Our favorite iPhone trails games, top-down racers, 3D console racing sims, and quirky time-attack challenges.
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Descenders is all about adrenaline as you plonk yourself on a virtual bike and careen along terrifying courses, aiming to get to the end in one piece. It’s initially fiddly, due to the relatively complex controls (a gamepad helps); but spend time with the tutorials and practice area and you’ll soon be able to barrel along at breakneck pace.
This is a game that flirts with realism but is more about how extreme biking feels in your head. This comes through in larger-than-life courses that veer toward the fantastical, in true videogame fashion. But the feel of the game is spot on. And with its gorgeous console-grade graphics and the procedurally generated worlds that ensure no two games are ever quite alike, Descenders proves to be one of the best racers on the system.
Rush Rally Origins
Rush Rally Origins is both the latest entry in the series and a love letter to its past. It gives you the lauded and suitably weighty physics from Rush Rally 3 and combines that with a top-down view and more arcade-oriented feel. The result is an exhilarating mix of old-school racer and modern technology.
Visually, this is a stunning game, with gorgeous courses that zip by as your car kicks up dust while drifting around corners. The courses are tricky, but mastery reaps rewards as you chip away at time trial targets. You can also pit yourself against other racers, in multi-car scraps against hardcore computer opponents.
The entire product looks and feels the part and works superbly on iPhone. The icing on the cake is how configurable everything is, letting you adjust the on-screen controls to suit your preferences – and thumbs.
Table Top Racing: World Tour
Table Top Racing: World Tour more or less crashes Micro Machines into Mario Kart. It’s a zippy racer where you guide miniaturized cars around courses fashioned from tables, food, and various bits of hardware someone had lying around.
The controls are straightforward – this is arcade, not simulator fare. As such, the game’s easy to get into – although not to win. A few races in, you’ll feel the limitations of your vehicle, and be urged toward the garage.
At this point, most iPhone racers have you open your wallet, but World Tour is mercifully premium in nature. You earn coins by playing and racing well, and this income can be spent on upgrades. The progression curve is therefore gradual and rewarding. With multiplayer options, bright visuals, and a thumping soundtrack, this iPhone game is a great bet if you’ve a need for speed.
Street Kart Racing
Street Kart Racing eschews the kind of kart racing you most often see on consoles and mobile, which is usually packed full of cartoon characters and larger-than-life courses. Instead, this iPhone game seeks to portray a realistic take on belting along at 80mph an inch from the ground.
Despite a setup that suggests an uncompromising approach – no assists; no excuses – Street Kart Racing turns out to be quite approachable. The tilt controls are responsive, and you’re initially taken through the basics of mastering your kart and following the racing line.
After that, an almost overwhelming world of kart racing opens up, with you initially taking on AI opponents, but then battling other humans. With tracks that vary from professional circuits to grimy ones underneath city bridges, this racer has the stamp of authenticity, but most importantly is great fun.
Rush Rally 3
Rush Rally 3 reasons rally simulations shouldn’t be restricted to PCs or consoles under your telly. Here, you get the full experience, whether you like belting along stages with a co-driver yelling in your ear in which direction to head, or grinding metal in furious rallycross competitions.
Visually, the game looks great. It runs at 60fps, and you get to race in all lighting and weather conditions. The game feels good, too – the car is weighty but responsive. And, sensibly, the controls can be tuned to make things more manual – or less, if you fancy a more arcade-oriented blast.
During testing, we had the rare odd moment, not least the car once rather unrealistically clambering up a steep incline. For the most part, though, this game really does feel like a slice of console racing on your iPhone.
Reckless Racing 3
Reckless Racing 3 is a top-down effort that features dilapidated cars and trucks battling it out across a surreal section of courses. Whereas the original in the series appropriately restricted itself to scrapyards and mall parking lots, Reckless Racing 3 features routes through a quaint European village, an airport, and a nuclear plant with a worrying amount of green goop sloshing about.
The handling feels a bit lightweight, but the races are amusingly smashy. And if you’re in the mood for something completely different, there’s a gymkhana mode for precision driving and drifting in your decrepit vehicle.
