exciting about a game that lets you sample a job.

Big fan of games like Sally’s Salon (where you ran your own salon) and multiplayer games like Overcooked (more a test of friendship than it is your cooking skills) – but Crazy Taxi is up there as perhaps the best.

Though if you really ran a taxi service like the one on Crazy Taxi, you’d likely be out of business by the end of the day. 

Or jailed.

Crazy Taxi really is top tier fun though. 

Half driving, half stunts, the game had you racing around a city (inspired by San Francisco) to pick up and drop off passengers as quickly as you could to get as much money as you could with adrenaline-raising jumps and cheeky little shortcuts. 

And all to a soundtrack provided by The Offspring and Bad Religion as you drifted your way to taxiing success.

Nothing could be better.

Simpsons Hit & Run

Now, Simpsons Hit & Run is probably the racing game I played most as a child – but I did not realise until about five minutes ago that it had a plot.

You mean to say, people weren’t just playing it to steal their favourite vehicle from an unsuspecting driver pootling around town, and proceeding to then race it so badly that it was unrecognisable within about thirty seconds?

No? Just me? 

Well. Simpsons Hit & Run does indeed have a plot (as well as seven levels over three maps), following the titular Simpsons family and Apu as they try to discover the reason that so many strange incidents have been occurring in Springfield, including crop circles, weird vans and a new flavour of Buzz Cola.

With gameplay and the open world heavily inspired by Grand Theft Auto, we really believe Hit & Run to be one of the best games to hit our consoles in recent years. It is, above all, the most fun.

The adrenaline rush that comes with a hit-and-run siren and the knowledge you are about to be chased by the police all over town? Unmatched. 

I don’t think I’ve ever experienced that level of stress again. 

Mario and Luigi in Mario Kart karts

Mario Kart

You simply cannot write about nostalgic video racing games without mentioning the racing game of perhaps the century – Mario Kart.

Friendships have been built and destroyed by this silly little racer. 

Siblings have suffered across the globe. Parents have confiscated countless consoles only to be suckered in themselves by ‘just one go.’

Nothing gets you screeching at a decibel only dogs can hear like being blue-shelled by your brother right before you’re about to cross the finish line in first position.

Too niche?

I don’t think so.

Mario Kart in all its iterations (and there have been eleven versions of the game now, starting back in 1993 with Super Mario Kart for SNES) holds a beloved place in the heart of so many. The iconic Mario characters, the courses (if you are good at Rainbow Road then you are truly built differently), the power-ups including the ever-present threat of shells and bananas.

There’s a reason this is our number one game to play as a family each Christmas.

It’s because it sets us up for an excellent argument every time. No pillow is safe when the Wii controllers come out.

Grand Theft Auto

Perhaps the most controversial racing game ever released, Grand Theft Auto makes the list mainly because it has been the inspiration behind so many others.

It isn’t without its flaws, with many critics pointing out how inherently violent the game is. In fact, the 2008 and 2009 Gamer’s Editions of the Guiness World Records books named it the most controversial video game series in history, with over 4,000 articles published on the subject.

But the formula at the heart of the game – race around a town inspired by a real-life place, complete missions to progress the story, be careful not to be caught by the police – works. 

Sure, the gameplay mainly revolves around driving and shooting.

But it does do that very well. The open-world aspect and the sandbox style play makes the game such an addictive one, with players able to choose their own adventure rather than being pigeon-holed into a certain route through the story.

And, if you were anything like me, you thoroughly ignored the plot of the game and had an absolutely excellent time zipping around town in your vehicle, obeying all the laws of the road and finding new places to explore (with occasional forays into crime when someone else had a car you really wanted).

Blurred lights on racing track

Forza Motorsport

Released in 2005 for the Xbox, Forza Motorsport (the first instalment in the series) is a more traditional sort of racing game, where you race actual racing cars.

With over 200 cars and multiple real-world and fictional racecourses to choose from, Forza Motorsport is a nostalgic classic for those among us who really just like the racing aspect of the racing genre.

It gets the old heartrate up like nothing else does.

In game, you compete in events across the world using real licensed cars on often real courses, including Road Atlanta, Silverstone, Laguna Seca, Tsukuba, Road America and Nürburgring Nordschleife.

There’s an excellent mix of cars, including common commuter models like the Honda Civic to racing series numbers like Super GT and Deutsche Tourenwagen, to supercars like the Enzo Ferrari and Le Mans prototypes like the Audi R8.

If all you really want to do is wang your favourite car around your favourite track at very high speeds without actually having to train for that in your real life, then Forza Motorsport is an absolute winner.

Need for Speed

Originally released in 1994 (though it’s spun an entire franchise off the first game, with the most recent released in 2022), The Need for Speed is an absolute nostalgic classic, harking back to an easier time.

Though the graphics were undoubtedly worse.

Something quite sweet about them though, right? The uncanny valley effect is real with some of the newer games, and it can be quite nice to play something that you really know is not real.

It’s another classic racer, allowing you to pick from eight different sports cars to race in three point-to-point tracks, either against yourself or against the computer.

The Need for Speed has often been praised for its realistic driving style, with Electronic Arts collaborating with the automotive magazine Road & Track to match the vehicle behaviour, right down to mimicking the sounds made by the gear control levers. There’s even precise vehicle data, spoken commentary and magazine-style images of the cars to help you pick your poison.

And – for an extra je ne sais quoi – The Need for Speed incorporates traffic vehicles that need to be avoided, and police pursuits for an additional adrenaline rush, with players ticketed or arrested if they’re caught. 

There really is just something about being in a simulated police chase that is a lot more fun than it probably should be.

Fancy watching some real-life racing instead of on-screen?

Beth Twigg

Beth Twigg

Beth is our Content and Paid Media Specialist, tasked with creating great articles to keep you both entertained and informed. She has two years previous experience, but has been writing and scribbling for much longer.