Racing is one of the purest forms of competition, and as such it naturally translates to video games pretty well. And, while some games strive for realism and require a deep understanding of the game’s mechanics for players to succeed, others try to keep things simpler—which are perfect for playing with friends.
You don’t want to get everyone together to play a game where tens or even hundreds of hours of experience are necessary to have a great time. This doesn’t mean there can’t be any difficulty to the mechanics, but the controls should be easy enough to understand that new players can at least finish the race.
Besides having simple controls, games in this genre also typically have a chaotic side. Items, twisting tracks, and intimidating hazards make races feel more alive and can help balance the playing field between experienced and novice players.
Being able to play with friends was our main goal here, so all the games on this list will support some form of either local or online multiplayer. We’ll also mention whether each game supports crossplay in case your friends are separated between various consoles.
So, with that said, let’s get racing.
The One You Already Know: Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (Switch)
What’s there to say about Mario Kart? It’s practically the mascot of this genre, has sold millions of copies, and its simple-to-play chaotic formula is often used as a blueprint for other games. The latest, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe ($59.99), is definitely the most polished game in series, featuring a fun but not frustrating item balance, beautiful courses, and a unique antigravity mechanic. If you own a Switch, you likely already own Mario Kart 8 Deluxe; if you don’t, it’s one of the best games you can buy on the console.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe supports both 12-player online play and 4-player split-screen local multiplayer.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe - Nintendo Switch [Digital Code]
The latest and greatest in a series renowned for its polish and fun-factor.
Fast-Paced Team Action: Team Sonic Racing (Switch/PC/PS4/Xbox One)
If there’s one part of the Sonic franchise that’s managed to stay consistent over the past decade it’s been Sumo Digital’s racing games. The previous two entries, Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing and Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed, are also both great games worth picking up (if you’re on PC), but 2019’s Team Sonic Racing is the easiest to get your hands on.
As the name suggests, Team Sonic Racing introduces a unique team mechanic where you race alongside two other players to defeat the other teams. You share items, boost off each other’s trails, and charge a super-boost meter that all three team members use at once. It introduces a surprising amount of cooperative strategy to a genre usually devoid of it (but you can play in a more traditional versus mode if that doesn’t sound appealing). Add in a decent campaign mode and some fantastic music, and you’re in for a good time here.
Team Sonic Racing supports both 12-player online play and 4-player split-screen multiplayer (teams can only have up to 3 players though which is a bit annoying), and is available on Switch, PC, PS4, and Xbox One. Crossplay is not supported.
Reimagined Classic: Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled (Switch/PS4/Xbox One)
It’s always great to see to a classic game brought to the limelight by a modern remake—and that’s exactly what developer Beenox did with Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled. Including 40 tracks, 56 playable characters, a campaign mode, and customizable carts, Nitro-Fueled is probably the most content-rich game here—and it’s still receiving content updates.
Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled does have some more advanced mechanics compared to most of the games on this list, but it still manages to be easily enjoyed—even if you can’t figure out how drifting works. The game also looks beautiful, with top-notch environments and animations.
On-Foot Chaos: Speedrunners (Switch/PC/PS4/Xbox One)
Speedrunners switches things up considerably compared to the rest of this list—it’s a sidescroller and features on-foot races. Regardless, Speedrunners still features the same frantic chaos that makes the rest of the games here so enjoyable.
Play as a wacky cast of characters running, sliding, climbing, and grappling throughout minimalist stages full of hazards. The controls are simple to figure out but be careful, one mistake can easily send you hurtling off the screen into elimination. It’s a great time and is sure to lead to a lot of tense moments.
Not a Simulator: F1 Race Stars (PC/iOS)
Developer Codemasters is responsible for some of the best racing sims of all time with games like DiRT Rally 2.0 and F1 2019. But it promptly threw that experience out the window for F1 Race Stars because this game isn’t a simulator in the slightest. You race on twisty tracks with loops and ramps, use items to fight your enemies, and race in the go-kart equivalent of an F1 car.
It’s pretty by the books for this genre but that doesn’t change the fact that you’ll have a great time here.
Indie Darlings: Super Indie Karts (PC)
As you may have guessed from the title, Super Indie Karts ($14.99) features a varied cast of characters from various indie games like Freedom Planet, Mutant Mudds, and Guacamelee. The gameplay is styled after older kart racers like Mario Kart 64 and the visuals back that up.
Even with this focus on what came before though, Super Indie Karts still manages to modernize things with tighter controls and stylistic visuals. The game was originally kickstarted in 2014, and is actually still under development in Steam’s Early Access program. There is a planned 1.0 launch later this year though, so if you don’t like buying Early Access games, you won’t have to wait too long—although expect a price jump when it does hit 1.0.
Super Indie Karts supports 4-player split-screen multiplayer.
Return to the City: Burnout Paradise Remastered (Switch/PC/PS4/Xbox One)
Burnout Paradise was already a pretty great racing game, but the 2018 remaster helped bring the game to modern systems alongside improving visuals. For those who never played the original, Burnout Paradise takes place in the large open-world city of Paradise. You complete missions and speed throughout the city to progress through the campaign and unlock cars.
And, while there are plenty of other games that could perfectly match that description, Burnout’s gameplay is what seals the deal here. While the visuals may be comparatively more realistic in Burnout than the other games here, the gameplay is not—races are chaotic and destructive, which of course, just makes them more fun.
Burnout Paradise Remastered is available on PC, PS4, and Xbox One (with a Switch release coming June 19th, 2020) and supports 8-player online multiplayer. There is a form of local play in the game, but all you do is take turns completing missions—not super fun. Crossplay is not supported.
Coming Soon: KartRider: Drift (PC/Xbox One)
While you can purchase the rest of the games here right now, KartRider: Drift hasn’t actually been released yet. This is a follow up to 2004’s Crazyracing Kartrider, which was a free-to-play online-only kart racer and was closed in 2007. But the developers, Nexon, are back at it again with KartRider: Drift which, like its predecessor, will be free-to-play and online-only—except this time with modern visuals and generally improved gameplay.
At the moment, KartRider: Drift is confirmed for a 2020 release and will be released on PC and Xbox One (with crossplay support between the two). Because it’s free, there is no doubt going to be some form of in-game purchases (likely cosmetics), so that’s something to keep in mind. Split-screen multiplayer has also been confirmed.
Overall, KartRider: Drift seems like it’ll turn out pretty good, and considering that it’s going to be free, there will be little reason not to try it out once it releases.