A Rudimentary Guide to Top Down Racer History

Top Down Racers are a racing video game sub-genre that are characterised by their continuous, third person, ‘birds eye’ view. Inaugurated in the 1970s, peaking in prevalence in the 1980s and tapering off in popularity from the 1990s onward, this category possesses a developmental history traversing from arcade to console to desktop to gadget. This accounts for a forty plus year narrative that I will briefly attempt to communicate by highlighting some key releases throughout the decades.

1970s

’74 – Gran Trak 10 was released by Atari for the arcade platform. It allegedly was the first racing video game and utilised realistic controls to emulate genuine driving actions. It was also the first to use ROM chips to store its graphic data. The race track and vehicle were represented using dots, it was single player, and it displayed in black and white.

’75 – Indy 800 was an arcade game with RGB display that was released by Atari, Inc. It had the capacity for eight players who would surround the cabinet concentrically and view the game output on a horizontal plane. It also had an eight channel sound system and featured mirrors that reflected the game play so that onlookers could view the action. The tournament simulated the Indianapolis 500, an annual automobile race.

’76 – Sprint 2 was produced by Kee Games. It was a two player, upright cabinet, arcade game that displayed in black and white and had a two channel sound system. From what I understand, it was the first arcade game to include a microprocessor, which meant it had better graphics and supported more tracks than previous racing games.

’77 – Street Racer was released by Atari for the Atari 2600. It allowed up to four players and provided 27 variations in game structure. In essence however, each of these deviations were virtually the same and involved the player or players having to collect or avoid certain items. The game’s reputation is wrought with bad reviews because of this.

1980s

’80 – Rally X was originally released for arcades by Namco who were also the game’s developers. The single player drives a blue car through a maze and competes against computer controlled red cars to collect flags and earn points. One must avoid hitting the red cars and rocks in order to keep their character alive.

’82 – Sky Jinks was created and published by Activision for the Atari 2600. The game’s concept is to weave a low flying plane through pylons. The player must avoid hitting trees and hot air balloons as this will slow the plane down. Every time a pylon is passed correctly (to the right side of red and the left side of blue), a number on the screen counts down. The aim is to get to zero in the fastest time possible. 

’82 – Grand Prix was designed by David Crane. It was then realised and released by Activision for the Atari 2600. The coloured formula one car designs are lightly embellished with tonal shading. The game has four tracks, ranked with different difficulty levels, and the races are time trials that are apparently very fast paced. Hazards to be avoided in the game are oil slicks and bridge walls.

’88 – Hot Rod was manufactured and released by Sega for arcades. The logistics of game play include maintaining ‘fuel power ups’ and using money earned to buy new tires. The different types of tires relate advantageously to specific tracks. Money can also be spent on new motors, bumpers and spoilers.

’89 – Badlands was conceptualised and designed by Matt Furniss and developed and published for arcades by Atari Games. It is based on the notion of the aftermath of a nuclear disaster and in the game three cars oppose each other in a three lap race, armed with cannons. Collision with cannon fire only slows vehicles down but it is also possible to purchase missiles that will destroy them when hit.

1990s.png

’91 – Micro Machines was developed by Codemasters, based on the toy line by Galoob, and primarily published by Camerica for the NES. Race settings include a kitchen table and games room. In multiplayer mode the action takes place on a single full screen that caters for all contestants. In this setting the race is over when all but one player has been eliminated due to lagging too far behind.

’96 – Death Rally was developed by Remedy Entertainment and originally released by GT Interactive Software for MS-DOS. Players of this game are able to drive through tunnels and under street signs, run over innocent bystanders (at risk of speed deduction and car damage), play with or without weapons, and win money. The original release could accommodate up to four players.

2000s

’02 – GeneRally was created by Hannu Räbinä, Jukka Räbinä, James Burgess and Markku. It is a free game suitable for one to six players. Unfortunately it does not support LAN or online play. The three modes offered are time trial, race and championship. Wear and tear requires occasional pit stops. The game has vast customisation options.

’03 – Mini Racing Online is another freeware game, designed by Vicente Mas Morant, and suitable for PC. There are six track ranks, being General, F1, NASCAR, Micro, Karting and Rally. Several vehicles are available to select, some downloadable from the game’s website, and it is also possible to create your own using programs such as Photoshop or Gimp.

’04 – Turbo Sliders was designed by Antti Mannisto, Shaun Tsai and Jani Penttinen. It was released by Jollygood Games for Linux and Windows. This game is acclaimed for its variety. Though primarily a racing game there are other modes available, such as Battle mode and Punaball (a soccer based game). While there are numerous vehicles, with differing performance abilities to choose from, it is also possible to import your own custom designed tracks and cars.

2010s

’11 – DrawRace 2 was developed for IOS devises by RedLynx and distributed by Chillingo. Prior to the match commencing, the player must designate a racing pattern by mapping out a linear route with their finger. While the race is generating the cars mimic these predetermined patterns accordingly, including the act of speeding up and slowing down. It is a multiplayer game that allows for two to four participants.

’11 – Little Racers was produced by Milkstone Studios. It encompasses four game modes including Quick Race, Custom Race, Championship mode and Multiplayer mode. In Multiplayer mode, up to four local or twelve online players are able to compete. It is supported by Xbox 360, Cloud computing, Windows, OS X and Linux.

’12 – Dust Racing 2D is an open source multi-player game developed by Jussi Lind and supported by Windows and Linux. The objective of the game is to race against your opponents and hopefully finish in the TOP-6 in which case another map will be unlocked. Only an excerpt of the track is visible while racing and it is possible to play in an alternative, two player, split screen setting.

There’s more to this story

As this is only a concise selection of a few of the Top Down Racer video games released since the 1970s to date, I’m sure I have missed some notably entertaining and/or important stepping stones in the sub-genre. If you are well versed or interested in the field of Top Down Racers, let me know in the comments about other significant or fun games I have missed. I will be reviewing a selection of these games in the near future, and posting my findings on this site.

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