The appeal of the racing game
The racing genre is one of the oldest video game genres around. The first racing game, Space Race, was actually the second arcade game that Atari published. (The first game, obviously, was Pong.) From arcade cabinets to handhelds to consoles to computers, you can find racing games pretty much anywhere. Speed (even the simulated kind) fills the human body with adrenaline. Racing games tap into man’s instincts, and we can’t get enough of them.
Racing games are also pretty popular on mobile devices, with plenty of games to choose from if you’re a fan of the genre. Mainstream racing franchises like Need for Speed and The Fast and the Furious have seen commercial success in the Apple and Android marketplaces. Without further ado, here’s a list of the top 10 best racing games on Android.
10. Earn to Die – $1.49
Full disclosure: Earn to Die isn’t really your traditional racing game. It was originally a Flash game that has since come to mobile platforms, and it’s seen a lot of success. Earn to Die is a distance-based racing game, where you upgrade your vehicle with different weapons and power-ups with the intention of eventually mowing down hordes of zombies. Yeah, it’s a pretty safe formula.
The game has a fairly charming art style that is both retro and detailed. The game offers a lot of variety, and is well-balanced as far as distance-based games are. You never find yourself thinking that the game is impossible, but you still can’t just breeze through it. You don’t really go fast in this game, though, as it often requires a little more strategy from the player than that. Even so, if you’re looking to fulfill both your zombie fix and your racing fix then you should probably look into this one.
9. Smash Cops Heat – Free
Like Earn to Die, Smash Cops Heat isn’t a traditional racing game, either. It’s a top-down racing action game, where you play as a police officer trying to apprehend different enemies. (If you’ve ever played Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, the premise is similar.) You have plenty of technological tools at your disposal to stop the criminal, and when all else fails you can always just hit them.
It may seem like a pretty normal cops-and-robbers style racing game, but SCH earns a spot on this list for its physics and graphics. The graphics are surprisingly impressive for a small game developer, and the physics add a whole other layer of challenge to the game. In some Android racing games, you’ll find that physics sort of go out the window in favor of more “fun” mechanics and simpler gameplay. Smash Cops Heat is a difficult game, which just makes it all the more satisfying.
I also like how the game handles micro-transactions, with the majority of in-app purchases relating to cosmetic changes. If you don’t pay for the game, you never really feel like you’re missing out anything too special. (Though I will admit that the video ads between races can be a little much.)
8. Need for Speed: No Limits – Free
Speaking of freemium payment models, Need for Speed is a racing game series that everyone knows and loves. When they came to mobile devices in 2012, fans rejoiced. No Limits brings a more classic racing experience to Android. To begin with, it’s an arcade-style racer. You don’t have to worry about any whacky physics or maintaining a “clean line”. It’s all about going fast and drifting as often as possible.
At the surface, the game looks pretty basic. Choose different cars to race with, and use in-game currency to upgrade those cars. Upgraded cars means more success in the levels, which means more experience points for the user. More experience points means more unlocked cars, and the cycle continues. However, you’ll find that a lot of the game is locked behind a payment wall.
I wish that I could place No Limits higher on this list, but I can’t justify its payment model, which is so complicated that it borders on greedy. I understand that applications cost money to run, and that this particular game is coming from a AAA franchise. However, this game has so many in-game timers and so many different forms of currency that it’s honestly ridiculous. It’s fun, but it’s not very wallet-friendly.
7. Sonic Racing Transformed – Free
This is a fun one. The Sonic Racing games were released almost certainly as Sega’s response to the smash-hit Mario Kart series. And listen: I’m one of the bigger Nintendo fanboys that you’ll ever met. I’ve loved their games since I was a little kid. And I really, really enjoy Sonic Racing.
