The Sony PlayStation was released in Japan on December 1994 and the 32-bit system brought with it much greater processing power than the previous console generation's Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis could offer. With this, many genres could make the leap from 2D sprite-based games into 3D graphics and environment, better reflecting what the games were trying to portray.
Racing games in particular benefited from the new hardware immensely. While the SNES had titles like F-Zero and Super Mario Kart with a pseudo-3D appearance thanks to the Mode 7 mode and the Genesis had Virtua Racing (and later Virtua Racing Deluxe on the ill-fated 32X), the genre took a huge leap towards looking like the real thing visually at this point. But simply being able to drive a polygon car in a 3D environment wouldn't have been enough, it was necessary to be able to control the car smoothly as well, and the digital nature of the d-pad simply could not provide it. Analogue controls were required. Sony's own Dual Analog Controller, precursor to the now iconic DualShock, wasn't released until April 1997, which means there was a gap of almost two and a half years when there were no first-party controllers suitable for racing games on the system. (There was the Sony PlayStation Analog Joystick that offered analogue controls, but due to its flight stick-like design it wasn't exactly comfortable for playing racing games with and not many racing titles support the controller.)
However, Namco was a supporter of the system from the start and released a port of their arcade racing game Ridge Racer as a launch title. They solved the controller issue by also developing and releasing a controller better suited for racing games - the neGcon. At first glance the neGcon can look quite ridiculous. The left and right sides of the controller are connected by a bulging swivel joint, and instead of the X and square buttons there are two red protruding buttons called I and II. L2, R2 and the select buttons have been removed completely.
The swivel joint is what makes the controller so ingenious. You can twist each half of the controller relative to each other, allowing for nearly 360 degrees of rotation. The I and II buttons are analogue and have about 7mm of travel to each of them. The left shoulder button is also analogue, though the right one isn't. With these buttons steering, acceleration and braking could all be controlled to a degree unseen in home systems before. Even after the introduction of Sony's own analogue pads, the neGcon was still technically supreme. Thanks to the controller's shape, it can be gripped and twisted comfortably and it offered far more precise analogue controls compared to the DualShock's analogue sticks, that had shorter throws and from which the controlling thumb could slip off easily. Also, DualShocks didn't have analogue buttons to them until the DualShock 2 introduced in 2000 for the Playstation 2, and they have an uncomfortably short travel to them. The neGcon offered the benefits of a more realistic-looking steering wheel controller without the larger price and in a smaller, more portable shape. In fact, many of those wheels for the PS1 actually took advantage and pretended to be neGcons at a protocol level, which also meant they could be used with all the games supporting the controller. While the white neGcon was released in all regions, Japan received an additional, exclusive black neGcon in 1998. It is slightly smaller and the Start button is a triangle instead of a circle, but is otherwise pretty much the same thing. It is, however, considered much rarer.
Due to the neGcon's special capabilities the games also have additional options for configuring the controls to the user's liking. Setting the controller's maximum turning degree and dead zone are featured in nearly every neGcon-compatible title and many also allow to set the analogue buttons' maximum throw. Not all games are equally flexible about this, though. Some games allow the settings to be set freely to anything to user wanted, others merely provide a few predetermined settings to choose from.
The neGcon is not completely without problems - the I and II buttons have a surprisingly long throw to them, and you really have to push the buttons deep into their sockets to hit 100%. This can be circumvented by setting the buttons' maximum throw to a more comfortable level and some games seem to do this automatically. And of course some games work just as fine, if not better, with digital acceleration and brake, Namco's own Ridge Racer titles being good examples of this. It would have been nice if both the shoulder buttons were analogue, but apparently there wasn't enough space inside the controller for the required hardware. And the crucial twist function will wear down over time, loosening the feel of it and reducing the precision available.
The exact number of neGcon-compatible games is not known, but somewhere around 100 is a rough estimate. As expected, most of these are racing games but there are some examples from other genres as well - most notably Namco's Ace Combat and World Stadium series, the latter being a then-popular series of baseball games. It really is a testament to the controller's capabilities that even Sony's own flagship racing game series Gran Turismo supported it, as well as their Motor Toon Grand Prix games. In fact, to this day the neGcon might be the only specialized third-party controller, outside wheels, that is supported by first-party games.
