The Best N64 Racing Games

Presented by Adam SarsonSee our other Genre Guides

The Nintendo 64 is known for its high quality games library, and the racing genre certainly played a major role in that. With many different subgenres of racing available, gamers have a plethora of options to get their racing fix on the Nintendo 64. Let's take a look at the best available racers.

Wave Race 64

In the first three months of the N64's existence, Nintendo published certified classics like Mario Kart 64, Super Mario 64, Pilotwings 64, and perhaps the best racing game on the console, Wave Race 64. The concept of Wave Race 64 is pretty simple. Get to the finish line first on your jet ski, while correctly passing through a series of buoys. Correctly navigate the buoys and you'll receive a boost, but if you miss five in a row, you'll be disqualified.

Five modes are present: Championship, Warm Up, Time Trials, Stunt Mode and two-player versus. Four racers are available for use, each with their own defined skills. Each of the nine playable courses have dynamic wave and tide settings, that change during the race, which changes the way you and your racer handle the track. The controls handle very well, with the end result being a game that isn't too easy, or too hard.

Excitebike 64

Nintendo has a way of making people wait a long time for game sequels, and Excitebike is no different. Excitebike 64 is the follow-up to the NES classic that was released almost 16 years prior.

The bulk of the game is located in the Season mode, where you race through 20 tracks in five course intervals. As with the original Excitebike, you can create your own tracks in the Track Editor to supplement the original 20. Other modes of play include Exhibion, Time Trials and Special Tracks, with the latter providing a serious extension on the game's lasting appeal. There are six of these mini-game type events, including the original NES Excitebike.

Diddy Kong Racing

When Diddy Kong Racing was released in November of 1997, many people referred to it as a Mario Kart 64 clone, and that's not far from the truth. History seems to have forgotten Diddy Kong Racing compared to Mario Kart, but when it was released, Diddy Kong Racing was considered the better game.

Ten characters are included, with Diddy, Conker and Banjo being the star attractions. Players can also choose to drive a car, hovercraft or plane, each of which handles differently. There's plenty to do in DKR, with 30 tracks spread out over five worlds.

Each world contains a boss character, which you race against after winning the individual races. Beat the boss, and you are given a Silver Coin Challenge, in which you are required to pick up all eight silver coins and win the race against your AI opponents. Beat all the bosses, and you race them again to pick up amulet pieces, followed by winning a series of races against further AI opponents. Even though some of the tracks are short, this amount of content is really quite staggering.

Mario Kart 64

Five years after racing into our homes on the SNES, Nintendo gave us our Mario Kart sequel on the Nintendo 64. This is a classic case of a game that gets looked upon more fondly now, than it did at the time of its release. MK64 was well received in 1997 by reviewers, but the game roundly gets critical praise from gamers today. Eight Nintendo mascots race on sixteen courses, spread over four cups in Grand Prix mode. Time Trial and versus modes are also present, but the battle mode is especially addicting with up to four players.

Instead of racing to the finish line, the object is to attack other human players with items, destroying the three balloons attached to each player's karts. There are four courses to choose from in Battle Mode, but gather three friends and head to the Block Fort, and you can spend hours beating each other up. The gameplay has the typical Nintendo Seal of Quality attached to it, with tight controls and the computer AI catch up feature when they get too far behind.

Beetle Adventure Racing!

It might be difficult to believe now, but the Volkswagen Beetle saw a huge re-birth in the late 90's. Everywhere you went, it seemed like someone was driving a new Beetle, and as such, Beetle Adventure Racing! was born, and this game is without a doubt, one of the most underrated racers of all-time. The track design in BAR is simply amazing. Six huge tracks are available, with tons of shortcuts on each, and they look great on the N64.

The controls handle beautifully, and despite the fact that the Beetles are the only cars in the game, the sense of speed is tremendous. BAR clearly borrowed a lot from EA's Need for Speed in this regard. There are so many shortcuts and ways to play the game, that you can play each track dozens of times and see something new every time. This amount of variance makes the game feel fresh.

San Francisco Rush Series

Originally a successful title in the arcades, San Francisco Rush made it's debut on home consoles in 1997, adding more tracks and cars. With the Rush series, it's all about speed, tricks, stunts and big air. All three games are great, but the jewel of the trifecta is the final game, San Francisco Rush 2049.