In Sonic Racing Transformed, you’re able to play as multiple different Sega characters. These characters then use different vehicles in races. You can obviously race in cars, but the game also has maps that allow you to race with boats and planes. You can pick up power-ups in these races, which let you attack the other racers with different weapons and what not. Basically, it’s Mario Kart, but Sega. The most impressive feature that the game boasts is its online multiplayer, which is surprisingly functional.
The biggest issue with the game is the build quality. Sonic Racing is unstable. It tends to freeze and crash, and it takes a few tries to get it to actually open sometimes. It’s a shame, because this is probably one of the more fun Mario Kart clones available on mobile devices. If Sega just made a couple of technical improvements, this game would be a lot more successful.
6. Nitro Nation Racing – Free
Nitro Nation Racing belongs to a specific genre of racing games that are pretty much only popular on mobile devices. Why is that? Well, they’re a little boring. I’m talking about the drag racing genre. In drag racing games, you spend the majority of the time customizing your car. In the case of free apps like Nitro Nation Racing, this often involves micro-transactions. Bleh. Anyway, you customize your car for use in races, which are often more reflex-based than skill based. You accelerate and change gears at just the right time, and you get an edge over your opponent.
Drag racing games are fun and all, and they’re well suited for the mobile platform, but I have always found them to be a little dull. They don’t really feel like racing games to me. They feel like a car game that just happen to have racing elements to them. My own personal opinion aside, drag racing games are very popular. Racing fans love the strategy that comes with tricking out your ride, and they also love the intensity of online racing.
Even though you drive in a straight line instead of in circles, Nitro Nation is one of many drag racing games that Android users can’t get enough of. And like I mentioned, the mechanics of the drag racing game is perfect for a mobile device. The games themselves aren’t very hardware intensive. There’s a lot of strategy involved. You can easily pick up, play for a few minutes, and put down. However, Nitro Nation Racing isn’t the top dog when it comes to drag racing apps. That honor belongs to the next game on this list.
5. CSR Racing – Free
Being released 2 years before Nitro Nation Racing, CSR Racing pretty much pioneered the drag racing genre on mobile devices. Like Nitro Nation Racing, CSR features a wide variety of customization options, to help you more strategically engineer the fastest car that you can. It offers a wider range of customization options which give it a considerable leg up over its competition.
In this customization, there’s heavy integration of in-app purchases. As unfortunate as this is, it’s unavoidable in the drag racing genre. Honestly, though, I think that CSR racing makes in-game currency easier to acquire than other apps do. It’s perfectly possible to play this game without spending any money, although spending money will obviously enhance your experience.
Like all drag racing games, CSR feels more like a rhythm game than a racing game. However, all of your standard racing principles are there. Win races. Upgrade your car. Win more races. The lack of user involvement in the driving can make it feel a bit repetitive, but I still think that this niche genre, as well as its champion, deserve a nod.
4. Need for Speed: Most Wanted – $4.99
If you were disappointed by Need for Speed: No Limits, then this latest installment is for you. Unlike No Limits, which was a mobile exclusive, Need for Speed: Most Wanted is actually a port (sort of) of the wildly popular Need for Speed title of the same name. Similarly, if you’ve felt like none of the other games on this list are real racing games, then this should sate your appetite.
Most Wanted is huge. When everything is all said and done, the application is 2 GB. In the mobile world, this is definitely a feat. And when you open the game, you quickly realize that this size is justified. The game contains a wide variety of maps, vehicles, and customization options. Not to mention, it looks pretty great. The framerate varies depending on your device, but it looks good either way. Most Wanted is probably one of the more realistic racing apps out there, deciding to forgo more “novelty” game types, and instead just sticks to the standard race. To some, this can feel like a bit of a bare experience. There’s something to be said about going back to basics, though, and executing those basics near-perfectly.
Most Wanted is simple, it’s executed well, and it’s to the point. The only drawback? Damn microtransactions again. Upgrades can be purchased via race winnings, or via in-app purchases. It’s really a tough pill to swallow when a paid app has in-app purchases. They aren’t pushed quite as hard as they’re pushed in No Limits, but it’s still pretty bad. If it weren’t for this minute wrinkle, this game would be ranked closer to the top.
