A Look at All of the Racing Games Available on Vita - ArticleAdam Cartwright , posted on 11 November 2018 / 8,429 Views
This is the fourth entry in a series of articles I’m writing that will look at all of the games available in a particular genre on the Vita. The articles will highlight all Vita-native games, as well as any backwards-compatible PSP and PS1 titles that can be downloaded in English (i.e. from the EU or NA stores), and will include some commentary on how well those games run on Vita and whether they fill any missing gaps in the library.
The racing genre has always felt like a perfect fit on handhelds, thanks to offering bite-sized sessions and being able to hide technical flaws behind blistering speeds and enclosed environments. It provides a large amount of variety too, from immersive sims to light-hearted kart racers (and my personal favourite, drift-heavy arcade racers!), meaning there’s usually something for everyone to enjoy.
Anticipation was high that the Vita would follow in the PSP’s footsteps as a handheld offering an unrivalled selection of racers, from muddy WRC titles to the clean racing lines of Gran Turismo. Beyond the initial months things didn’t quite pan out like this, but there’s still a nice spread of games available to cater to anyone’s tastes – and thanks to the addition of backwards-compatibility with PSP and PS1, the Vita ends up with possibly the largest selection of any console in the last 10 years, even if it's not all running natively on the hardware.
Often cited as one of the best portable racers ever made, WipEout 2048 is a stand-out launch title that still shines to this day, offering a brilliant culmination to a series which has been around since the launch of the original PlayStation.
Providing console-quality graphics that were a fantastic showcase for the newly-launched hardware, the title didn’t slouch in the gameplay department either, featuring fast and frenetic futuristic racing with a heavier focus on combat than ever before (showcased brilliantly in new modes that required you to destroy as many opposing ships as possible). It also packs in all of the content from HD/Fury via paid dlc, providing two whole new campaigns and plenty of extra challenges to tackle, making it one of the most content-rich games on Vita.
Another longtime Sony-loyal franchise (Ridge Racer) also showed up early on, but it came in the form of an unusual package that was the polar opposite of WipEout. Rather than providing the full game out of the box, a bare-bones initial release (at a discounted price) was followed by multiple pieces of paid DLC, which infuriated reviewers and turned off fans (although I personally quite enjoyed it). Asphalt Injection also offered an overpriced package at launch, driving many into the arms of WipEout, but it can be enjoyable just for some cathartic Burnout-inspired car smashing.
If you’re looking for a better arcade racer with a long history, you’d be well advised to try out Need for Speed: Most Wanted, Criterion’s open-world masterpiece that was somehow crammed onto Vita, fully in tact. As with Asphalt, it took Burnout sensibilities and applied them to a Need for Speed template of evading police, triggering speed traps, and smashing through billboards. It offered a one-of-a-kind handheld experience at the end of 2012 and remains one of the Vita’s best titles.
Kart racers also received decent representation. Modnation Racers: Road Trip allows you to create your own tracks (the ability to share these is now removed, however, as a result of the servers going down) and although reviewers were disappointed by the lack of multiplayer, it offers arguably the best single-player content in the series to date and can be a lot of fun. A cash-in on the Ben 10 IP was also available at launch, named Ben 10: Galactic Racing, but sadly it offered a very stilted experience and isn’t really worth your time unless you’re desperate for another Vita game.
By far the most accomplished and enjoyable kart racer out there is Sonic & All-stars Racing Transformed, a crossover title featuring numerous characters from the Sonic games and a variety of other classic SEGA franchises. It was a brilliant port that condensed the full console experience down to a handheld and the game itself was seen by many as the first true competitor to Mario Kart in decades (plus, it did well enough to spawn an eventual sequel years later). Alternatively, you could try out Table Top Racing from Playrise Digital, which harkens back to the days of toy-car based titles like Micro Machines, although sadly it’s quite repetitive and was superseded by a more complete PS4 version.
Vita also got its fair share of hybrid racers that offered fairly unique experiences. Take for example Motorstorm RC – an isometric radio-controlled car game reminiscent of Rare’s classic R.C Pro-Am that provides some cheap and cheerful thrills. If you’re more of a fan of slot-car racing then HTR+ Slot Car Simulation might be for you, while Switch Galaxy Ultra provides a unique idea (lane swapping and dodging barriers, clearly heavily inspired by WipEout‘s zone mode) but somewhat bungled execution. Alternatively, you could look at Air Race Speed for an enjoyable futuristic take on the genre, or Spy Hunter if you just want to drive around and blow stuff up.
Realistic racers tend not to flourish the same way on handhelds as they do on home consoles, but the Vita still has something to offer in this regard. The main contributor to this was Milestone Srl, an Italian company specialising in European licenced sports games – for example, Milestone released two MotoGP titles (13 and 14) that provided a solid, if unexciting approximation of the sport. Thankfully its takes on motocross were much more exciting – Mud feels more like an arcade racer thanks to its focus on boosting and tricks, while MXGP is a really solid Vita port with a brilliantly fleshed out career mode.
