Mario Kart Tour, released earlier this week for Android and iOS, is…bad. Not only is it a pretty poor representation of the console game, it’s packed full of the worst kind of mobile microtransactions—including a monthly subscription.
To be honest, it’s hard to find a mobile racing game that doesn’t feature this kind of BS. But we’ve found a few diamonds in the rough: solid, fun racers that won’t demand you pay through the nose for the privilege of playing a new level without waiting six hours. Check them out below.
This stylish single-player racer is inspired by the simplistic arcade driving games of the 80s. While it’s a basic setup, the execution is incredibly smooth, with sharp graphics and tight controls even in touchscreen-only mode. The game’s cars are recognizable even if they’re not official (I can’t believe it’s not Bugatti!), and dozens of different tracks across various environmental zones keep things fresh.
While Horizon Chase doesn’t support multiplayer (you’ll need the expanded console version for that), it’s a wonderful distillation of the essential elements of the genre. All you need to worry about are your lines, passing, and the most strategic locations to use nitro. If you’re looking for something more technical, Horizon Chase also supports external controls. It’s free to try, and just $3 to upgrade to the full version and unlock all cars and tracks.
Crazy Taxi Classic
The original Crazy Taxi hit the arcades in 1999, becoming an instant classic with its fresh, bite-sized sessions of insane city driving. It’s been often imitated (including SEGA’s ill-advised mobile remakes), but the first release is still the best way to experience the frantic and surprisingly skillful driving game. It’s available as “Crazy Taxi Classic” on both Android and iOS, a free download with a $2 in-app purchase to get rid of the ads.
Newbies will think that Crazy Taxi is limited to vehicular chaos on crowded San Francisco streets, and that’s certainly the initial appeal, perfectly paired with 90s punk music and snarky drivers. But spend a little time on the maps—especially with an external controller or output to a TV—and you’ll find there’s surprising subtlety in weaving through traffic and setting up a run for the best customers. It’s something no true racing fan should skip, if only for their gaming education.
Reckless Racing 2
Reckless Racing was one of the early standouts for touch-driven mobile racers, enabled with a top-down perspective, a simple one-touch control scheme, and appealing graphics that put the muddy, grungy setting to good use. The sequel improves upon the original in pretty much every way, with more cars, more tracks, more options, and better sound and graphics.
The genius of the setup is that you control only the steering, and only in the direction of the current turn, with a single tap. It makes the quick races and time challenges easy to get into, but hard to master. More complex controls are available once you’re ready for them. Reckless Racing 2 has all of its cars and tracks available from the $1.50 initial purchase, though you can buy in-game currency in increments of up to $10. It’s a limited compromise, and later entries in the series abandoned it for a full free-to-play model, which is why we recommend sticking to the second game.
Thumb Drift applies some driving chops to a more casual-friendly setup, with a single-player vertical game setup and left-right controls that control only your floaty drifting movement. Despite the simplistic framing, the game has some surprisingly technical racing action. It’s underpinned with basic 3D graphics that are nonetheless faithful to the officially-licensed classic and modern sports cars. There are over a hundred to collect, in a manner that’ll be familiar to players of casual games like Crossy Road.
The game is free to play, with new cars unlocking on a timer and ads interrupting play at fairly frequent intervals. Ads can be banished with just $2-3, with permanent accelerators available for another dollar or two.
On pretty much the opposite side of the casual–hardcore divide is GRID Autosport, a full port of a highly technical console racer. This game strives to be the absolute tip-top in terms of accurate racing, from the graphics to the controls to the physics of its 100+ real-world race cars.
Mobile players might find the controls frustrating if they don’t have a controller, though it’s possible to play with a touchscreen. But with a Bluetooth controller and the simulator-style cockpit view enabled, racing doesn’t get any better on a phone or tablet. The game is a hefty $10 on iOS (an Android version is “coming soon,” but it has been for quite a while), with a few special edition cars available as permanent expansion purchases for a few dollars more.