10 of the best “vanishing point” racing games

We all love a list, so every Tuesday we’re posting one, on a variety of retro-themed topics! Feel free to share your own favourites down below — and let us know what other lists you’d like to see on future Tuesdays!


Today’s 10 of the Best Tuesdays list looks at racing games!

Racing games are probably the genre of gaming that has undergone the most significant upheaval as technology has improved — though there are still plenty of developers today deliberately paying homage to more stylised, arcadey takes on the format rather than focusing on realism.

A significant step in the evolution of racing games was the development of the quasi-3D “vanishing point” racer. While not true 3D, these games provided the illusion of actually racing “into” the screen through the use of graphical techniques such as sprite scaling and the manipulation of converging lines towards — you guessed it — the on-screen vanishing point.

They’re completely unrealistic in how they handle — but they’re still a ton of fun today. So here’s 10 of the best from throughout gaming history — including both some well-known favourites and some more obscure titles!

Pole Position

Pole Position, a racing game for Atari 7800
Pole Position (Atari 7800)

Namco’s classic invented the whole “vanishing point” style of racing game — and it still plays great today, not only in its original arcade incarnation, but also through its many ports to home computers. While simplistic — there’s only one track and the game is entirely score-based rather than being a real “race” as such — this is still an enjoyable racer that is well worth your time.

If you can’t get the arcade version working — getting its steering wheel controls mapped to a modern controller can be a bit of a pain — then give the Atari 8-bit and Atari 7800 versions a shot; both are remarkably true to the arcade original, and the 7800 version (which is technically “Pole Position II”) even has extra tracks!

The Great American Cross-Country Road Race

The Great American Cross-Country Road Race, a racing game for Atari 8-bit
The Great American Cross-Country Road Race (Atari 8-bit)

Activision’s follow-up to its Atari 2600 classic Enduro (which is also still a good time) sees you driving across the United States of America from city to city. Each stage requires you to complete a certain number of miles against a strict time limit, all the while keeping an eye on your fuel gauge and the ever-watchful eye of the highway patrol.

The Great American Cross-Country Road Race was noteworthy for being a lot more ambitious than many other racing games of the period — it included fully functional analogue dials on the control panel, along with multiple gears to manually shift between, and even the ability to “push” your car to the nearest petrol pump if you ran out of fuel!

OutRun

OutRun, a racing game for Sega Mega Drive
OutRun (Mega Drive)

A showcase title for Yu Suzuki’s “Super Scaler” technology, OutRun was one of the biggest hits in the arcade scene of the late ’80s. It was noteworthy for providing a feeling of a “point to point” race rather than the circuit races more commonly seen in many racers, and for its “split points” at the end of each stage allowing you to pick your own route through the various courses on offer.

OutRun was such a technologically advanced arcade game at the time of its original release that most home ports (particularly on home computers) struggled to provide a convincing recreation of the experience — now, however, one of the best ways to enjoy it is via the excellent Sega Ages version on Nintendo Switch.

Continental Circus

Continental Circus, a racing game for various platforms
Continental Circus (Arcade)

Taito’s arcade game was long assumed to be a mistranslation of Continental Circuit — and in fact some western versions of the cabinet “corrected” this. But no; it’s actually an unofficial homage to a 1972 French movie of the same name — it even includes an unlicensed sample from said movie.

Continental Circus is noteworthy for having rather more “sim” elements than people had previously seen in the genre — you had to pull into the pits to repair damage if you clipped another racer or an obstacle, and varying weather conditions meant you’d need to change tyres to remain competitive.

Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge

Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge, a racing game for Atari ST
Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge (Atari ST)

Gremlin Graphics’ licensed racer may have only had one car, but it sure had a lot of different courses for you to enjoy — many of which were strewn with that oh so British of obstacles, the perpetual roadworks. It also offered split-screen play for two players, making for some entertaining after-school rivalries — or an opportunity to cooperate against the computer-controlled pack.

The two sequels are worth your time, too; Lotus 2 brings a more arcade-style “timers and checkpoints” feel to the game, while Lotus 3 features a track generator.

Top Gear

Top Gear, a racing game for Super NES
Top Gear (SNES)

Essentially a non-licensed adaptation of Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge for Super NES — it even has a number of the same music tracks — Top Gear (or Top Racer, as it was known both in Japan and on more recent rereleases) was an immensely popular game with good reason. It was speedy, it had loads of tracks, it had great music and it had a superb two-player mode.

It remained especially popular in the public gaming caf├ęs of Brazil until long after the rest of the world had moved on, which in more recent years has led a number of modern Brazilian game developers to pay homage to this classic through games such as Horizon Chase Turbo and Slipstream. You can also enjoy Top Gear and Top Gear 2 (under their “Top Racer” title) on the Piko Collection 1 and Piko Collection 2 Evercade cartridges respectively.

Super Monaco GP

Super Monaco GP, a racing game for Mega Drive
Super Monaco GP (Mega Drive)

Sega’s racer was noteworthy for unfolding from a cockpit view rather than the usual third-person view for the genre, and this gave it a thrilling sense of speed and involvement in the race. Elements of Super Monaco GP — both in terms of gameplay and visual presentation — can be traced forward to later Sega racers such as Virtua Racing, too.

The home versions of this were noteworthy for offering a much deeper experience than the original arcade version offered — they provided an early example of a “career mode” to explore.

Vroom

Vroom, a racing game for Atari ST
Vroom (Atari ST)

Lankhor’s absurdly named F1 game for 16-bit home computers (later ported to Sega consoles by Domark under the name F1) was well known for its excellent sense of speed and slick frame rate — even on platforms not known for their good 3D performance, such as the Sega Mega Drive.

Vroom made use of polygons for its track and trackside objects, which made for a much more “realistic” feel, but fundamentally it still played like a first-person vanishing point racer. This one is still a ton of fun today, whether you play it on Atari ST, Amiga or Mega Drive.

Checkered Flag

Checkered Flag, a racing game for Atari Lynx
Checkered Flag (Atari Lynx)

One of the few racing games available for the Atari Lynx platform, Checkered Flag is an adaptation of the Pole Position formula with an enjoyable amount of customisation and some impressive sprite scaling.

Providing a wide selection of tracks and the ability to run single races or tournaments that unfolded over anywhere between one and 50 laps, Checkered Flag kept a lot of Lynx fans very happy for quite some time — and is still an enjoyable game today. You can actually still enjoy it easily today, too; the Atari Lynx Collection 2 cartridge for the Evercade includes it.

Chase H.Q. II

Chase H.Q. II, a racing game for Mega Drive
Chase H.Q. II (Mega Drive)

Taito’s series of combat racers are a lot of fun — though pretty challenging! This Sega Mega Drive take on the series has oddly “stiff” handling that initially feels quite peculiar, but ends up being rather satisfying to control once you get to grips with it.

If you’ve ever entertained any sort of fantasies of being a heroic movie cop ramming criminals off the road with your expensive sports car, Chase H.Q. II is a great way to realise that dream. Safer (and more legal) than doing it for real, anyway!


Those are our picks — what are yours? Be sure to let us know in the comments!

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