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Arcade racers are having another moment, led by an authentic take on 90s F1


For a short while I had a very specific obsession with early 90s F1 console games - partly because it's often acknowledged as a golden age of the sport and partly because there were so damn many of the things at the time. Super Monaco GP! Satoru Nakajima F1 Hero! Super F1 Circus! Nigel Mansell's World Championship! Of the vast glut of them that crowded shelves back then it was always Exhaust Heat that was something of a favourite, its Mode 7-powered take on the 1992 season surprisingly authentic (plus I'll never forget the car journey home from a Slough shopping centre clutching the box in the back seat, the passing street lights occasionally illuminating the glorious airbrushed cover art).

It's one of the first comparison points that comes to mind when playing Horizon Chase Turbo's outstanding Ayrton Senna expansion. To call it an expansion is a bit of a disservice, really - this takes on the 1991 season with some authenticity, featuring recognisable tracks as well as recognisable takes on iconic liveries like Minardi's black and yellow or the aquamarine blue of March, but it takes on Senna's debut season at Toleman, his short but glorious tenure at Team Lotus as well as his breakout championship year in 1988. There is a lot of video game here, and the detail within is - to an old F1 head old enough to have been to Silverstone to see Senna in his 90s prime - absolute manna.

Cover image for YouTube videoHorizon Chase Turbo - Generations: Senna Forever l PS5, PS4

It's given me the excuse to get properly into Horizon Chase Turbo too, a game I've always been encouraged to try by others but have never really fallen for. It's an extremely stylish, generous and competent take on classic arcade racers of the 80s and 90s, but the hook was never really there for me - until this Senna Forever expansion, that is, but it's worth noting that there's more than just fan service for elderly motorsport fans that make this so compelling. The first-person mode that's been added for this expansion lends the action a sense of urgency that's lacking a little elsewhere, though it's also helped put Horizon Chase Turbo's other charms into sharper focus. Here's a racer that's both challenging and calming, and if other racing games gets you into the zone by putting your reaction and concentration to the test, Horizon Chase Turbo sort of lulls you into that same place.

The levels of authenticity are quite staggering at points - I love how they've captured the stomach-turning incline of Eau Rouge in Horizon Chase Turbo's take on Spa Francorchamps.

Getting stuck into the rest of Horizon Chase Turbo via the Senna Forever expansion - and the base game is just as generous as the expansion, without factoring all the other expansions it's had besides - has been a real treat, and it's come at another one of those purple patches for the arcade racing genre. Cruis'n Blast, which puts the arcade part of that combo in bold type, has been a bright highlight of the year on Switch, while we've recently been treated to the console debut of Micro Machines-a-like Circuit Superstars on console. It's a fan favourite that I'll admit hasn't clicked with me just yet - I admire the breadth and convincing heft of its vehicle roster, with its squat little LMP2s and cutesy tribute to the likes of the Lotus 49, but its races quickly become a drag and I'm routinely getting destroyed by the AI. I'll persevere, though, looking for the same breakthrough I recently had with Horizon Chase Turbo.

But while I wait for that there's also been the perfect excuse to go back to an arcade racer that had me hooked the first time I played it, with Inertial Drift just this week getting the latest of its free updates. That particular game was a standout back in 2020 when it first released, and alongside the likes of Hotshot Racing and art of rally has proven we're still in the midst of something of a new golden age for the genre. There's enough of them about right now it's easy for them to become an obsession all over again.