Sadly, official support for the neGcon mostly ended with the PS1, even though the PS2 is fully compatible with it. The PS2 came bundled with the DualShock 2 and though the neGcon was still more precise of an analogue controller out of the two, its time was over. Steering wheel controllers were the more common and popular choice for racing games players, and Sony would not support the neGcon in their Gran Turismo games for the PS2. Namco's PS2 launch title Ridge Racer V naturally supported the controller as did WipeOut Fusion two years later. In the end, the controller came a full circle - the last known game to officially support the neGcon is Namco's namCollection for PS2, a collection of five of their PS1 games, published in 2005 exclusively in Japan. In that collection the original PS1 Ridge Racer plays just as smoothly with the neGcon as it did 11 years before.
The controller still enjoys the appreciation of fans of PS1 racing games. For some of them the neGcon is the only controller that can provide analogue controls, making it the choice for players wanting to experience the game at its best and be able to do time attack to their fullest potential. And thanks to PlayStation-to-USB adapters it's actually possible to connect the neGcon to a computer and play many PC racing games with it. The game just has to support the remapping of axes, and games like Live For Speed, GTR, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (2010), the DiRT games, GRID, as well as many others, do. Some of them also have very extensive configuration options allowing the neGcon to be used very comfortably, like it was designed for these games from the start.
Here are some PS1 racing games that work great with the neGcon. For some I've included a short gameplay video or two of playing the game with the neGcon. Look for the little Youtube icon next to the game's name. I also try to show off the options menus for games released only in Japan, so you can see they are often very import-friendly. Even though these are older games, they are still very playable and fun today and are usually fairly cheap to acquire on the used market. The neGcon itself can often be found for around 25-35 USD so the controller isn't that expensive an investment either.
Ridge Racer series
It's only proper to start with the series that begat the neGcon. Originally an arcade game, the series found great popularity on the PS1 due to it's characteristic fast pace and drift-happy racing. The gameplay is fairly simple and starting a drift is, most of the time, as simple as letting go of the accelerator for a moment. Still, there are some nuances to the handling that keep it interesting enough and getting the best times is not an easy task. Considering the series did not get DualShock support until the fourth game (in the US, the game's Japanese release does not support it), the neGcon is naturally the best controller of choice here.
The first game is very pure in its arcadey-ness. Boot up the console, play a quick game of Galaxian and after a few button presses the car is already revving up the engine on the track. It's all very immediate and makes it easy to just start the game even if there isn't time for an extended play session. The biggest flaw is that there are only two tracks, with the second track being merely an extended version of the first.
Ridge Racer Revolution is a very traditional sequel, in that it's very similar to the first game but has new content. The amount of tracks has been upped to three and though they still use some of the same sections, the differences between them are more pronounced this time. The game uses an improved version of the first game's engine, most notably races now have a day/night cycle and having to do a lap at night really changes the feel of the track.
Rage Racer, however, changes things up quite a bit. For the first time in the series there's a career mode and instead of just unlocking cars, they have to be bought with the prize money. The cars' settings can be slightly tweaked as well, another first for the series. The whole game has a very different vibe to it, thanks to the more detailed and realistic graphics and handling that emphasizes shift control. The track count is up to four, and other than the oval track they are much more complex compared to those found in the previous games.
Ridge Racer Type 4 is said by many to be their favorite entry in the series, and it's easy to see why. The career mode is fleshed out, there are eight tracks and a mind boggling amount of 321 cars to unlock, though most of those are just slightly different variations of each other. Also with the game comes a bonus disc containing an improved version of the original Ridge Racer with improved graphics and the game running at 60 frames per second. This disc alone makes the package worthy of tracking down.
Ridge Racer V is the series' sole representative on the PS2 (not counting the spin-off R: Racing Evolution) and a launch title for the console, but it holds its ground proudly. The handling is as smooth as it's ever been and some of the seven tracks are updated versions of the ones found in earlier games. There are many different game modes, some even hidden, and the amount of cars is down to a more manageable amount of a dozen or so, like it was in the early titles. It is the last Ridge Racer title to support the neGcon, and it is a worthy farewell.
Sammy, the publisher nowadays better known for the Guilty Gear fighting game series released this back in 1997. It's very much a Ridge Racer-type of fast-paced, immediate arcade racer, with three tracks to select and a bunch of cars with inventive names like Packet Creator and Carrot Star. The graphics are a bit better than in Ridge Racer Revolution and the game's just as fun as its inspiration as well, so it's a shame the game has gone unnoticed. Maybe if it had been given a worldwide release things would be different.
