It’s that time of year again and I find myself racing toward another birthday and to the ripe-old age of 31. In celebration I thought why the hell not have a racing themed countdown – so here we are, counting down 31 racing games that have defined my enjoyment of the genre over the last 31 years. Enjoy!
Last year in my 30th birthday countdown, I wrote about Jaguar XJ220 mainly to avoid gushing uncontrollably about Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge. No such luck this year because Lotus is getting the praise it well and truly deserves. I hesitate to call Lotus the best arcade racing game of all time – although it is somewhere up there – but it does earn the title as my favourite Amiga 500 racing game. And if you’ve been following the countdown thus far, that is certainly no easy feat.
Functionally, there really isn’t much the separates Magnetic Fields’ classic racer from games like the aforementioned Jaguar XJ220. Gameplay takes place from behind the car, and like most of the best racers of the era, Lotus uses the same fake tricks to make it seem like you’re driving in a thoroughly 3D space. You’re not of course, but at the time, you’d have been hard-pressed to find anyone who knew as much.
And that’s largely because Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge looked absolutely spectacular. Unsurprisingly, Lotus is still one of the best looking games to come out of that tranche of Amiga 500 games, and even by today’s standards is a bloody attractive looking game. Tracks were super detailed with often track-specific decorations on their side, and the 20 cars on track (and often onscreen at any one time) – although all white – were far in excess of what you’d expect from a game of the era. Compared it its console competitors – Top Gear for the SNES comes to mind – Lotus simply blows them out of the water, both looking and moving better than anything the 8-bit and 16-bit consoles had going on at the time. Of course after the success of the original on both 8-bit and 16-bit home computers, its sequels made their way swiftly to the 16-bit consoles of the day.
So Lotus was beautifully presented both in and outside of races – somewhat of a modus operandi of developer Magnetic Fields. But it also happens to be the first time I can remember thinking how ‘smoothly’ a game ran, running at about as close to 60 frames per second as i’m sure a game of its time could, although that roughly halved in multiplayer, which for mine is where the game is really at its best. Clearly the developer felt the same way, and even in single player, the game is always played on half of the screen. While i’m sure this was largely technical in nature, it did send the message that racing against your brother or sister was the way it was ‘meant to be played’. Luckily I had those in ready supply, so split screen Lotus was a staple of multiplayer gaming in my household in the early 90’s.
Released a couple of years later, Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge 2 was a significant improvement on the original game, both from a technical and a gameplay standpoint. But despite the ambitious gameplay changes made – checkpoint racing and weather effects in Lotus Turbo Challenge 2 and track editing in Lotus 3: The Ultimate Challenge – they never quite matched the pure innovation and spectacle of the original game. So while all three games are absolute racing gems, it is still the first game that remains the unmatched pinnacle of the series, and still one of the best arcade racers ever made.
Did you take to the road in Lotus like Ayrton Sendup? Perhaps you won as many races and Allain Phosphate? Tell me about your Lotus memories in the comments! And be sure to check out past games in the countdown below.
#31: Stunt Car Racer #30: Badlands #29: RVF Honda #28: Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge #27: Nitro #26: Super Grand Prix #25 Super Cars II #24 Super RC Pro-Am #23 Sega Rally #22 Wipeout 2097 #21 Micro Machines V3 #20 Gran Turismo #19 Need For Speed: High Stakes #18 Colin McRae Rally 2.0 #17 Wave Race: Blue Storm #16 Grand Prix Challenge #15 Project Gotham Racing 2 #14 F-Zero GX #13 Mashed #12 Burnout 3: Takedown #11 Ridge Racer #10 Outrun 2006: Coast 2 Coast #9 Forza Motorsport 2 #8 Motorstorm: Pacific Rift #7 Midnight Club: Los Angeles #6 Dirt 2 #5 Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit #4 Shift 2: Unleashed #3 Sonic All-Star Racing: Transformed #2 Forza Horizon #1 F1 2013: Classic Edition