The ’80s were such a pure time for video games, particularly the racing game genre. This was long before the physics modeling of Gran Turismo and Forza forever changed the expectations of car racing games. Back in the days of 8-Bit gaming, racing simply meant that you moved your sprite-based vehicle to the finish line faster than the other guy or the artificial “intelligence” scheme. You were not concerned with drafting, apexes, suspension setups, or tire grip. You simply hit “go” or “stop” and enjoyed the ride. This was the most pure and exciting time for racing games as the learning curve was easy and the thrills instantly felt; it was a time when anyone could enjoy racing games without relying on the knowledge of true driving experiences. The best 8-Bit racing video games of the ’80s were those that had precise controls, thoughtful track design, and creative/solid gameplay mechanics.
Rally Bike – Nintendo (1990)
This oft-forgotten gem put players in control of a motorcycle traveling down a vertical-scrolling path with brilliant track design. Although it was released in 1990, the title was released for the NES and clearly in the vein of classic ’80s arcade style racing games.
Super Sprint – Multi-Platform (1986)
Super Sprint was about the most simplistic racing game you could imagine. The player was tasked with guiding a sprite-based F1 car around a series of simple tracks displayed in the overhead view. The game’s tight controls and basic premise made it one of the most addicting ’80s video games. The title graced many 8-Bit platforms, but the 1989 NES version is considered by many to be the best version.
Super Off-Road – Multi-Platform (1989)
Super Off-Road made its way to nearly every 8-Bit system of the day, but the NES and Sega Master System versions were among the best. There were few feelings as good as that exciting moment when the nitro kicked in on your truck.
Micro Machines – Nintendo (1991)
The racing stages seemed juvenile to older gamers, but the creativity of level design was top-notch and all the fun came without a choke hazard warning which is always a big bonus. This was one of the most addictive titles on the NES, which is really saying something since the console was the king of 8-Bit video gaming.
Chase H.Q. – Multi-Platform (1988)
Chasing down bad guys sounds like a solid premise for a game, but the beauty in Chase H.Q. was found in its solid execution. The thrills were non-stop and each level got progressively more challenging, giving it solid replay value.
Cobra Triangle – Nintendo (1989)
Rare took the experience it gained from R.C. Pro-Am and brought it over to the world of speedboats with this classic NES racing game. The action and speed are presented in a stellar fashion, making this one of the most memorable racing type games of the ’80s.
Hang-On – Sega Master System (1988)
Admittedly and obviously, Hang-On was done far better on the more advanced 16-Bit Sega Genesis console, but the Master System did a wonderful job of keeping the key gameplay mechanics intact while also doing a surprisingly good job at conveying the sensation of speed, making this 8-Bit port of Hang-On one of the best racing games of the ’80s.
Excitebike – Nintendo (1984)
Excitebike lacks the behind-the-biker view of Hang-On, but the NES classic has such addictive gameplay that its basic presentation only adds to the charm of the title. The same goes for sound, which is lacking by all objective measures, but is so endearing that you cannot help but love it.
OutRun – Sega Master System (1987)
Sega did a masterful job of bringing home the arcade thrills of this cross-country racing game. OutRun’s sensation of speed was ported very nicely to Sega’s under-appreciated 8-Bit home system. Also, there is just something that is pure ’80s about driving around with a blonde companion in your red Ferrari convertible.
R.C. Pro-Am – Nintendo (1988)
R.C. Pro-Am was an innovative title in its day and the title raised the bar for racing game action. The one-ups that littered the track and creative attacks no doubt inspired the later Super Mario Kart’s gameplay. Those gameplay elements were not just gimmicks though as the actual controls were intuitive and well designed.
Enduro Racer – Sega Master System (1987)
The well-designed tracks and precise game controls made this a solid motorcycle racing game that encouraged players to take advantage of momentum and rhythm. The game’s speed was solid, as well, making it one of the best all-around racing titles on any 8-Bit video game system.
Rad Racer 2 – Nintendo (1990)
Rad Racer brought a true sense of speed to the NES console, but the sequel amplified that speed exponentially with its outrageous turbo-boost. Rad Racer 2 is one of the most iconic racing games of the ’80s due to its addicting nature and groundbreaking speed.
More from this contributor:
The Racing Games that Paved the Road for Gran Turismo: A Look in the Rearview
The Top 5 Racing Games for the Sega Saturn
Retro Video Games: Player Endorsed Football Games from the Pixel Ages