The Burning Question: Where have all the arcade racers gone?
There has always been a distinct line between simulation racing games and arcade racers that break the rules and allow you to do everything that should not be possible. Problem is that it’s changed a bit lately. The arcade racing games we have loved for years have all but vanished.
Do you remember Burnout? How about Crazy Taxi? Oh, you’re more of a Ridge Racer kind of person? There were so many arcade racing games to choose from at one point that it was a mechanical oasis filled with gasoline-powered vehicles for any type of racer. Car? Sure. Futuristic hovercraft ships? Yup, Bikes? Of course! Snowboarding? That’s a racing game? Yeah, I think the older snowboarding games were racers more than anything else. SSX, Wipeout, Rollcage, SEGA Rally, Blur, Split/Second, Crash Team Racing, Destruction Derby, Manx TT, Daytona USA, Extreme G, F-Zero GX, Midnight Club, Sonic All Stars Transformed, Sledstorm, Circuit Breakers, Mashed, Wave Race, Micro Machines… and that list goes on and on. Those fantastic arcade racing titles are nowhere to be found. There are other pretenders to the throne like the more recent Fast Racing NEO that launched on the Wii U, but it’s no F-Zero. We also have the Need for Speed series, but it’s not 100% arcade racing frills. Need for Speed today and Need for Speed in the 90’s are two different games altogether.
So what’s happened?
I think ‘We’ happened. Us, the gamers with a thirst for realism. Combine that with the money hunger from publishers and you have your answer.
Think back to titles like Out Run and Super Hang On. Both amazing arcade titles. Not only arcade in terms of the way it played, but also being actual arcade games that had its own arcade cabinet. At the time it was as realistic racing games got. There were some simulation games at the time, but those were generally forgettable and not easily accessible. Games like Out Run and Super Hang-On pushed the boundaries of realism at the time. Though the games were incredibly fun it was what many of us perceived as ‘realistic-looking’ racing games. The closer we got to realism the happier we were. Have a look at it today and we’re so close to realism that we’ve now ended up with a bunch of sim racing games. Project CARS, Assetto Corza, Forza Motorsport 6, Gran Turismo Sport (oh, stop laughing), DiRT Rally and F1 2016. Those are currently considered the top driving games money can buy. Those sell more than arcade games, other than perhaps a Mario Kart here and there, which means developers will push their concepts and ideas to the end of the rainbow where a pot of gold is waiting.
Some games find a balance between realism and arcade. Games such as DriveClub and Project Gotham Racing have done a great job of perfecting this formula. Problem is that DriveClub is no more (the game is still being supported for now), neither is Project Gotham Racing. The Evolution Studios crew joined CodeMasters and the guys over at Bizarre Creations (Blur, Project Gotham Racing, F1. ’95) joined the guys over at Playground Games. That’s right, the Forza Horizon series is as popular as it is for a reason – it’s made up of the best guys who collectively have an amazing racing heritage in the industry. It’s not just Bizarre Creations. There are guys from Codemasters and even Blackrock Studios (Split/Second) who joined the studio. There is still hope. There are still people who are working on games, like Forza Horizon 3, who put fun before everything else. There is however still a very limited number of pure arcade racers. So where has it gone?
Creating a game is an expensive business, no matter how ambitious your racer might be. There are some developers working on a new Wipeout type game for the PC, named Red: Out, and the actual ex-Studio Liverpool crew, who worked on Wipeout since the PS1 days, are now also working on a PC Wipeout-like game named Formula Fusion. But the biggest platform for arcade racers can now be found on mobile phones. Go to the either Apple or Android stores and you’ll find loads of arcade racing games. Most these games have some form of silly microtransactions mechanic tied in to it, but is free to download.
A quick visit to the iOS App store popped up Need for Speed: No Limits, CSR Racing, Asphalt 8 Airborne, Highway Rider, Beach Buggy Racing, AG Drive (a Wipeout clone), Riptide GP (a Wave Race clone), Flashout 3D (another Wipeout clone) and many, MANY more arcade racers at your fingertips. It’s cheaper to develop, gets to way more players and they make more money. It’s a great business model and makes good sense. It does not take away the fact that I REALLY would like to play it on my console. Using motion controls on a mobile phone is not something I enjoy using. Yes, you can buy third-party attachment controllers but it’s still not quite the Dualshock 4 or Xbox One controller.
What is the moral of this story? You’ll have to do with the fact that you’ll get an arcade racer here and there, like Trackmania, Forza Horizon 3 and Mario Kart 8 for example, and love that to bits because there’ll be even slimmer pickings in the future. If a game does not sell well it’s not worth the effort from the publisher and right now arcade racing games are not selling on console. The word ‘arcade’ is being pushed into the museum faster than ever before and those golden days are over.
I guess I just about answered that question, but do you have any other theories? And, do you miss arcade racing games?