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Picking our favorite mobile racing games

We loving racing and we love gaming. In fact, we’re such big fans that we bring the two passions together twice a week for our Autoblog Twitch Stream where we livestream ourselves playing dozens of different driving games.

Our stream has focused solely on the console gaming, but not everyone has the means or desire to buy a console. That’s where mobile gaming comes in.

Are mobile games great? Not in the traditional sense. Are they even good? We're about to find out.

We took suggestions from our readers and livestream viewers, then added some of the top-rated games in the Apple App Store to compile this list. And then we spent hours and hours playing a bunch of mobile video games. Click on the image above to read all about our findings.

  • Image Credit: Asphalt 9

Asphalt 9

Asphalt 9 is about as traditional-looking a racing game as you can get, and it’s currently the one that's most heavily promoted by Apple. It has all the trappings of a console game, but this is the first game we played on this journey, and it instantly began to make us wary of racing controls on mobile. As is the case with some other games, Asphalt 9 offers players two different control options, both of which rely on auto-acceleration throughout the entirety of the races. You can either choose to use Touchdrive, which allows you to swipe your car left or right to choose different race paths in conjunction with tapping a Drift or Nitro button on screen, or you can use tilt controls, again along with on-screen Drift and Nitro buttons.

This game did nothing to change our long-held view that tilt controls are terrible for mobile racing games. The Touchedrive controls are definitely better, but also make the game less fun. We tried using a Gamevice gamepad (more on that later) and the controls are strange for this method as well. You still auto-accelerate by default, and while moving left and right with an actual joystick is definitely easier, double tapping the right trigger for boost doesn’t feel intuitive.

The game is OK overall, and we appreciate the fact that there are actual, licensed vehicles featured (something that even some console games lack), but ultimately Asphalt 9 is a bit generic. In classic mobile game style, time restrictions encourage players to either watch ads or purchase in-game currency with real money to progress faster. We like the soundtrack, featuring presumably licensed music with actual vocals and not just the relentless onslaught of mediocre drum and bass tracks that are common in mobile games.

We like the vibe of Asphalt 9 overall. It's definitely worth a try for the low, low price of free.

  • Image Credit: Need for Speed: Most Wanted

Need For Speed: Most Wanted

We really wanted to like this game, considering NFS Heat is coming soon and looks amazing, but two games into this journey we're already getting annoyed at how generic these types of games can be. The tracks here are kind of boring, and the controls are middling. This game offers both tilt controls and touch controls just like Asphalt 9, and we found both options required too steep a learning curve for a mobile game. We tried using a gamepad with this game, but unfortunately it isn't compatible.

Need For Speed: Most Wanted features licensed cars, and the graphics are good, but we're pretty underwhelmed overall. Gameplay is similar to Asphalt 9 except in NFS cops chase you. Burnout fans may enjoy this game's cool takedowns when you run people off the road, which are satisfying if not groundbreaking. As is the case with many others, this game has a system where you can purchase in-game currency with real money, but this one particularly rubs us the wrong way since the in-game currency you’re buying is still signified as USD. For instance, you can spend $2.99 (real money) to acquire $500,000 (in-game fake money). It should be obvious to most people how the system works, but it is unnecessarily confusing, particularly for younger players.

  • Image Credit: CSR Racing 2

CSR Racing 2

This is a fun game with unique driving mechanics. The aesthetic is “night time illegal street racer,” but in a fun way, and it features licensed vehicles. There’s no actual “driving” in this game, at least not in the same way as most others. The main view is a side angle of the car rather than overhead or chase-cam. The car auto-accelerates in a straight path and the player's job is to feather the gas at the start to get a boost and then tap to shift at exactly the right moment to ensure the car hits its top speed. Think of those arcade games where the light goes around in a circle and you have to hit the big button to stop it at the perfect time to get the jackpot. That’s basically what you’re doing here.

Mercifully, CSR Racing 2 offers a nice selection of cars to choose from that aren’t paywalled by real money or in-game currency. This seemingly simple choice makes it more engaging right from the get-go. Despite straightforward controls we tried using a gamepad and found that it wasn’t compatible.

We definitely like this game a lot. It’s a little less intense than some other racing games, but has a strong aesthetic.

  • Image Credit: Real Racing 3

Real Racing 3

This game made us rethink our hatred for tilt controls — the movements the player makes to control the on-screen car are small, making it a lot easier to control. Gameplay starts with auto-acceleration, and the player controls direction by slightly tilting the phone left or right. Auto-acceleration can be switched off, and the player can choose to go fully touch-screen. Our gamepad was compatible with Real Racing 3, and the results didn’t disappoint. Having a gamepad can drastically improve mobile racing games like this one, and even with the gamepad in place control schemes and the sensitivities of in-game braking and traction assists are adjustable.

As with the previous games in this slideshow, there are a few different types of in-game currency. Unfortunately, only two vehicle options are available at first, but at least they are actual licensed cars you'll have heard of. Another irritation is this game all but forces you into a five-minute cool-down to “service your vehicle” after your very first race in an effort to force the use of in-game currency to speed it up; currency you buy with real money. That's annoying. Other than that, we like how this game plays a lot.

If you’re looking for a classic Forza Motorsport-like game on the phone, this is probably the one to choose.

  • Image Credit: Hill Climb Racer 2

Hill Climb Racer 2

Hill Climb Racer 2 is an arcade game, not really a racing sim at all. That said, it's the perfect kind of game for when you’re just looking to burn a few minutes at a time. The play style works for short bursts or zoning out and playing over and over while listening to a podcast.

