Racing gloves and goggles aside, there’s something undeniably appealing about just hopping in a car and putting the pedal to the metal. Unfortunately, there are laws against such things, but Johnny Law can’t touch your appetite to burn rubber on your iPhone. So race over to the iPhone App Store and check these out.
Real Racing ($6.99) is a high-priced, but no-brainer, place to start. With great graphics that produce lush forests, scenic seasides, humid deserts, and most importantly, real cars, the game plays like a light arcade driving simulator. That means the tilt steering is pretty forgiving and shifting gears is automatic, but the challenge instead comes from the super aggressive AI. You must qualify to pass from one track onto the next (and nearly 80 races in total), but you can do it in whatever real vehicle you want. So what if you want to drive a real minivan -- who’s going to stop you? You can broadcast your blazing times directly to YouTube, and also compete locally against another iPod or see how your times stack up against the online leaderboard.
If a minivan isn’t your style, then Need For Speed Undercover ($4.99) definitely is. A grating thrash-rock soundtrack (that fortunately can be disabled) drives home the attitude in this game, as does the violently shaking camera whenever you tilt to steer, but even if you get motion sickness, this game is worth a look. The story is laughable, but in your quest to be a tough bad boy, you have to infiltrate an underground racing circuit. There’s some nice depth in this seemingly thin concept, like levels that require you to run cops off the road and others that are straight-up drag races. Points are awarded for style (a.k.a. narrowly evading death at every turn or intentionally putting yourself in a position to crash), not that a bad boy like you would care.
Horror Racing ($2.99) is just as destructive but not as “extreme.” With roots deeply planted in Nintendo’s R.C. Pro-Am and Super Nintendo’s Rock N’ Roll Racing, Horror Racing is another battle-racing game presented from a three-quarters overhead perspective, only with a stronger monster theme. As a character like a giant eyeball or an evil rabbit, you can troll around gothic-looking courses while other cars compete to pick up weapons left on the track they intend to use against you to jockey for first place. The inability to see your opponents’ health is the game’s sole drawback -- upgrading your car with your winnings gives some nice RPG elements to an already great game.
But racing isn’t limited to just cars. 2XL Supercross ($7.99) is another high-priced but worthwhile purchase that serves as a passport into the world of motocross racing. The bikes handle perfectly here over a handful of different tracks -- not too wobbly over bumps, but not too sturdy while making turns -- but both elements of the game complement each other nicely. The physics and tracks click effortlessly, leaving you free to keep up with your opponents. It’d be nice to allow for executing more tricks, and the controls take some getting used to, but these are minor gripes.
Also expanding the genre on the iPhone is Aqua Moto Racing ($3.99). Yes, it’s basically just a regular racing game with jet skis, but the choppy waters and the need to ease into turns more gently changes up the approach enough that it actually feels fresh and rejuvenated -- much like Wave Race 64 did for the Nintendo 64 in 1996. If you aren’t careful, you’ll go careening over the handles, but the controls are responsive enough to assure that if it happens, that’s your fault. Aqua’s lack of onscreen maps while racing can be frustrating, forcing you to rely solely on the buoys to guide the way, but that’s really the game’s sole drawback.
Speaking of Nintendo, it’d be impossible to go for a race without spending some time with some of Mario Kart’s go-kart-racing descendants. Crash Bandicoot Nitro Kart's ($2.99) easy difficulty, bland music, and blocky graphics are hardly up to the task of carrying the torch. It also doesn’t help that its steering is so mindless that it’s nearly therapeutic in its soothing ease.
But racing games demand involvement. Surprisingly, Shrek Kart ($4.99) delivers on nearly all fronts. It makes no qualms about its “Mario Kart” mimicry, but if it ain’t broke, why fix it? From the item boxes to the power-up boxes and same ability to hop and drift through turns for a speed boost, Shrek Kart is, for all intents and purposes, Mario Kart Jr. Instead of the Mushroom Kingdom, you’re racing as the titular green ogre or any number of his compatriots to raise funds so Humpty Dumpty can be put back together. But with unlockable characters, challenging AI, arena-battle tracks, and plenty of levels, it’s better to just sit back and enjoy the ride. Humpty shoulda thought of those risks before he got on the wall.