Are you ready to put the pedal to the metal as we check out the best arcade racing games of all time?
There’s no gaming thrill quite like hurtling at high speeds on an arcade racer. The clock ticking down, the tension ramping up as you dash towards the finish line, bumping into competitors along the way and cursing your mates as the beat you every single time.
I’m looking at you Josh Hardy…
From illegal street races through to explosive track-destroying action with a few Koopas thrown in for good measure, there’s something for everyone in this list, with guaranteed satisfaction for petrol heads and fans of smashing into barriers.
Just don’t do that on the title in the 5th spot, otherwise you might need to buy a new controller from the ensuing rage!
So, without further ado, let’s check out the best arcade racing games of all time and find out which title took the top spot!
10. Need For Speed: Most Wanted (2012)
If we’re starting with Need for Speed Most Wanted, then you know that we’re going to have a stellar list on our hands.
I used to play this game so much with my dad when I was a kid, an arcade racer with so many souping up options that he used to spend so many hours on his account just messing around with decals until the small hours of the morning.
It might not seem it now that other titles have come out, but it was revolutionary back in the day too. Ok, so all the modifying in the car garage felt similar to the previous titles, but the gameplay was just exquisite!
Illegal races are something that I would never do in real life (I’m too fond of not being in prison). So having the chance to destroy cars and property, gambling, and souping up parts bought with illicit money just blows my mind!
The reason why this game isn’t scoring further down is that, while I love it, and I’ve touched on this already, is that it’s a bit of a cross between Pursuit and Underground. It’s amazing but, in my opinion, just not as influential as some of the other titles further down this list.
9. Hydro Thunder (2000)
Hydro Thunder takes our 9th spot on this list of the best arcade racing games of all time!
Imagine a world with super fast, unmanned speed boats flying over ramps and cruising through jungles. That’s Hydro Thunder in a nutshell.
Just make sure you don’t dive headfirst into a tree!
There aren’t many games that take you through a drowned alternative version of New York or around the Arctic Circle in a machine that, let’s face it, is one of the coolest yet most dangerous crafts you’ll ever drive.
And there are a few rides to choose from too!
I remember playing this game down at the arcade in the bowling alley all the time as a kid and racking up high scores every time. It’s as shame my bowling wasn’t as good, but you can’t have everything!
8. Star Wars: Episode 1 Racer (1999)
Admittedly, the pod racing part of Episode 1 was the best part of the whole film. Heck, I didn’t even mind Jar Jar’s annoying tongue part, and that’s saying something!
Star Wars: Episode 1 Racer is without a shadow of a doubt, one of the best arcade racing games and the best Star Wars games to have dropped on the N64. And now that it’s on the Switch, a whole new generation of gamers are getting to enjoy the action!
Pod Racing – it’s fast, it’s dangerous, and it’s probably causes explosions than a lit match in a firework factory.
If you don’t keep your eye on the ball, you will blow up. Hit too many things, and you will blow up. If you can’t drive fast… you get the idea.
Play as Anakin, Sebulba, and tonnes of epic characters from the epic Pod Race, taking crafts out on new courses and feeling ‘the need for speed’ like never before.
I wish that you could put decals on the pods; why has no-one made a Star Ward Pod Racer: Underground Rom Hack yet?
7. Mario Kart 8 (2014)
Come on, everyone knows Mario Kart 8, right? The racing game that first appeared on the SNES then much later brought little plastic Wii Wheels to the table, the couch, and the wall once we’d thrown one over our shoulder won the hearts and minds of gamers everywhere!
But when we played Mario Kart 8, our minds were well and truly blown.
Cars going upside down, more cars and bikes than we’d ever seen before, and a whole ream of tracks that we’re still getting now on the Switch.
What’s your favourite track? Do you prefer taking a trip down Nostalgia Boulevard on Choco Mountain or would you rather brave the delights of Merry Mountain on 200CC?
Mario Kart might not be as ‘gnarly’ as some of the other games further down this list, but it certainly packs a punch and is one of the greatest couch-co-op racer on the Switch.
And, with the epic online Multiplayer mode, me and my friends regularly meet up virtually once a week to see who the battle king or queen is.
Spoiler alert, I’m never in the top 5 contenders for the crown.
6. San Francisco Rush 2049 (2000)
San Francisco Rush 2049 dashes headfirst into the 6th spot on our list of the best arcade racing games of all time!
Ok, so I might have made a big deal about how exciting it was when we first saw cars going upside down on Mario Kart 8, but it was happening a long time before in 2049.
Well, 2049 is in the future, but you know what I mean!
As it’s a futuristic racing game, you would be right in assuming that there are some futuristic cars throwing themselves around these tracks. Instead of taking the curves on the famous Lombard Street, just speed into the air and race from top to bottom!