3. Angry Birds Go! – Free
Oh, Angry Birds. Within a few years, there won’t be a single aspect of our life that it won’t be sticking its nose into. As someone who hopped off of the Angry Birds bandwagon several years ago, I wasn’t impressed when I heard that they were coming out with a racing game in late 2013. However, when I decided to play the game, I did a complete 180. Angry Birds Go is probably the most fun racing app out there.
I’ll cut right to the point. Sonic Racing Transformed was a Mario Kart clone. So is Angry Birds Go. Angry Birds Go, however, does it all so much better. Customization is deeper. Maps are better designed. The app is significantly more stable. Pretty much every issue that Sonic Racing Transformed had, this game filled in. It’s colorful, it’s fun, and it’s engaging. There isn’t much more that you can ask for out of a free app.
Like seemingly every single other free racing game, Angry Birds Go has in-app purchases, allowing the user to purchase different cars or remove ads from the game. The game also features some pretty blatant product placement. Honestly though, when the game is completely free, and when it’s balanced well enough to prevent it from being pay-to-win, I don’t have any problem with it. I personally don’t think that the game ever feels crippled by its payment model. Hindered? Maybe. But it still stands perfectly well on its own.
2. Riptide GP2 – $1.99
Ah, Riptide. I don’t know about you, but I remember the original Riptide being one of those games that was used to show off Android’s hardware. And with good reason. It was, and continues to be, one of the best-looking racing games out there. The best part? It’s optimized well enough to ensure that it delivers this eye candy, while minimally impacting your system. Some really amazing looking racing games, like Most Wanted, completely drain your battery with how hard it hits your hardware. You don’t really have to worry about that with Riptide.
This game is a little different, in that it’s a water racer. Races all take place on the water, typically with jet skis. The physics for this game are a nice blend of realistic and arcade-y, which makes the game really difficult. I don’t know if I would go so far as to say that the difficulty level detracts from the gameplay, but expect to experience a really steep learning curve. GP2 has a LOT of content, too. From completing the game’s lengthy campaign, to grinding to completely upgrade your vehicle, there is plenty to do.
I would argue that Riptide’s greatest boon, its length, is also its bane in a way. The pacing in this game is just completely off. You can play for months at a time and not really feel like you go anywhere. This, when paired with the high difficulty, can make it a bit of a drag to play. Riptide is a really solid racer, and it’s one of the best around. But it can try to do too much. It’s one of the few games out there that I think is hindered by its own scope.
1. Asphalt 8: Airborne – Free
This honestly shouldn’t come as a surprise. Asphalt has always been one of the most prestigious racing app series available. They’ve been around forever, and their users have grown used to a certain level of quality, fun, and visual beauty. The latest installment of this series is no exception. By its 8th iteration, you can expect that Asphalt pretty much has the racing formula down pat at this point. The controls are intuitive. The game modes are fun. The customization options are deep. The graphics are stunning. It’s hard to find fault in this one.
Airborne’s greatest addition to the feature comes with air stunts. Basically, you fly up a ramp, you can do a trick while in mid-air. (This looks and feels way cooler than I’m describing it, I promise.) These tricks give you an insane amount of points if landed correctly. If you fail, a lot of points are taken away. It’s a very interesting high-risk high-reward mechanics that gives this series an extra thrilling streak. I greatly enjoy it.
With the vast amount of varied content, Asphalt never feels stale like some other racing games out there. Unlocking customization options after you have played for a long time can be difficult, as they become more and more expensive over time. But even if you can’t possibly get the upgrade in front of you, there is still so much that you can do in the app, outside of just upgrading a vehicle. Which seems to be pretty much the crux of some other apps. It’s a game that feels as big as the racing genre actually is, and I admire it for that.