Like in the early Ridge Racers there are only two game modes, a Single Race and a Time Trial and two players can only play at the same time if two PlayStations are linked together. Winning single races unlocks a few more cars, but there's not much of a campaign here, most of the fun comes from learning the cars and tracks and aiming to get the best time. And for that, it works great. The handling is smooth, the drifts are a bit more difficult to control compared to Ridge Racer but still very doable with a bit of practice. The game also deserves a mention for the most excited main menu announcers ever.
Although Racingroovy was only released in Japan, it is very import-friendly and most of the menus are in English. The neGcon is the only way to play the game with analogue controls, as it does not support the DualShock.
Cave is far better known for their shoot'em-ups like Dodonpachi, Guwange and Ketsui, but they have occasionally branched out to other genres with titles like Steep Slope Sliders, Uo Poko and Touge. Touge is, as its name suggests, a mountain pass racing game with narrow roads and plenty of corners to attack. The first game in the series, known in Japan as Touge MAX - Saisoku Drift Master was released in 1997 and features five tracks and nearly 30 vehicles, including some weirder ones like buses and scooters. In addition to the usual Single Race, Two Player and Time Attack modes, Touge games also have additional game modes like Gymkhana and Driving School. In the first game you can even make your own gymkhana track by placing cones freely on a special track. It can then be saved on a memory card and given to others that way. The games also have a Story mode where you follow a character through a series of races and events, occasionally having to choose between a few options to further the story. These are of course completely in Japanese. Outside the Story mode the series is extremely import friendly, even tuning the car's settings is in English.
The gameplay is, as can be expected, geared towards drifting but it isn't quite as easy as it is in Ridge Racer, here the drifts are more difficult to control and it's easy to keep hitting the sides of the road. But after a bit of practice it's possible to pull off very long and impressive-looking drifts. The race replays can be saved to the memory card so the best displays of skill will not be lost to time. As a hint of the developer's heritage, the game also has "drift points" where pulling off drifts gives you score, but hitting a wall resets the current counter. The drift points are somewhat underutilized, but in some story races you have to reach a certain drift point quota to proceed.
The games don't differ from each other all that much gameplay-wise, but they constantly improve the audiovisual quality, with the series' third and last entry on the PS1 - Touge Max G - looking very nice indeed. As an odd quirk, Touge Max 2 does not support the neGcon, though the first and third games do. Presumably Cave received enough feedback from its exclusion and decided to return the support for Touge Max G. Touge Max 2 does work with the DualShock analogue controls, though, as does Touge Max G. The first game is the only one where a neGcon is a necessity for analogue controls.
Touge Max was actually released in US with the completely unrelated name (and box art) Peak Performance. The Story mode was left out, but otherwise the game is intact, including neGcon support. The series continued to PS2 with Touge 3 (released in Europe as Road Rage, continuing the nonsensical naming scheme for localization) but sadly, it does not support the neGcon.
The famous manga and anime series about drifting on mountain roads has naturally been made into games many times. The PS1 version come with the expected single race, simultaneous two player and time attack modes, as well as a story mode where you go through Takumi's races on Mt. Akina and elsewhere as he takes his first steps towards the bigger racing world. The story is told through static CGI images and FMV videos, and the game's age really shows there, they don't even have any voice acting. And even though the game was released after the anime started, the iconic music designed to get your blood pumping is nowhere to be heard. It has been replaced by fairly generic guitar rock, which is an odd combination at first if you're used to the Eurobeat soundtrack associated with the series. For increased enjoyment, blast the authentic music from another source instead.
Luckily the gameplay is solid and very much drift-based, as can be expected. It's very easy to hit the walls over and over again, but with some practice the drifting starts looking and feeling good. Even the "gutter-run" technique Takumi used many times can be done here. Though at first there's only one car to drive in, many others featured in the series are unlockable, even the rarely seen Mercedes-Benz driven by Mogi's "Papa" is there. This is another title that never left Japan, as seems to be the case with all Initial D games.
The PS2 game Initial D: Special Stage does not support the neGcon.
Side By Side Special 2000
Side By Side is an racing game series from Taito that focuses on drifting. The series started in 1996 in the arcades and was followed next year by a sequel. Also in 1997 a PS1 port was released, called Side By Side Special. This release is basically a remix that combined the two arcade games into one.
In 1999 Side By Side Special 2000 was released which is exactly the same as the first game except for one crucial added feature: analogue controls via the neGcon. Many sites online say that the game supports the DualShock, but it only supports the controller's rumble function, not the analogue sticks. To play Side By Side with analogue controls, the Special 2000 release and a neGcon are required. And it is absolutely recommended as the game is very fun and fast-paced. There are 16 cars and 10 tracks to choose from, and though the gameplay modes are limited to single race and time attack, the superb graphics and handling make the most of those. You can even save the replay file to the memory card for later viewing. Another great title that was never released outside Japan. It is extremely import-friendly and pretty much everything is in English.
