I'd never tried Namco's timeless arcade classic in an arcade before it was published as a launch title for Sony's first home console. I knew very little about it, other than brief snippets of the game that were shown off as promotional material for the PlayStation release. However, it would turn out to be a flawless arcade port, for starters. Flawless! And an incomparably entertaining racing game that, on the poorest of premises (two cars, one track - nothing more), kept me entertained for over a year. I played every day. Several hours every day, and I remember how amazed I was by the fact that I never got bored. I quickly learned to flip 360° in the direction of travel to take advantage of the extra boost that came with that manoeuvre, and I quickly learned how to "drift" through pretty much the entire track, eventually stepping into the boss fight against that black car, which was unbelievably fast. The first time I encountered it, I was petrified. "What is this?". Then I beat it, and was rewarded with the opportunity to drive it, which is a racing memory that I hold dear. Imagine if Namco could breathe new life into this game series and pull off a smash hit like the first game - again. What a dream that would be.
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The freedom of Out Run
Yu Suzuki's immortal 16-bit title still stands today as one of the greatest triumphs of the arcade racing genre, and when I think back on it, it's that elusive sense of freedom that stands tall and lingers. I still remember that incredible feeling when I picked "Passing Breeze" (one of the best game songs of all time) and tore up the country roads of Europe in my Ferrari Testarossa. Out Run managed to build atmosphere in a way that no other racing game had before, and a lot of that was down to the fact that producer (and graphic designer, and programmer) Yu Suzuki had been on a road trip through Europe the year before and chose to try and capture that feeling in a racing game. He succeeded, and my memories of it will remain forever.
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Fourth track of the Sega Rally
The first track through the hills and out along the meadows was easy. The second track through the woods was just as easy, but then it got a bit more difficult on track three where we were asked to weave our Lancia through the mountain pass and into that little town. Then there's track four, which was never selectable but only reachable by making it through tracks 1-3, and there the difficulty had been turned up an entire other notch. Seriously! I remember how painfully tight and difficult it was, and how important it was not to let the Lancia's rear end step out too much, because then it would crash into the embankments of the woods. That track eluded me for years, and it wasn't until I'd sunk a hefty amount of coins into the Sega Rally Championship machine at my local arcade that I learned to master it completely, and that is why this gaming memory is amazing to me.
Japanese Gran Turismo
My childhood friend would often swing by one of our classmate's houses to pick up a bunch of LP records, and I remember going along, somewhat reluctantly on time. When we got there and went down into a basement full of expensive stereos and video games, a little guy in glasses was sitting in a huge beanbag chair playing a racing game that I remember being better looking than anything else I'd ever seen. "What is this?". Gran Turismo. Imported from Japan and so amazingly gorgeous that, as an inveterate gaming nerd, I couldn't stop staring at. The guy in the beanbag chair was zooming around the Autumn Ring in a top-trimmed Skyline GTR R32. I remember the wait for the European release being grim, because I'd already seen it, I'd already seen a glimpse of the future of racing a year before it even reached our shores.
First lap of GTR 2
Swedish Simbin put together GTR with Blimey Games (which later became Slightly Mad Studios and would go on to create Project Cars and the Need for Speed: Shift sequels), which turned out great thanks to the Roos brothers and their "real world" experience in the wonderful world of GT3 racing. But it wasn't until GTR 2 that Simbin hit the nail on the head. And what a genre-defining, innovative, incomparably challenging and entertaining racing simulator it was. I'll always remember my first lap with a Logitech G25, pounding around in Henrik Roos' GT3 Viper at Spa, and being so impressed with the car physics in particular, that I just sat there with a beaming grin across my face.
Valparaiso in Wipeout 2097
Psygnosis' magical PlayStation sequel stands on its own as one of the best racing games of all time, regardless of sub-genre or focus. I liked Wipeout but loved Wipeout 2097 and when I think back on it today, thoughts frequently stop at the racing team Feisar and the iconic Valparaiso (Chile) track that was out in the deepest of jungles, surrounded in greenery and with a light brown colour to the surface itself that really made it stand out. I remember the speed, how the music suited the racing perfectly and I remember how immensely challenging it was to set perfect laps in the Piranha class. Hopefully the rumour that Sony is currently working on a lavish PS5 remake of this game ends up being true.
Block Fort in Mario Kart 64
The battle portion of Mario Kart 64 stands out as one of the finest and most well-crafted multiplayer components in any game, ever. I adored it, and fondly remember how three friends and I would battle each other to pop each other's ultra-cute balloons on the legendary "Block Fort" course, which I think is the best Battle course in the game series' long-running history. In the end, after playing this for over a year, we were so even and fast in MK64 Battle Mode that most of the time it was about trying to jump down from a higher altitude and shoot your red shell from the air, in order to pop your buddies' balloons. It made for wonderful memories, in a wonderful game.