Milestone also dabbled in rally driving, namely with WRC3 and WRC4. The former was slated by critics for being an incomplete release featuring very few tracks and very little content, but the latter impressed fans by offering one of the most complete rally packages on handhelds. Interestingly, another developer took on the IP later in Vita’s life (Kylotonn Games), who made a bungled mess of WRC5 by advertising features that weren’t even included in-game (night-time driving) and just generally took many steps back from WRC 4 – this is one to avoid.
The only other publisher to try its hand at realistic racers was Codemasters, who hired Sumo Digital (of Sonic & All-Stars fame) to port F1 2011 to Vita at launch. A somewhat updated version of the 3DS version, it provides some solid simulation but reviewers were less impressed that the game failed to take advantage of the Vita’s unique hardware, making it not much of an improvement over the backwards-compatible PSP game F1 2009.
As a final note, the beautiful-looking Drift Stage is supposedly targeting a Vita release, although the project appears to have stalled and may not even be finished at all, which is a crying shame as it was one of my most anticipated Vita games at the start of the year.
Backwards-Compatible PSP Games
While the Vita did fairly well for itself in terms of racing games, the PSP was a veritable hot-bed of activity throughout its life, particularly in the sub-genre of arcade racers that had long flourished on PS2 and spilled over to Sony’s handheld. Thankfully a large number of these are available through backwards-compatibility, although there are a few sad omissions (such as Juiced Eliminator, Outrun 2006 or Test Drive Unlimited).
Probably the most significant racing game the PSP ever got was Gran Turismo. Kazunori Yamauchi’s epic sim franchise was among the most popular series on both PS1 and PS2 prior to this. The PSP version was delayed multiple times and when it finally arrived in 2009 the end product was somewhat underwhelming, providing no career mode, which had been the franchise’s backbone since its inception. Still, it managed to keep the car-collecting and tight racing lines in tact, making it a decent portable substitute.
Other than this, there weren’t really any racing sims on PSP. While Need for Speed: Shift on consoles had been a decently realistic entry, the handheld port traded this for arcade thrills. It’s worth noting that the series in general did really well on PSP, receiving multiple bespoke versions built around the hardware – ranging from Need for Speed: Underground Rivals (which offered a portable take on the franchise’s night-time drag-racing entry) to Need for Speed Carbon: Own the City (the only open-world entry on handhelds until Most Wanted). There’s also Need for Speed: Prostreet, but all of these are unfortunately only available on Vita via the North American store, which meant European gamers missed out.
EA had been pretty big on PSP in general. Aside from Need for Speed, the company also graced the handheld with its Burnout franchise, including the compilation title Burnout Legends (which combined the best bits of the previous three PS2 entries) and Burnout Dominator (a brand new entry that removed the much-beloved crash mode). Between them, they provided some fantastic portable combat-racing at blistering speeds and were well-optimized for handheld play.
In fact, combat racing flourished through new franchises on the PSP just as much as it did through established IPs. Sony itself brought Motorstorm: Arctic Edge to the console and traded the sandy desert environments showcased in its PS3 counterpart for icy roads and snowy trails. There’s also Split/Second Velocity, the final game by the brilliant Black Rock Studio, which pits contestants in a deadly death race where they could blow up parts of the environment to take down their competitors; or alternatively you could try Street Riders, which focuses on illegal underground street racing between rival gangs.
If these aren’t enough to scratch your arcade-racing itch, other options are available. For example, Rockstar’s take on the genre (Midnight Club) is available as Midnight Club: L.A. Remix (its predecessor Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition was previously on the store, so if you bought it while it was up you can get this on your Vita). Both offer open-world thrills with some solid driving mechanics, alongside plenty of licenced cars, making them somewhat unique on Vita.
If you’re looking for more in the open-world department similar to Midnight Club, you could always try Driver ’76 (or indeed either of the Grand Theft Auto titles), but these focus more on driving, shooting and other mechanics rather than racing. SEGA’s Dreamcast classic Crazy Taxi also makes an appearance on PSP as Crazy Taxi: Fare Wars, a compilation of the first two entries in the series, and aside from some performance issues it's a cracking good time. You can also get Ridge Racer, which offers a lot more of a complete package than its Vita counterpart (if you live in North America at least, since the game got yanked from the European store).
Another prominent part of PSP’s life was WipEout, which had a rebirth on the handheld (after the disappointing PS2 entry, Fusion), with a brand new back-to-basics version called WipEout Pure, followed by an even better successor named WipEout Pulse. Both allowed Sony to explore different avenues of service delivery (i.e. ships and tracks via DLC), while still providing the high-speed stakes and beautiful graphics the series was known for – they look just as good on Vita and play just as well too.
A cursory mention for kart racers. Tthe most significant is probably Modnation Racers, a portable version of the PS3 original with some features stripped out that didn’t wow reviewers, but is worth taking a look at if you enjoyed the Vita entry and want more. There’s also Crash Tag Team Racing – a unique take on the genre, which allows you to clash vehicles with competitors to create more powerful machines. It's available on the North American store if you have an account.