Your standard Circuit Mode has you racing on six tracks, which can also be raced in a Mirror Mode and backwards. There are a bunch of shortcuts on each track, and there are hidden items to be found as well, which unlock items and other goodies.

F-Zero X

Remember when I talked about Nintendo making people wait for sequels, specifically mentioning the Excitebike franchise? Well, you can put F-Zero on that list as well. The smash SNES hit was released in 1990, and outside of a couple Japan-only releases, the franchise took eight years off. That SNES title was definitely a pioneer in futuristic, edge of your seat racing, and the N64 title is basically the original on steroids.

The sheer amount of content is staggering, with 30 vehicles and drivers to go along with at least 24 tracks. I say at least because the first four "Cups" to obtain in GP Race mode contain six tracks each, while the final X-Cup actually generates random tracks each time you play it. How amazing is that? Standard versus, time attack, practice and GP modes are present, but the new death race mode is a lot of fun. You're pitted against 29 other racers, where you must destroy them all to be declared the winner.

With blazing speeds at over 1000 km/h, the game is still easy to play, but in true Nintendo fashion, difficult to master. It never feels frustrating to play, which is a testament to the rock-solid design work here. The most amazing thing about the game though is that there are no framerate hiccups at any point, even with the ridiculous pace the game runs at and the potential of having all thirty racers on the screen simultaneously. Unlike most futuristic racers, there are no weapons. You've got three things to control: boost, break and accelerate.

Wipeout 64

As a society, we have an undying need to compare things. Sports teams, movies, music, and yes, video games. Wipeout 64 faced the unfortunate situation of being labeled as an F-Zero clone, and despite the lofty comparison, Wipeout 64 stacks up very well against Nintendo's high-speed racer.

The biggest departure for the N64 version is that no D-Pad support is present; it's all control stick. The game does have its moments where control is a tad rough, especially in the early going, but for the most part, you'll have no problem handling the controls. The sense of speed is tremendous, on par with F-Zero and in the opinion of some, exceeds it. The presentation is also top notch, and while there are only seven courses (a scant number considering F-Zero's 24), they all look amazing.

Ridge Racer 64

There are few video game franchises that have seen the peaks and valleys of Ridge Racer. Some games have sucked, others have been average, and a few have been great. In the case of Ridge Racer 64, it's the latter. Ridge Racer has always been about how easy it is to pick up and play, and this version is no exception. The trademark blazing speed and powerslides are also present, but you'll have to work to earn most of the vehicles, as only 4 of the 25 are unlocked from the beginning.

The controls are very tight, even from the minute you boot up the game. One you get used to the controls, you'll feel like a pro. The game also looks great, and the framerate never sees any noticeable hits with one or two players, despite the speed at which the game plays.

World Driver Championship

Not quite an arcade or sim title, Midway and Boss Game Studios teamed up to release World Driver Championship in the middle of 1999. 30 unlicensed cars are available to drive on ten tracks based on real world cities like Rome, Sydney and Las Vegas.

The game starts off slow, with some of the higher-paced cars not available in the beginning, not to mention that it's pretty difficult to begin with. Once you get used to the controls and some of the better vehicles become available, you'll start to get far more comfortable.

F-1 World Grand Prix

You'll notice that Paradigm Entertainment is back on this list. Before Beetle Adventure Racing!, the Texas based developer produced an underrated simulation take on the popular Formula One racing league.

The game is based on the 1997 season, featuring all 17 tracks and 22 drivers, with the exception of 1997 F1 champ Jacques Villeneuve, who the game could not license. He is listed in the game, with the not so subtle name of "Driver Williams", in reference to the Williams team that Villeneuve raced for. Four gameplay modes await: Exhibiton (both one and two players), Time Trial, Grand Prix and Challenge. Grand Prix allows you to race the full 1997 season, while Challenge mode gives you specific moments from the 1997 season to race in and defeat.

Each vehicle is customizable before the race begins, and based on the track and weather conditions, there can be a noticeable difference based on the changes you make to your fuel, tires, suspension etc. As with most racing sims, it can take a while to get used to the controls. These cars are meant to handle like the real thing, and once you get a grip on the controls, it's a solid experience. The presentation is pretty good as well, as the developers tried to make it as authentic to the TV viewing experience as possible.

