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We gearheads nerded out over cars way before we could even get behind the wheel. Pocket-sized car collections. High-octane action movies. But perhaps our most memorable introduction to the auto universe? Video games. From home consoles to arcade simulators, our childhood video games gave us a taste of the power and freedom only a car can provide. And once we got that taste, we never looked in the rear-view. Here are just a few of our favorite car games from our early years.
You may have played Cruis’n World or Cruis’n Exotica as a kid, but the game that started it all for this iconic Nintendo series was Cruis’n USA. First released in 1994 in arcades, and later on the N64, Cruis’n USA let you race through the nation from the Golden Gate bridge to The White House. You could face your friends in a fine red Ferrari and unlock new rides with each completed track. It’s no wonder why this ultra-American car game has such a special place in our hearts.
First released for Playstation® 1 in 1997, Gran Turismo was a game-changer. Before its debut, no other racing game on earth could truly replicate the experience of driving a real high-performance car. But any 90s kid will tell you, this game was up to the challenge. Plus, its realistic graphics and timely garage updates make Gran Turismo a one-of-a-kind experience to this day. Just watch out for that tricky handling.
For a moment or two, there was no “car”-cade game we were quite as crazy for as Crazy Taxi. This high-anxiety Sega game pitted drivers against the clock in sunny West Coast settings. You’d pick up customers in your cool convertible cab and race to get them to their destinations in time. The faster the ride, the higher the fare. Now, Crazy Taxi didn’t exactly teach us much about good driving, but it sure was hard to put the controller down.
Now for another fast-paced 90s game that’s still got gas long after Y2K: Need For Speed. Known in some gamer circles for its always-on-point soundtracks, Need For Speed is one of the most successful video game franchises in history. The EA racing game hit the streets in 1994 and by the new millennium, it had more features than we knew what to do with. Fully customizable car bodies, drifting capability, the works. Plus, Need For Speed’s famed police pursuit mode allows players to race as cop or criminal. Nothing amps up gameplay like a good car chase.
Some games have the power to influence culture and withstand the test of time. Mario Kart is one of those games. First released for Super Nintendo in 1992, Mario Kart put our favorite characters from the Mario universe on the go-cart track. And it was genius. We got to choose a favorite cartoon driver, throw shells at our opponents, and conquer imaginative maps from distant worlds. Plus, with each new Nintendo console, came a shiny new version of this fan-favorite game. Yep. That’s the kind of all-ages fun that never loses traction.