The series continued as Battle Gear in the arcades and in 2001 Battle Gear 2 was released for PS2. It even saw a European release as Tokyo Road Race. The game does work with the neGcon but it seems to have been an afterthought, as there are no configuration options for it whatsoever.
Hashiriya - Ookami Tachi No Densetsu
The grandiose title can be translated as "Street Racer - The Legend of The Wolves" but compared to the Touge games which this one is very similar to, Hashiriya isn't much to look at. The graphics are very plain and even crude at times, making it visually unappealing, and the audio and gameplay departments don't fare much better. It does have a nice sense of speed though, and the Practice mode allows individual corners of the tracks to be practiced, which is kind of rare to see.
Like the Touge series the game also has a Story mode, only this time there are multiple characters (and therefore multiple stories) to pick from, but as they are completely in Japanese the appeal is lost on people not fluent with the language. Overall, the game fails to impress in every department when placed alongside other similar games. On the plus side, the game can often be found for just a few dollars. Other than the Story mode it's still mostly import-friendly and neGcon is the only way to play it with analogue controls. Not surprisingly, the game was never released outside Japan.
The game has been called "Ridge Racer with bikes" and that is not an entirely inaccurate description. It's a fast-paced arcade racer, only instead of drifts you can do wheelies and tricks in the air. The game actually covers two different styles of bike racing - sort of. There are motocross bikes and speedy superbikes but they are restricted to the tracks designated for them, which is kind of a bummer. But at least you can take that motocross bike and speed along the Great Wall of China, so that's always a plus. In the Championship mode you go through both types of tracks and there's also the standard single race, time attack and two player -modes.
The game has a good sense of speed to it which makes it fun to play. Finishing the Championship mode in different difficulties unlocks Reverse and Pocket Bike modes, the latter of which enables racing on tiny bikes that insanely fast. Funnily enough, the game displays an image of a PS1 Mad Catz racing wheel when the neGcon is plugged in. The series continued on the PS1 with Moto Racer 2 and Moto Racer World Tour, but the sequels dropped the neGcon support in favor of DualShock. For the first game, the neGcon is the only choice if analogue controls are wanted.
In 1997 Taito decided to bring their classic franchise Chase HQ to the 3D era with Ray Tracers. As with its inspiration, the main focus is on Chase mode, where you go through several missions through busy streets before encountering a large boss enemy like twin tanks or even a helicopter, whom you then you have to ram into several times to destroy. The player's car can't actually be destroyed, but failure to destroy the target in time will result in a game over. There are four characters to choose from and they vary in top speed, attack power and other abilities. And one of them is named Spanker.
In addition to Chase mode, there is a more traditional Time Attack mode where you race either alone or against an single opponent. It's a very nice additional feature that brings a lot more replayability to the game. Ray Tracers was released in all territories, though only the Japanese one has the characters talking to each other, with actual voice clips. For analogue controls, the neGcon is required.
No, this game doesn't have anything to do with a certain legendary British heavy metal band. How they got away with using the name is a bit of mystery. In any case, Motorhead: High Velocity Entertainment is a fun and fast-paced game containing all the expected modes of play. The cars are all completely made up and they look rather similar to each other with no real distinguishing visuals, but they are different enough in their three stats of top speed, acceleration and grip.
The tracks, of which there are eight here, are game's high point. Like with the cars they are not even loosely based on anything existing in real life, but this has allowed the creators to create some tricky tracks, though occasionally they border on annoying. In many tracks there are small "traps" that need to be suffered through once or twice before they are learned and can be avoided. These can be something like the placement of a support column right in the middle of what you'd expect to be the racing line, or a three-walled box which needs to be avoided by changing lanes at the correct moment. Though frustrating at first, it's not hard to learn them.
The game is noteworthy because it's one of the very few PS1 games that can be made to run in 60 frames per second. When at 60 FPS the game only has three cars on the track, including the player's, as opposed to the total of six when played with 30 FPS. This is a neat way to go around the hardware's limitation while giving the player the choice. Playing time attack is better done with 60 FPS, of course.