Micro Machines 64 Turbo

If you've never played a Micro Machines game before, it'd be easy to overlook it as nothing more than a little bit of fun with no depth. In a time where top-down, arcade style racers were all over consoles, Micro Machines on the NES was a big hit.

The N64 version was released eight years later, and retained much of the same speed and over the top action that made the series popular in the 8-bit era. The controls are simple, using either the D-Pad or control stick to handle your vehicle, A accelerates, B breaks, R jumps and Z fires your weapons. 32 vehicles are at your disposal of all different types, including boats and toy cars. 48 short tracks await you as you play through two sets of time trials, a challenge mode and the head-to-head multiplayer.

Top Gear Rally and Top Gear Rally 2

Boss Game Studios had quite the reputation for putting out solid racing titles in the mid-to-late 90's, and it started with the original Top Gear Rally in 1997. Saffire took the reigns in 1999 with Top Gear Rally 2, and the two games play nothing like each other.

So, which one's for you? The original is more of a sim experience, while the sequel takes an arcade approach. Both games deliver a good sense of speed and have good controls. I remember playing the original in the late 90's and loving the Paint Shop option available, which allows any car in the game to be customized in every possible way. Graphically, the games are pretty similar, but the nod probably goes to the original, but the length of the TGR2 is far superior to TGR.

Supercross 2000

Definitely the best supercross game on the N64, Supercross 2000 is deep on gameplay modes and authenticity. Four modes of play are available, with single race, practice, freestyle and season. Single race and practice are pretty straightforward, but freestyle allows you to jump in with up to two players with the goal of racking up the most points in a set amount of time.

Prefer a straight racing mode? Play a fully authentic 16-race season on licensed tracks from the EA Sports Supercross Series with any of the 25 real-life Supercross riders. The gameplay is very realistic, with the bikes handling just as you would expect if you were physically riding them.

When making turns, you'll have to slow down considerably to make sure you stay on course. The tracks will also deteriorate as the race wears on, so finding the best path to get to the finish line in first place is a must. There's definitely more of an arcade feel in the three dedicated stunt arenas, where it's pretty easy to pull of the plethora of tricks at your disposal.

Monaco Grand Prix

Let's get one thing out of the way with Monaco Grand Prix: there are no authentic drivers, teams, or cars, but it is loosely based on the 1997 Formula One season. This is usually the kiss of death when it comes to games like this, but Monaco Grand Prix makes it work with good gameplay and a great career mode.

You've got 22 cars and 16 real-life tracks to race on through five modes, and they give you the option of either arcade or sim controls, but the game still tends to be more on the sim side. The bulk of your time will be spent in either Championship or Career mode. Championship has you playing through an entire season mode, while Career mode has you start on a poor team, working your way up through multiple seasons.

Road Rash 64

When gamers discuss franchises that have inexplicably disappeared into the ether, Road Rash is one that usually pops up. The three original games on the Sega Genesis turned into cult classics. I mean, who wouldn't like riding a motorcycle against a group of competitors, while trying to bash their brains in with a tire iron, right?

THQ was tasked with taking the N64 version of the franchise, and it still has the same amount of fun, crazy action that the original series had. Instead of giving you separate tracks, Road Rash 64 has you playing different tracks that branch off from one main map. Each bike has a few differences that change the way they handle in areas such as speed, acceleration and strength.

Weapons play a big part in the game, and you'll have plenty of options when trying to bludgeon your opponents. Bats, wrenches, sledgehammers and even cattle prods are at your disposal, and while each weapon seems similar at first glance, you will find favorites and others you're not so fond of. In the single player, your goal is to win as much money as possible so you can buy better bikes but the multiplayer is great as well.

Indy Racing 2000

Indy Racing 2000 was Paradigm's last racing entry on the N64, and even though it's not as good as their others, Indy Racing 2000 deserves a look. The IRL has never been the powerhouse racing league that F-1 or NASCAR is, but it does have a dedicated following.

All of the official venues, drivers and vehicles are present in Indy Racing 2000, based on the 1999 season. Interestingly, F-1 World Grand Prix was a pretty good attempt at a sim game, but Indy Racing 2000 is kind of a hybrid between arcade and sim. Everything is authentic and true to form, but the game gives you a bigger sense of speed and the more aggressive, "arcadey" type drivers can take advantage without a ton of repercussions.

