The rapid development of mobile technology, though, has meant that the mobile racing genre is now hotly contested and - more importantly - home to some absolutely corking examples.
We thought that now would be an excellent time to look at the genre and pick out ten shining examples of the mobile racing arts. Along the way we’ll reappraise a few old (that’s anything over six months of age in the fast-moving world of mobile games) favourites in light of recent developments. We’ll also present a few left-field alternatives to the usual batch of slick urban racers.
What would make your top ten racers list? Let us know in the comments section below.
Top 10 mobile racing games
Fast & Furious (I-play)
It tends to be the rule nowadays that great films make for terrible video-game tie-ins. Happily, the reverse can also be true. Fast & Furious takes a fairly unremarkable film and shapes it into an unmissable high-octane racer.
The portable racing specialists at Firemint have been very smart with Fast & Furious, using the film’s loose plot to incorporate various tasks, such as ramming a tanker off the road or performing the most reckless drifts possible. Combined with a slick game engine and killer presentations, Fast & Furous really stands out from the pack.
Asphalt 4: Elite Racing HD (Gameloft)
Asphalt 4 continues the steady improvement of the series to present a remarkably complete arcade racer. The tasks are varied, including some satisfying car combat sections, as are the means with which you tackle them (vehicles come in a number of two and four wheeled flavours). Stages now have a more expansive feel to them to cater for the sheer quantity of on-track incidents.
Other than a kinder difficulty curve and a slightly smoother game engine, it’s difficult to see where Gameloft can improve its flagship racer - but we’re sure it’ll manage it. It always does.
Rally Master Pro (Fishlabs)
It’s been nine months since we reviewed Fishlabs’s rallying opus. Nine months since we raved about its slick engine, beautiful handling, large number of tracks and all-round ace-ness. Nine months since it became the only mobile racing game to receive a Pocket Gamer 10 out of 10.
Nine months is a long time in mobile gaming, and there have been some strong additions to the racing genre - many of which are on this list. Does Rally Master Pro still stand out?
Yes, it most certainly does. Though some games on this list may arguably have caught up graphically, none of them deals with car handling on a digital mobile thumb-pad as well as Rally Master Pro.
That alone is enough to keep Rally Master Pro top of the pile.
Need for Speed Undercover (EA)
Need For Speed on mobile has always boasted one of the best cornering mechanics in the business, turning each sharp bend into a veritable mini-game as you struggle to keep the slide gauge that pops up centred. It makes a return in Need for Speed Undercover, the best and most feature-packed of the series.
Along with the trademark NFS sense of speed you’ll find plenty of content - circuit races and speed camera challenges sit alongside destructive bounty missions. There’s also a stylish Slo-mo feature for nipping through the tightest gaps.
Suffice to say your need for speed will be well and truly sated here.
Crash Bandicoot Nitro Kart 3D (Vivendi)
A bit of a departure from the aggressive, bumper-to-bumper ‘proper’ racers found elsewhere on this list, Crash Bandicoot Nitro Kart 3D takes its place by virtue of being tremendous fun.
It’s a blatant rip-off of the Mario Kart template made popular on consoles and handhelds, but it gets the formula just about spot on. The karting genre is also slightly less prevalent on mobile, so Crash fills the hole admirably.
A good selection of colourful tracks, a gang of likeable characters and some suitably potent power-ups combine with excellent presentation to make this a refreshing alternative to the legions of urban racers out there.
Stunt Car Racing: 99 Tracks (Digital Chocolate)
You may wonder what a game like Stunt Car Racing is doing on this list – it is, after all, a 2D experience concerned more with outlandish stunts and tricks than with going fast. Ultimately, though, its place is assured due to the familiar central aim of getting your vehicle to the end of each track as quickly and efficiently as possible.
It’s also dead good, with a perfectly judged risk-reward system that nudges you toward ever more outrageous stunts, in spite of the dangers involved.
If you’re after a quirky alternative to the serious racers, but find the likes of Crash Bandicoot just a little too cute, give this a whirl.
Rally Stars 3D (EA)
With Rally Master Pro already on the market, we didn’t envy EA in the lead-up to the release of Rally Stars 3D. While it doesn’t match Fishlabs’s masterpiece in terms of overall quality (not much does), it boasts a unique feature that makes it worth a purchase even if you already own that illustrious game.
This unique feature comes in the shape of a gear-change system, requiring well timed shifts to maintain optimum speed. Allied to a solid game engine, varied track design and some impressive visuals, Rally Stars 3D is well worthy of your consideration.
Moto GP ’08 (I-play)
Bikes have always been a little neglected in the video games industry, and when they do get represented it’s usually on the off-track stunt-filled side of things. Which is a shame, because, as Moto GP ’08 shows, you can’t quite beat the speed and intensity of haring around a track with nothing more than two tiny areas of rubber keeping you upright.
Of course it also helps that Moto GP ’08 nails the experience so well, wisely sacrificing visual flair for speed and smoothness. This is tight, intuitive mobile racing at its best.
NOTE: you might want to hold off, though, as Moto GP ’09 is imminent
Another of our alternative picks, R.U.S.H. has you racing against nothing but the clock and your own nerves as you weave in and out of traffic on a collection of busy motorways.
Though it borrows heavily from the likes of the Burnout series, developer Qplaze has wisely opted to zoom the view out, offering you a birds-eye view of the vehicular carnage.
As a result R.U.S.H. is a quick and slick experience that makes up for its lack of nuance with some fine arcade thrills and spills. A perfectly weighted mobile racing experience.
Ferrari GT Evolution 3D (Gameloft)
Provided you overlook the ill-advised career detours, Ferrari GT Evolution is a joyful game of wish fulfilment, serving up a collection of gorgeous modena-built dream-machines and allowing you to race them on a bunch of sunkissed tracks.
It’s one of the most attractive mobile racers on the market, and its handling is as tight as you’d expect from a game sporting the Ferrari badge. Sure, it lacks the depth and consistency of a number of the alternatives on this list, but GT Evolution definitely has that almost indescribable Ferrari magic.