An assortment of other stuff is available too. For example, there are three titles based on Disney/Pixar’s Cars series (Cars; Cars: Race-o-rama and Cars 2) and they offer varying degrees of fun aimed towards a younger audience. There’s also MX vs. ATV Untamed, a new entry in the offroad franchise that is sadly overshadowed by the missing-from-PSN series ATV Offroad Fury, but can still provide some enjoyable thrills.
Backwards-Compatible PS1 Games
The fifth generation of home consoles is where the 3D racing genre really came into its own, utilising new graphics technologies to produce some (at the time) stunning graphics, fancy weapon attacks, and realistic crashes. Many of these haven’t stood the test of time, but plenty are still playable to this day.
Sadly, and arguably the PS1’s best racing game that you can get on Vita because it's chained to the European PlayStation store (and incompatible in North America), Crash Team Racing was Naughty Dog’s final game for the original hardware and it took the beloved Crash Bandicoot characters and had them racing for supremacy. It’s vibrant, lively, and loads of fun to play, aided by tight controls that mean drifting and boosting through the courses never grows tiresome.
If you’re looking for a comparable kart racer through PS1 classics, you’re out of luck. Most of Crash‘s competitors, such as Speed Freaks, aren’t on PSN (although Bomberman Fantasy Race is up in North America). There are things like Motor Toon Grand Prix 2 (from Yamauchi, of Gran Turismo fame), but this is an early entry before the mechanics of the genre were quite nailed down. Toy Story Racer would probably provide a better substitute. A variety of Midas Interactive-published games, like ATV Racers, Miracle Space Race and Rascal Racers, are available; I used to read a PS1 magazine back in the day that slated all of these for basically being re-skins of each other and terrible to actually play, but they’re there if you want them.
Aside from Gran Turismo, arguably the PS1’s second most famous racing franchise was Ridge Racer, and thankfully the brilliant Ridge Racer Type-4 is available on both the European and North American stores. Offering refined drifting, a full career mode, and some still surprisingly gorgeous graphics, it’s definitely the full package and well worth checking out for fans of the genre (it’s just a shame that its predecessors, especially the brilliant Ridge Racer Revolution, aren’t available).
If you’re looking for other games that have you barrelling down city streets, you’re going to struggle with PS1 classics. Instead, there are an abundance of combat racers (a long forgotten sub-genre that’s more than deserving of a proper revival). Probably the most well-known is Destruction Derby, a short but sweet title that has you bashing other vehicles off the road to win (a precursor to Burnout, anyone?). If you prefer weapons to go along with your carnage then there’s Twisted Metal and Twisted Metal 2, although only the latter is worth checking out as the former hasn’t aged the best.
The PS1 was particularly well served with futuristic racers too. WipEout is the most famous and somewhat fun, although it only really became the franchise we know it as today with the brilliant second and third entries. Still, that didn’t stop other publishers trying to ape the formula – you can check out N2O (Gremlin Interactive’s take), Hi-Octane (a Bullfrog Productions title, oddly), or Motorhead. Even Sony itself had a competitor with Jet Moto, which swapped hovercars for jetskis, and the franchise's first two entries are up on PSN (note that they’re hard as nails, but rewarding if you stick with them).
You can grab a couple of off-road racers too, although there are better options available on Vita. Sony’s own Rally Cross is an early genre entry, but it paled in comparison to brilliant competitors like Colin McRae Rally, while Hardcore 4×4 offers a unique take thanks to its go-everywhere driving. If the latter works for you then note that its sequel is up on PSN and they’re both worth checking out for something a bit different.
As a final note to end on, and speaking of different, it’s worth remembering that racing games do not necessarily need to include vehicles either. You can get a snowboarding fix through Cool Boarders and its two sequels (this is a franchise in desperate need of a revival), while 2Xtreme offers an in-line skating take that’s a bit dated but surprisingly playable (and unlike any current game I can really think of).
The current landscape of racing titles in the videogame market is something that’s hugely disappointing to me – arcade city-drifters are almost a thing of the past, futuristic racers are on life support, and car combat is rare to find. The only genre which seems to be flourishing is licenced and sim racers, with Forza and Gran Turismo going from strength to strength, but even something like Need for Speed, which offers an arcade-y twist, is struggling. Although there's always Mario Kart, which continues to thrive.
This partly explains why there aren’t as many driving games on Vita as there were on PSP or PS1 – the genre has moved on, numerous developers who might’ve provided new titles in the past (such as Black Rock Studios or Psygnosis) have long been shuttered, and sims simply can’t be as immersive on handhelds. Still, Vita puts up a pretty good fight, clinging on to the last of the historic franchises like Ridge Racer and WipEout while offering some enjoyable portable motocross and rally releases.
Vita’s real trump card is its backwards-compatible library, though. Whatever it lacks in native titles, it makes up for in a older games that can be downloaded from the store to fill in any gaps. In this way, it’s unlike any other recent console – able to tap into game design long forgotten and deliver experiences which are difficult to find today, making it a unique proposition and one of the many reasons mine will be active for many years into the future.