2049 originally began life as an arcade title with 8 machines side by side. How ace is that! It’s like the ultimate couch co-op battle, except you’ve all got your own machine!
While I never had this experience in my own home, I did have the pleasure of playing this game on the Dreamcast for hours at a time, listening to epic tunes all the while and getting more air than an albatross.
5. F-Zero X (1998)
Can you remember the first time you ever played F-Zero on the SNES? That game was the fastest, most radical thing that we’d ever played, until F-Zero X knocked it out of the water.
Death isn’t just a threat on this game; it’s almost always a guarantee! If you hit the sides too much and run out of energy, you’ll explode and it’s game over.
So, no pressure then!
The courses are so high-speed that it makes 200CC on Mario Kart feel like crawling along at snails pace.
And let’s not forget that this was the very first time that players could see a proper 3D F-Zero experience too.
And the Death Mode is utterly incredible – you’ve got to destroy all the other racers in order to win. If that doesn’t fill you with excitement, then nothing else on this list will!
4. Crazy Taxi (1999)
If we’re making a list of the best arcade racing games, then Crazy Taxi has to be on it. The ultimate stressful taxi driving game where the clock is always against you and you’ll always be sat on the edge of your seat.
Back when this title dropped on the Dreamcast, it was one of the first 60fps games on the market. And it looked so sweet that we could hardly believe our eyes.
Pulling off massive jumps, getting those time bonuses, and most importantly, getting people to their destinations on time. It was such a fun game that turned a simple concept into a rollercoaster ride of stressful emotions.
Anything really does go in this game; it doesn’t matter if you go up onto the curb or head the wrong way in oncoming traffic. People have two choices – either get out of your way or suffer the consequences!
3. Burnout Paradise (2018)
Burnout Paradise Remastered takes the 3rd spot in our list of the best arcade racing games of all time, an explosive racer with thrilling Takedowns and the superb drag races that made this series of games so popular with racing fans everywhere.
Plus the fact that it runs at a tasty 60fps means that the visuals really do feel like you’re playing in a wonderful Paradise City. I guess the clue is in the name, right… maybe Axel Rose was on to something back in the 80s?
The action in Burnout Paradise is non-stop too. And if you want destruction, then you’ve come to the right place. It might look like a tropical destination filled with everything you want in your life, but it’s actually one of the most brutal Burnout games going.
Which only makes it even better!
Just wait till you get into the Showtime Mode and start making the most beautiful, serene crashes you’ve ever seen. Yes, that does sound a little dark now I read it back, but trust me – they’re a work of art!
Drive to survive in a mode where you have to keep your car intact, pull off cool stunts, or just race like a normal person when you need a break. It’s got everything a person could ever need!
2. Forza Horizon 5 (2021)
It was a tough call, but I’ve put Forza Horizon 5 in the second slot on our list. If there wasn’t an arcade racer 11 years its senior that I absolutely loved, them it might have taken the top spot.
Still, as it is, second place really isn’t that bad!
The one thing that you need to know about Forza Horizon is that its an open world racing game.
No, it’s not like Geralt of Rivia wandering through the forest lands in a sports car, but it does give you the chance to fly through a fictional version of Mexico exploring different tracks and trying your skills behind the wheels of different cars in some of the most luscious places known to humankind.
An open world racer is something different compared to the usual Forza style of gameplay, which is why fans found the change refreshing. It’s always a risk when you mix up a formula that is so ‘tried and tested’, but this one seriously paid off!
1 Split/Second (2010)
The results are in, but don’t think that I made a rash Split/Second decision putting this one at the top of our compendium.
See what I did there?
Yes, Split/Second is the best arcade racer of all time, and it’s one of the most exciting driving games that we’ve ever played.
That’s a tall statement, I know, but it’s the truth!
How many of you have looked at the cover closely. See the Disney Logo? No, it’s not a photoshop trick. One of the most exciting, dangerous, sneaky, and tense driving games of all time is actually a Disney title.
Who would have thought it!
It’s not a case of racing with Pluto or Daisy Duck either; this game features swish-looking cars that players use to pull off epic moves and wild drives that would have you locked up in a matter of seconds if someone caught you.
Once players fill up a power gauge, they can interact with the track by making massive explosions that can change the turn of the game in a (you guessed it) split second. Block off areas of track, open up new areas, and squash your opposition!
Yes, Split/Second takes the top spot in our list of the best Arcade racing games, and I have a strong feeling that It will stay there for many more seconds yet!
This article may contain affiliate links. If you use these links to purchase an item we may earn a commission. Thank you for your support.
Seb Santabarbara has bought every Nintendo console that has ever been released in his 31 years on Planet Earth. His favourite game franchise is Zelda, and he’s patiently waiting for Banjo-Kazooie to come back to the fold. When he’s not playing games, he’s travelling the world in his self-converted camper van.