The Dakar, formerly known as Paris-Dakar Rally before unfortunate events forced the race to change its location, is an off-road endurance competition where cars breaking down in the difficult terrain is very nearly the norm. There have been several videogames depicting the race, and PS1's Dakar '97 is certainly one of them. Sadly that's about as much as can be said about it. The graphics aren't great, the draw distance is pretty bad and it's just not very fun to play. Even with the GPS function to help the player navigate, it's still very easy to get lost in the desert when there are are little landmarks to be seen and wall-like obstacles simply pop out of thin air.
For the game the race has been transformed from a rally raid -type of event to a more conventional rally, with the action being split into special stages lasting about three minutes each. But since there's no car damage there's no repairing the vehicle between stages either, so it's not entirely accurate to that type of racing either. All in all, Dakar '97 is a game best left in the bargain bin.
Rally De Africa and Rally De Europe
The rally racing discipline has never been that popular in the US, which may have been one reason why this title was never released there. But then, it wasn't released in Europe either. In any case, Rally De Europe (as well as its prequel Rally De Africa) are great rally racing games that have been called "PlayStation's answer to Sega Rally" by some. The games might not quite reach the excellence and iconic status of Sega's classic series, but they are great games nonetheless.
The racing happens mostly on dirt and gravel, making powersliding through corners easy and even expected. With the faster cars there's quite the thrill to it. The game offers the expected single race and championship modes, though as the game leans more towards arcade racing, there is no repairing vehicle damage between races as in the more realistic rally games. The championship mode is a lenghty one, as each car class has its own set of races to conquer before the next class unlocks along with faster vehicles.
A notable inclusion is the Memory Battle mode. In this mode, quite unique for the time, a single lap of time attack is played on one of the tracks and the game keeps the replay. Then, up to four other replays can be either played or loaded from the memory card, and the game disc itself holds a large number of replays for all the different classes of cars. The resulting replay can then be viewed with all five cars, basically acting like ghost cars, on the track at once. It's a very cool feature and nowadays racing against other people's ghost cars is practically an expected feature in racing games, but back in 1998 when Rally De Africa was released it easily could have been considered new and special.
Rally De Europe has all the tracks from its prequel as an added unlockable extra, so the second game is the recommended one to get. The games never left Japan, but both titles are very import-friendly with most of the in-game text is in English.
V-Rally and V-Rally 2
The two V-Rally games offer a similar feature list. They are both rally-based games that have an Arcade mode, a Championship mode, Time Attack and simultaneous multiplayer modes, with two-player mode in the first game and a four-player mode in the sequel, using the multitap. V-Rally 2 also has a "Trophy Mode" which is in-between the Arcade mode and the full-blown Championship mode where you also have to dedicate time to your car's repairs between the stages.
The biggest new feature in V-Rally 2 is the track editor. For its time it's a fairly powerful editor, being able to create both looped and point-to-point tracks, set bumps, alter road elevations, change weather, and even create totally random tracks at the touch of a button. These tracks can then be saved to the memory card and played in the time trial mode, effectively giving the game endless replayability.
For some reason the first game doesn't seem to work quite right with the neGcon. Turning has this odd jumpy and imprecise feel to it and it was tested on multiple neGcons. The sequel, however, has no such problems and it controls just as smoothly as expected. Naturally V-Rally 2 also has better audiovisual quality, more pre-made tracks and is generally more refined, so there's little reason to pick up the first game.
Both games were released in all regions, but for the US release EA, the publisher, decided to brand them with the Need for Speed name, even though V-Rally's developer Infogrames had nothing to do with the Need for Speed series, which were developed by EA Canada at the time. Presumably this was due to rally sports not being as popular in the region and the association was supposed to help the sales. They weren't even entirely consistent about the names, since the first game became Need for Speed: V-Rally and the sequel V-Rally 2: Need for Speed.
Colin McRae Rally and Colin McRae Rally 2.0
The series bearing the name of the famous Scottish rally driver still continues today under the DiRT moniker but it got its start back in 1998 on the PS1 and PC. As can be expected the games lean heavily on the simulation side of racing games, forcing you to deal with repairs as you drive around the globe in mud, dirt, gravel and snow.
Aside from the normal Championship mode that takes place over a long season, the games also have single race, arcade, time trial and two player -modes. The first game also comes with a great Rally School that teaches the player the tricks of the rally discipline, which is quite different from circuit racing. The manuals also cover some of the basic points and come with handy guides to understanding the concept and lingo of co-drivers.