Grid Autosport is a console-quality racer. That isn’t hyperbole; this is an accurate conversion of a game that has graced countless PCs and PlayStation 3s – all on your iPhone.
Naturally, not just any iPhone will do; you’ll need an iPhone SE or an iPhone 7 or newer, and at least 6GB(!) of storage space. But once the game’s installed, you can immerse yourself in by far the deepest racing experience mobile has to offer.
If you’re a simulation nut, turn off all driving aids, head into a full season and prepare to spend time spinning off into gravel traps. More cautious players can stick with quick races and rookie mode for a while, gradually learning car handling and tracks alike, and wondering why all mobile games can’t be made with such love.
Pigeon Wings is a deranged side-on racing game, featuring wide-eyed pigeons belting along in tiny planes. The backstory involves a rich nutcase aiming to destroy a city by way of a heavily-armed gigantic flying fortress; the birds race it out to decide who gets the chance to stop him.
The game switches things up between strings of races and occasional battles. In the former, you slipstream rivals, bob and weave through the air by tilting your iPhone, and power up your craft through trophies won in-game.
The shooty bits are brief and intense – a nice change of pace, despite the fact you’ll likely be blown to bits several times before claiming victory.
Should you hanker after something marrying the intensity of ALONE… and the frantic racing of Mario Kart, Pigeon Wings is a must – in fact, you’d be bird-brained to miss it.
Mini Motor Racing
Mini Motor Racing is a top-down racer featuring tiny vehicles that blast about twisty-turny circuits. They auto-accelerate, so you’re left with steering, and periodic use of a turbo that rockets your vehicle forward a few car lengths, leaving you unable to steer in the meantime.
From the off, Mini Motor Racing is frenetic. The tracks are claustrophobic, and the cars respond (and even sound like) remote controlled vehicles – albeit ones seemingly driven by psychopaths. Once you’re a few dozen races into the game, it seems your opponents are keener on smashing into you than winning.
That grumble leaves Mini Motor Racing languishing in the slipstream of the best top-down effort on iPhone, Reckless Racing 3, but it still manages a podium finish. And that’s because it’s packed full of content, has a great multiplayer mode, and in its ‘remastered’ 2017 form looks stunning.
Riptide GP: Renegade
The core of Riptide GP: Renegade feels like it's been wrenched wholesale from the unhinged water-based faction of 1990s arcade racers. Renegade, for the most part, matches their energy and spirit, as you barrel along splashy tracks atop a souped-up futuristic jet ski, performing death-defying stunts to accrue boost that catapults you along at even more breakneck speeds.
The game's packed full of content, from single races to a challenging career mode, and the premium price means you need skill rather than cash to succeed.
There are times you wish the game would let go a little – the colors are drab and it at times takes itself too seriously - but when it fully unleashes as you blaze through factories or get hurled into the air by the wake from a rocket launch, Renegade is glorious.
Drift 'n' Drive
Madcap racer Drift 'n' Drive somehow appears to have arrived from a 1980s home computer and yet feels perfect for mobile play. It's an old-school overhead racer that pits you against a grid of crazed opponents, all fighting to get to the finish line first.
The game only scrolls vertically, and the controls are simple: steer by tapping near a screen edge or prod the centre for a temporary boost of extra speed. Tracks snake left and right within the screen's narrow confines, but sometimes do so abruptly, causing plenty of opportunity for massive pile-ups.
Manage to not crawl in last and you move up the grid next time round. Place better and you start getting cash to upgrade your car. Before long, you're laughing like an idiot while barreling along in a race of two-dozen tiny cars buzzing around the track like flies, boosting into walls, and occasionally wondering why modern racers are rarely this much giddy fun.
Time was racing games were all about ludicrous speed, gorgeous graphics, and the sheer rush of weaving through a sea of cars to the finish line. Horizon Chase briefly reverses back to such halcyon days, grabs the best bits from the likes of Lotus and Top Gear, before zooming back to the present as a thoroughly modern arcade racer.
It looks gorgeous, with some stunning weather effects, and an odd but pleasing low-poly roadside-object style; it sounds great with veteran games musician Barry Leitch on soundtrack duties; but most importantly, it handles perfectly, and is a joy until the very last track.
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