For those of us born past a certain date, chances are video games had a large part in your development as a motorhead. Without a license or any money you could live out your automotive fantasies digitally. And many of those digital fantasies had some very good soundtracks.
At one time though, video game music was limited to simple beeps and boops. The most sophisticated games back in the early days were in the arcade as well. One of the first racing games that tried to go beyond simple beeps was Hang-On, the motorcycle racing simulator. Note that this was an arcade racer with a full scale bike to sit on that could lean left to right. Give this track a bit of play time, it takes a few seconds to develop the beat.
I’ll apologize in advance for this list being Sega heavy, but they did arcade games as well as they did soundtracks. This list would be incomplete without the very, very iconic hit known as Outrun. I don’t think I have to say much about everyone’s ultimate Ferrari fantasy simulator so enjoy.
As technology developed, the home consoles got stronger. Now you could have arcade quality graphics and sound in your living room. One home console racer that had an awesome soundtrack was Top Gear for the SNES (it is in no way affiliated with the show by the way).
Arcade was still the technological king in the early 90’s though and Daytona USA certainly reminded everyone of that fact. Daytona USA is the highest grossing arcade game of all time and I know a lot of my quarters had something to do with it. And this tune has been stuck in my head ever since.
Not to be out done by the arcade racers, PC games began to grow out from their quirky sim beginnings to games that could offer a whole experience. These games even had console counterparts much like an arcade game. Need for Speed came on the scene and by the second game, they had sourced the talented Rom Di Prisco to make their tunes.
The gap between home consoles and arcade machines was closing though. Games would be released for home and arcade simultaneously, with the arcade counterpart only being marginally better looking but lacking the content that could be stuffed in a home console experience. Some arcade franchises became exclusively console games, as did Ridge Racer. The fourth Ridge Racer offered some of the best music of any game, period. When people talk about Ridge Racer Type 4, it is usually about the music.
After the 90’s though, tailored soundtracks for racing games gave way for music sourced from artists in popular media. It was actually a selling point to put “Music from _!” on the cover of a game. Kind of a shame really, since in-house musicians of game companies were really talented people. F-Zero GX was one of the few racing games in the 2000’s to have a tailored made soundtrack.
However, nostalgia has proven to be very strong amongst older gamers and they are willing to throw attention (and money) towards something that is on one hand modern and on the other hand comfortably familiar. Drift Stage has a soundtrack that takes you right back to the days of Outrun, bringing things full circle.
I know there is a lot more music out there and I’m sure I left out some tunes that many consider iconic. I did try to keep it brief so if you have more tracks to add, just post them below. Thanks for reading and listening!