The games are graphically very impressive, even the first game's cars look great and they get visibly damaged as the player clips a rock or tree. Soon that initially squeaky-clean Mitsubishi Lancer's rear bumper will be hanging on a thread, with mud covering all of the car's bottom half. The second game is a traditional sequel with basically more of everything, though for some reason the Rally School was dropped there. At least the sequel has a very slick-looking menu system that reminds me of a Wipeout game than anything else. And for some odd reason the system used for the co-driver's notes is a reversed version from that of the first game, which can be confusing if the player is switching from one game to another.
Need for Speed series
Need for Speed is one of the most prolific racing game series ever created. The series started in 1994 and still goes on today, with the latest entry in the series being released in 2012 and overall there are more than 20 titles bearing the name. The first game was originally published for the 3DO system, but was released for PlayStation in 1996. Sony's console would end up hosting five NFS titles (seven if you count the two V-Rally games re-branded as NFS games for the USA market) but only the first three games - Road & Tracks Presents: The Need for Speed, Need for Speed II and Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit - would support the neGcon, the latter games dropping the controller support in favor of the DualShock. But for the first three games, the neGcon is the only way to play them with analogue controls.
The series' first installations are all similar thematically and are about racing expensive cars in expansive environments. The tracks are big and showy with impressive set pieces, often having little shortcuts and alternative routes which can be used to cut down on track times or just to avoid the other racers. Starting from II the games also lean more towards an arcade-like racing experience, though they also allow tuning the car's settings. In addition to standard Tournament, Single Race and Time Attack modes there are also gameplay modes where police chases are introduced to mix up the races. In some titles the player can even choose to work as an officer of the law rather than a racer.
The games are as much about racing as they are about showcasing the cars, their specifications and history. There are even real-life photographs and videos of the vehicles featured in the games. And if the player doesn't find that kind of coverage interesting, they can be safely ignored and the games just played as the great racing games they are.
Aside from Need for Speed: Porsche Unleashed (which doesn't support the neGcon) the games were released in all regions but were renamed as "Over Drivin'" in Japan.
GT Kai: All Japan Grand Touring Car Championship
A rare case of an isometric racing game for the PS1. It's a sequel to the Super Nintendo's Zennihon GT Senshuken, and despite the camera angle that's more reminiscent of arcade racers like Great 1000 Miles Rally and Neo Drift Out, this one tries to be a bit more realistic. The game is based on the Japanese Touring Car Championship, a touring car racing series now defunct, and presumably uses real drivers and cars from one of it's seasons. There's a fair amount of settings that can be tweaked in a car, and pit stops are a vital part of longer races' strategy. The four included tracks are all based on real courses in Japan and during the races the announcer excitedly explains what's going on, making it almost feel like you're watching the race unhold on a television.
Sadly, the game is not very fun to play. Though it supports the neGcon, the controls still feel very digital and jerky, and all the cars seem to suffer from heavy understeering. As you can see in the video, sometimes the camera even zooms in so close the car takes up most of the screen. There are no pace notes shown like there often are in isometric racers, so you're forced to use the minimap and following the blacker patch of road to anticipate the next corner until they're all firmly memorised. This makes the tracks be difficult to navigate and it's easy to fail a corner completely and find yourself in the grass.
Rush Hour is a slightly off-beat racing game in that all the action takes place from overhead perspective, even though the game engine is completely 3D. And while the camera always stays above the player's vehicle, it's possible to zoom it in or out to the point to making the car look little more than an ant somewhere far down away. The title is also something of a misnomer, as the game doesn't have civilian traffic on the tracks at all.
The game has the standard championship, single race, time attack and two player split-screen modes, with the cars divided into "High Performance" and "Heavy Metal" classes, the former being unlicensed but suspiciously familiar looking sports cars and the latter buggies, pickups and the like. More cars can be unlocked through the championship mode. The game has three difficulty settings - Novice, Intermediate and Professional - which alter the vehicles' top speed as well as the AI's proficiency. And while the first difficulty is fairly easy to beat the computer in, it puts up one hell of a fight starting from the second one and perfect lines must be taken if a podium finish is to be achieved. On the final difficulty setting the sense of speed is unexpectedly intense for a game where the viewpoint doesn't show what's directly ahead. Helping with that are rally-style signs telling the next corner's direction and tightness.
Altough the gameplay is fairly simple at first glance, it takes a good amount of technique and practice to beat the AI racers. With the time attack mode the game has a lot of replay value to it, so this is something of a hidden gem that doesn't seem to get much recognition. Special mention must be made for the game's music which is surprisingly good. It's mostly riffing guitars, but somehow it suits the game nicely and pumps the player up for racing. The game was released in all territories but was called BattleRound USA in Japan and Speedster in Europe.