Top Gear Overdrive

A visual stunner back in 1998, Top Gear Overdrive was released by Kemco in between the Top Gear Rally games in late 1998. Overdrive is a fast, arcade racer that gives you ten cars to start, with an additional five to unlock. None of them are licensed, but a quick look at them gives you a pretty good idea of the vehicles they are copying. Six tracks are available, and they are varied enough due to the weather and lighting effects.

It can rain or snow on any of the tracks, and you can also play them in the day or at night. This is where the game really shines, as the weather and lighting really pop on screen. Nitrous pickups on the course allow you to go even faster, and you can also pick up cash, which can be used to upgrade your car.

Star Wars Episode I: Racer

Based on the pod racing from the Star Wars Episode I movie, it's easy to see how some could say that LucasArts was crazy to release a game based on a few minutes of a critically panned movie, but the game is actually very well done.

An incredible 25 racers, all with their own pods and abilities, are present in the game. The vehicles can all be upgraded by buying parts in the shop, and LucasArts did a good job with the way the vehicles take damage, as different parts of the pods can be affected. Crash into the right side, and you'll be a little more vulnerable going in that direction. When your pod takes too much damage, it can overheat and blow up.

Extreme-G series

You want speed? Extreme-G has you covered. The original game released in 1997 is the better game, but the sequel is also a solid option. The series is set in a futuristic environment, with blazing speed and lots of weapons.

The game looks pretty, but the speed does lead to some issues. First, the framerate gets attacked at a pretty good clip, as the N64 just can't seem to keep up at time with the frantic pace. Secondly, the speed makes the game pretty tough to control, at least when you first start playing. Still though, the game looks good and the track design is interesting, with lots of loops and crazy turns. Despite this, the game still handles pretty well, and the multiplayer is solid as well, with both standard races and battle modes.

LEGO Racers

One of the many Mario Kart clones to be released in the late 90's, LEGO Racers is actually one of the better ones. The biggest positive lies in the customization options, where LEGO Racers lets you assemble both your driver and car. You're given a bunch of LEGO pieces to design with, and the selection increases once you progress further through the game.

There's a storyline at play here, inasmuch as Mario Kart has a storyline, but they do lead to four circuits with six tracks in each. Additional circuits employ the mirror images of tracks, similar to Mario Kart. The controls handle well, and there is a leveling up system with the weapons you use. Each track features a couple of shortcuts, and while they aren't overly difficult, they are fun to race on.

Monster Truck Madness 64

Rockstar is one of gaming's most popular publishers, but they were really just getting their feet wet in the late 90's when they created the Grand Theft Auto series. The N64 was rumored to be receiving a version of GTA, but that never came to fruition. Instead, Rockstar would publish two games for the system, Earthworm Jim 3D and Monster Truck Madness 64.

The goal of Monster Truck Madness is pretty simple: get to the finish line as fast as possible and destroy all of your competitors on the way there. You get to race on ten tracks with twenty licensed monster trucks, including a tie-in with famed wrestling promotion World Championship Wrestling. Launching weapons into your opponents, as well as crashing into them is fun for a little while, but with only Exhibition and Circuit modes, the single player experience can feel a little short.

If multiplayer is more your speed, there are five battle modes as well, with hockey, soccer and summit rumble being the best of the bunch. Soccer and hockey are self-explanatory, as you try to push a ball or puck into your opponent's goal. Summit Rumble is basically a take on King of the Hill, with the player trying to stay at the top of the summit for as long as possible, while others try to knock them off.

Hot Wheels Turbo Racing

As I'm sure you've figured out, Hot Wheels Turbo Racing is not a simulation title. Stormfront and EA did a nice job with this title, taking a recognizable name license in Hot Wheels and made a fun, fast arcade game, full of stunts, jumps and shortcuts.

Automobili Lamborghini

  • Release Date: November 1997 (NA) May 1998 (JP)
  • Developer: Titus Software
  • Publisher: Titus Software/Taito

The sequel to 1993 SNES title Lamborghini American Challenge, Automobili Lamborghini will not wow you like other racers on this list, but it should not be overlooked. Playing as a typical "street racing" title in the vain of the Ridge Racer series, the game gives you eight cars to race with on six tracks. The vehicles are a combination of licensed and unlicensed remakes from "supercar" manufacturers like Lamborghini, Ferrari and Porsche.