All the player really does is tap the phone to make the car go. There are constant of jumps and obstacles, and of course the ability to do flips. There is also a great variety of tracks. Players can race anywhere from the North Pole to the desert or forest. There's even a low-gravity track on the moon! There are several upgradeable classes of vehicles and multiple game modes. We found it fun to compete in the “cups” and unlock upgrades for vehicles, but there is an adventure mode too.

There are multiple types of in-game currency, some of which you can buy with real money, so be aware of micro-transactions. Overall, Hill Climb Racer 2 is a fun little game that’s easy to pick up and has a satisfying, quick feedback loop that can suck you in for minutes or hours. Our gamepad wasn't compatible with this game, but we don't know that it would add anything to the experience anyway.

  • Image Credit: Cro-Mag Rally

Cro-Mag Rally

We were especially excited about this game because it invokes the happy memories we have of games like Diddy Kong Racing, Mario Kart 64 and Crash Team Racing. While it does capture the graphical charm of those games of old, and has a fun, nostalgia-inducing soundtrack, it falls victim to rough controls.

The tilt controls aren't executed well in this game — tilt the phone the slightest bit and you immediately start driving right off the side of the track. Adjusting the sensitivity doesn't help much. Fortunately, Cro-Mag Rally is compatible with our gamepad, and that made a huge difference in our testing, sucking us in to a few races that finally felt how kart racing games should feel. But there’s just something about the game that feels half baked. The tracks are good, there are several kart options with varying stats, and it's fun to collect powerups and shoot other racers just like in the kart-racers of old, but the feel and gameplay left us feeling cold.

Even for the low price of $1.99, unless you really love this style of racer and have a gamepad, we'd give this one a pass.

Drive

#DRIVE is promoted as an “endless driving” game. So-called “endless runner” games are a dime a dozen, and this is a fun twist along those same lines. The game has a top-down perspective and the car moves by auto-accelerating toward the top of the screen. Tapping on the left or right side of the screen executes turns. Because it’s an arcade-style game, the turning feel isn’t at all realistic, but it’s not supposed to be. It’s more like perma-drifting. Players collect powerups and have to avoid other vehicles as they head toward their destination. Different vehicles and colors can be unlocked through gameplay.

The toughest part, at least at first, is that repairs and gas tank refills are necessary to keep the run going. We're fans of these types of mindless, quick, arcade-style games, and this one is a good example of the genre.

  • Image Credit: Street Kart

Street Kart

We downloaded this game expecting it to be an old-school kart racer like Cro-Mag Rally. It’s actually a game about pro street karts, which we think is a cool concept.

Right off the bat, we didn’t like the tilt controls, but the touch controls were even worse  — unresponsive both on the left for steering and the right for acceleration and braking. We eventually reverted back to the tilt controls. We would’ve loved to use our gamepad with this game, but unfortunately we found that it's not compatible.

A digital coach voiced by 2016 F1 World Champion Nico Rosberg offers tips during races, but the audio mix is so hilariously rough that it's difficult if not impossible to understand what he's saying if you're not wearing headphones. Ultimately, we think Street Kart might be a fun every-once-in-a-while game.

  • Image Credit: Aquapark

Aquapark

Aquapark isn’t a racing game in the strictest sense, but since it's one of the top games in the app store's racing category, we gave it a go. Basically, a little stick man travels down a ridiculously long water slide, racing against several other characters. This is about as “mobile game” as it gets, but we have to admit we kind of love it.

We learned pretty quickly that the best move isn't to stay in the water slide, but to jump off and land cleanly on lower levels. It’s a lot of fun nailing a super high jump or pushing someone off the slide to their doom. In addition to just making it down the slide first, gameplay also includes collecting coins and purchasing new character skins, mostly in the form of various cartoon versions of animals like pigs and cats.

The controls are snappy, which helps make Aquapark a quick and easy mobile game that’s digestible in a few short playing sessions. This one is really fun if you’re just looking for a good way to burn some time.

  • Image Credit: Horizon Chase

Horizon Chase

This game is retro to the max in the best possible way. The default touch controls help, with gas on the right side and a simple left and right arrow scheme on the left side. We eventually switched to auto-accelerate since we hardly used brakes at all, but either way works well. The aesthetic is retro sci-fi racer. The soundtrack is an awesome mix of synthwave mashed with more traditional video game music inspired by the ‘80s and ‘90s.

The illusion of speed is great in this game. The creators really made it feel like you’re absolutely flying. Without some obvious assists on the turns, the cars would never be able to make it around the track. It works well with a gamepad too, as the feel of actual buttons adds to the gameplay experience.

We had a ton of fun with Horizon Chase until we completed the first series and were prompted to pay $3 to unlock the full game. We have absolutely no problem paying a few bucks for a mobile game, but in this case it felt like having the rug pulled out from under us when we weren't expecting it. In the end we paid the fee and continued to have a blast. If you're willing to spend a few bucks, we think you will too. Horizon Chase is one of our favorites of the bunch.

  • Image Credit: Ultimate Car Driving Simulator

Ultimate Car Driving Simulator

This game is literally a car driving simulator. Immediately at startup we were prompted to select a car. No introduction, no credits, nothing. It's a great way to start off a game. The open world driving aspect and the feeling of the car controls remind us of a PG-rated Grand Theft Auto. The game defaults to touch controls — gas and brake on the right and a left and right arrow on the left — but can be changed to tilt controls. We were bummed to discover that this game isn’t compatible with a gamepad. It would’ve been a perfect fit.

Once driving in the open world, players will find challenges and ways to earn cash to buy new vehicles. In Drift-X, for instance, the player has to drive a pre-defined amount before finishing a race. Parkour mode features incredibly fun precision driving courses. There are some really satisfying jumps scattered throughout the world, too.

There really isn’t all that much to this game, but we still found ourselves charmed by it. Because sometimes it’s just fun to drive around in a sandbox world.

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