Motor Toon Grand Prix
First, let's get the record straight. The original Motor Toon Grand Prix was released in 1994 shortly after the release of the PlayStation and it never left Japan. It was, by most accounts, not a very good game. But it was developed by Polyphony Digital, who later become famous for a little racing game series called Gran Turismo.
Two years later the game received a sequel, Motor Toon Grand Prix 2. It would get released worldwide, only it was called "Motor Toon Grand Prix" in USA because the first one never made it there and Sony didn't want to confuse the buyers. It was still released under its original title in Europe, even though it was the first in the series to come out there as well. But the important thing is that the game did come out in all regions, because it is an excellent title. The developers clearly learned their lessons from the first game and the sequel outshines the original in every way.
At first glance it's a kart racer like so many others. But there are fundamental differences at the core level that make me wish this was the direction the kart racing subgenre took instead of where it is now. Most importantly, the item system, which is the basis of kart racers. There are the usual projectile attacks, traps dropped behind you, speed boosts and so on. But instead of grabbing them from the track, coins are picked up instead. As long as at least one coin is held, a roulette wheel can be spun and the item the wheel stops to is given as a reward. It creates a very different dynamic when coins can be saved up and then multiple items can be released in quick succession, and the player can keep the coins in reserve until they're needed. And in a stroke of genius, the developers decided to disable items completely on the harder difficulties. So instead of hoping to get lucky with items, the player must master the driving and learn the tracks in order to win. And it must be noted that the game has a speedometer, a true rarity among kart racers.
The game has quite a unique visual style to it. Like in many 40's and 50's cartoons the cars are personified and literally stretch towards the direction the player pushes them to. At first it may feel a bit jarring, but soon it feels natural. The tracks are very colorful as well and it all feels very cohesive. There are five cars to start with three more to unlock and five tracks (as well as their reversed versions) to race them on.
There is plenty to do in MTGP. There are modes for single races, time attacks, free fun, a two-player mode (but only via a link cable) and a championship mode. Depending on the difficulty chosen, different things can be unlocked there. Absolutely the coolest unlockables are the three minigames. First is a tank combat game, where the cars have been re-shaped into tanks and they attack each other with either direct or ballistic shots in obstacle-filled arenas. Second is a fairly simple clone of the board game Battleship. The last one is a new racing mode with realistic cars and more realistic handling. This mode also runs in higher resolution and in 60 FPS, which was quite uncommon for PS1 games.
As if all that wasn't enough, the game also has great replay functions with which to save your best races and use them as ghost cars with the time attack mode later on. There are even hidden ghost cars by the developers to beat. The game is just absolutely full of content and should at least be tried out by all arcade racing game fans, even (and especially) the ones who don't usually care for kart racers.
Released a few months before Gran Turismo, Sony's own London Studio came out with this title dedicated to the Porsche Boxster. That's right, there's only one type of car in the whole game. With only four tracks the game's not that impressive on that front either, but at least the tracks have alternative routes in them which can create a bit of variety.
For some reason the game's manual makes a big deal out of the characters, all of which drive a differently colored Porsche Boxster and have an "individual driving style and personality", going so far as to list their feelings towards other characters. And if I'm reading the tables correctly, one of the male characters is actually in love with another male character, but the latter dislikes the former while being in love with a young female model who hates him. None of these convoluted relationships actually matter one bit in gameplay so they can be safely ignored, but it's still an odd inclusion to a racing game.
It seems the game was mostly intended as a demo of the PlayStation's capabilities as well as a promo of the recently released Porsche Boxster. The graphics engine does make the few tracks and the single car look nice and everything runs smoothly, but overall the game's a bit lacking.
Gran Turismo and Gran Turismo 2
Sony's flagship simulation racing series boasts incredible production values and a huge amount of licensed cars. Even the very first game has about 150 vehicles to choose from, but the sequel boosts it up to an incredible amount of 600 cars to buy and unlock, and all the cars are modelled as accurately as the hardware could allow. Car lovers should have no problems finding their favorite vehicles (or maybe even the one they have in their driveway) and take it out for a virtual spin. The sequel also increases the amount of races and tracks available, as well as including rally cars and courses for the first time in the series.
