What are the best racing games for Nintendo’s 16-bit powerhouse, the Super NES — or the Super Famicom, if you want to be all Japanese about it?
There were quite a few, as it happens, so today we’re going to take a good look as a selection of them — including some established classics and a few that are a little less well-known but no less worthy of your respect.
The 16-bit era was really the end of an era for racing games — once the PlayStation era arrived, we moved on from the traditional “vanishing point” approach to full 3D affairs like Ridge Racer and Gran Turismo. But the Super NES threw some Mode 7 shenanigans into the mix, too, making for some truly distinctive experiences among its best racing that you can’t get anywhere else! So let’s take a look.
Top Gear/Top Racer
One cannot talk about the best racing games on the Super NES without mentioning Kemco’s Top Gear (also known as Top Racer in Japan and on its subsequent western rereleases), developed by Gremlin. Effectively a reimagining of Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge without the licensed cars, Top Gear is one of the speediest racers on the platform — and an absolute blast with two players.
If you need further evidence that Top Gear is one of the best racing games on the Super NES, just look at the Brazilian game development scene. Top Gear’s popularity in Brazilian gaming cafés — known as locadoras — meant that it was a truly defining gaming experience for a lot of Brazilian youngsters, right up until relatively recently. And we’re just starting to see the result of that with excellent modern homages to this classic, such as Horizon Chase Turbo.
Super Mario Kart
One also cannot talk about the best racing games on the Super NES without mentioning the genre-defining Super Mario Kart, a game which pretty much invented the “kart racing” subgenre by adding its distinct small-scale, relatively low-speed circuits and combining the traditional racing game with the use of weapons and other power-ups.
Super Mario Kart also made heavy use of the Super NES’ Mode 7 capabilities, allowing for a quasi-3D environment that players could explore freely rather than the track acting as “rails” for them to remain attached to. This opened up the possibility of shortcuts and alternative routes — which quickly became a fixture in the kart racing subgenre.
F-Zero was one of the first games on the Super NES to show what Mode 7 was all about and, like Super Mario Kart, offers a great deal more freedom than racing game fans of the period were typically accustomed to. This freedom, coupled with the blistering speed that it ran at, made F-Zero one of the best racing games on the Super NES.
It’s a relatively straightforward, pure racing experience with no weapons or anything like that — but the tracks get increasingly complex as you progress, with a variety of interesting gimmicks to contend with. We’re yet to figure out exactly how hovercars are supposed to slip on ice, though…
Rock ‘n Roll Racing
This excellent isometric racing game from Silicon & Synapse — the company who would eventually become Blizzard — is a ton of fun, combining high speed but eminently controllable racing with vehicular combat. It was noteworthy for, among other things, featuring synthesised versions of a variety of popular rock classics from artists such as Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and Steppenwolf.
Blizzard actually released an enhanced version of this one a while back as part of their Blizzard Arcade Collection — check it out if you fancy enjoying some four-player split screen funtimes courtesy of one of the best racing games on Super NES.
Nigel Mansell’s World Championship
The Super NES may not have had Sega’s excellent Super Monaco GP, but it had a damn fine imitator in the form of Nigel Mansell’s World Championship from Gremlin — one of the best racing games on the platform. Taking on the role of the moustachio’d one himself, it’s your job to prove your racing skills on a variety of racing circuits in a selection of weather conditions.
With plenty of customisation and a nice blend between arcade action and more sim-like elements, Nigel Mansell’s World Championship is a racer well worth giving a shot today — even if its cover star is no longer part of today’s racing seasons!
Lamborghini American Challenge
Titus’ output on both home computers and consoles was, it’s fair to say, more than a little variable in terms of quality — but their Lamborghini American Challenge ended up being one of the best racing games for Super NES thanks to its impressively smooth scrolling and animation, fun gambling metagame and excellent music.
Interestingly, if you play the game with either a Super NES Mouse or Super Scope attached, you can shoot your opponents instead of competing against them by betting. I have a feeling this probably wouldn’t fly in a licensed car game today, so enjoy it here!
Super Chase H.Q.
Taito’s Chase H.Q. series was primarily known as a third-person vanishing point-style racer with a significant combat element, but this Super NES exclusive version was based on the lesser-known sequel Super Chase: Criminal Termination, which unfolded from a first-person perspective. The result was one of the best racing games on the Super NES — and one of the most distinctive.
In Chase H.Q., each stage unfolds in two distinct phases: racing to catch up with a criminal, then ramming the criminal off the road. The way in which Super Chase H.Q. transplanted this to a first-person cockpit view was quite unlike anything else at the time — and its high-speed action is still very enjoyable today.
What do you think are the best racing games for the Super NES? Let us know down in the comments or via the usual social channels! And if you enjoy your 16-bit racing action, don’t forget to check out our ever-popular Top 10 Sega Mega Drive racing games article, too!