Four modes of play are available, with your standard arcade, championship, single race and time trial options at your disposal. The computer AI is pretty intelligent, as they will try to run you off the road, and they even have a setting you can toggle that lets the AI catch up quicker once they fall behind. The graphics and audio are nothing special even for the era, and the controls are a little spotty at times, but the multiplayer makes the title stand out.

Stunt Racer 64

Originally released as a "rental only" title in 2000 by Midway, Stunt Racer 64 is a pretty solid, underrated game. As the name of the game suggests, you perform various stunts across 14 tracks to earn money, which can be spent on upgrading vehicles, or purchasing new ones. In the main contest mode, you are given points for where you finish, with your placing determining whether or not you can advance.

With the unlockable and purchasable vehicles, there are 32 in total, most resembling real-world vehicles. The game handles well, but for a stunt game, it seems like it could have been a little more adventurous with the jumps and tricks.

Roadsters

High-end, luxury car racing isn't exactly the most common of video games, but Titus made it work with Roadsters when it was released in December of 1999. There are 34 licensed and unlicensed cars in the game, the licensed coming from famed manufacturers like Lotus and Alfa Romero.

As with most games, you'll start out with little money and a few cars. Win a few races, and you can buy more cars to race with, each handling a little differently based on their attributes. Roadsters definitely feels like more of an arcade experience than a sim, but there are some nice, realistic touches to the game.

S.C.A.R.S.

Definitely one of the stranger titles released on the N64, S.C.A.R.S. is set way in the future, the year 3000 to be exact, where apparently vehicles based on animals are the norm. There are nine of these animal inspired racers, and you can take them on ten tracks, all of which look pretty good and provide some good variety. You'll race in the mountains, desert and other terrains, with each providing several ways to get to the finish line via shortcuts and alternating paths.

Mickey's Speedway USA

Another cart racer on the N64, and this time it's Mickey Mouse and friends getting in on the action. Having made Diddy Kong Racing three years prior, Rare took that engine to make Mickey's Speedway USA, and the result is a decent game that just can't compete with others in the genre. Eight Disney characters are playable, and as the name suggests, you are racing on tracks throughout major cities across the United States.

Across the board, the game just seems average, with the exception of the controls. It handles smoothly, and is easy enough to jump in and play immediately, which is great considering the license at play. The graphics and sound are colorful and fun, but nothing wows you either.

Hydro Thunder

Who likes futuristic boat racing? Hydro Thunder was a massively successful hit in the arcades in the late 90's, leading to a Sega Dreamcast port in late 1999. The N64 got its version in early 2000, and it actually boasts a major feature that the Dreamcast didn't receive: four-player support, assuming you have the N64 Expansion Pack.

Players have the choice of 13 different powerboats to race on 14 tracks, and the game actually gives you a good sense of realism in terms of how the boats navigate the water. Much like Excitebike, Hydro Thunder is one of the later N64 titles, and it shows graphically. The game is one of the system's better-looking games, and the controls are solid.

NASCAR '99 and 2000

There's pretty much one reason why these games are on this list, and that's because they are the only authentic NASCAR experiences on the Nintendo 64. That's not to say they are awful games, but the highest marks for both titles lie in the fact that EA was able to secure a license for America's most popular racing league.

Both games feature 18 official tracks and over 30 drivers. The vehicles are customizable to your liking, and the full season mode is a nice thing to have for NASCAR fans. The game controls just fine in most instances, but sometimes it feels like it's more of an arcade than a sim, which is fine, but that's certainly not the way it's been promoted. There are some nice audio and graphical touches like the crash sequences, but the occasional poor collision detection can take some of the luster away.

Penny Racers

Choro Q has been a popular franchise in Japan for years, and it made it's debut in North America by way of THQ and Locomotive Games as Penny Racers in 1999. One of many cart-style racing games on the N64, Penny Racers has very clearly targeted a younger audience with the graphical style and colors in both the tracks and vehicles.

The game is heavy on customization, with the ability to design your vehicle, changing tires, the engine, suspension, weapons and more. You can also create your own tracks, which can be used in either versus or time trial modes. In addition to the custom cars and tracks, there are 13 default vehicles to race on 9 different venues.

Cruis'n series

The Cruis'n series is one of the most polarizing franchises in video games. It seems that gamers either love or hate the arcade racer that struggled to find a consistent developer and publisher on the N64. There aren't many differences across the three games, with the later two games incorporating more stunt and trick elements.