The PS1 games both have an Arcade Mode and a Simulation Mode. In the former the player can freely choose the track to race on and the car to use but the heart of the games are the Simulation Mode, where the player needs to earn licenses and money in order to enter events and purchase cars to his ever-growing garage. The license tests also unlock more tracks to be used in Arcade Mode and the tests can be a great challenge to get the best ranks in. There's a great amount of content in the games, there are events dedicated to specific car types and manufacturers, endurance races, and more. All this makes the Gran Turismo titles games that hundreds of hours can easily be spent on.
The games have excellent neGcon support that allow nearly every facet of the controller to be configured just to the user's liking.
Netz Toyota Racing
This game has an interesting history behind it. The game was never actually sold in stores, it was given away free in Japan for people who test drove a Toyota car. The disc is basically an advertisement as it has short video clips of Toyota's then-new car models. But it has a fairly well fleshed-out game included. No surprise, as it's the same game engine used a year earlier in Advan Racing. As can be expected, all the playable cars here are Toyota's.
There's a championship mode, single races, time attack and even a two-player mode. All of the four tracks are based on real circuits, too. As a somewhat rare feature the game also tracks the car's remaining fuel and tire usage, making pit stops a necessity in longer races. For some reason there is no memory card support included. There's nothing to unlock either so it is not a huge loss, and if one is to take advantage of the time attack modes then pen and paper can always be used to keep track of the best times.
For a free game it's extremely well made, it's a shame promotions like this are rare nowadays. As a small piece of trivia, there were also similar promo versions made of Sony's own Gran Turismo games for Toyota Prius, BMW 1-series and Nissan Micra Roma and Nissan 350Z.
Konami's Speed King (released in Europe under the completely unfitting name Road Rage) was originally an arcade game, using a large cabinet into which the player would physically climb inside. The cabinet would then twist and turn as the player made their way through the winding tracks in futuristic Neo Kobe.
Naturally the experience of the original arcade cabinet is lost when porting the game to home systems. Sadly, something else was lost as well. The graphics were severely downgraded and the most offending factor is the extremely short draw distance. Often you see the track popping into existence right before you, which makes the whole game feel rather lackluster. It's still not a completely horrible game as there's many vehicles to choose from and the tracks, though not many in number, have a decent variety to them. There's no Dual Shock support, so the only way to get analogue controls is with the neGcon.
The game is also filled with references to other Konami franchises (can you name all the games referenced in the names of the vehicles?), with the game itself taking place in the same universe as Snatcher, so for a Konami fan there's a bit more to explore. Not a horrible racer, but could've been a lot better as well.
The PS1 has many futuristic racers on it, but this might be the only one where you can race on a futuristic surfboard. There's a handful of vehicles to choose from and the three tracks are extended variations of the same area, much like in Ridge Racer. The game doesn't quite reach Ridge Racer's greatness, as the controls feel stiffer and the graphics are a bit garish. Toning down some of those colourful textures could've done wonders. It's quite the difficult game too, even on the Easy track you have a proper fight on your hands if you want to take first place. The music, though not necessarily a good fit for the game, is pretty fun buttrock.
While it's not the worst futuristic racer in PS1's arsenal, it's not up there in the upper echelon either.
The neGcon is quite possibly most associated with this futuristic anti-gravity racing game, and for good reason. The games are extremely smooth and playable and just plain fun. They can be played as either combat racers, or as a more traditional racing game with all the weapons turned off. In either case, the best players usually use the neGcon for them. Especially since the first two games in the series, Wipeout and Wipeout XL (Wipeout 2097 in Europe) do not support analogue controls any other way.
The series is known for its blazing speeds, bright neon colors and licensed techno/electronica music. The tracks are often very technical and require the proper use of the vehicle's airbrakes, which take some getting used to. But after they are mastered, it is exhilarating to fly through a hard corner nearly at full speed, with the craft's back just barely scraping against the wall.
The PS1 hosted the series three times, with Wipeout, Wipeout XL and Wipeout 3. In addition to the normal game, Europe received Wipeout 3: Special Edition that contained slightly altered physics, gameplay changes, bug fixes and most importantly 10 new tracks. The series continued to PS2 with Wipeout Fusion that also supports the neGcon. Sadly, it would be the last of the series to do so.
There are still many excellent games not covered here that support and are best played with the neGcon, they will be added to this page as I get my hands on them. For the most complete list of neGcon-compatible games on the Internet, check out this thread on our forums. Maybe some day this article will cover every single game compatible with the controller, but that will take a long while. Until then, thank you for reading and I hope you have found some interesting new game to play, or reminded of an old favorite from years ago.