Arcade auto racing for iOS

This week's collection of iOS apps is all about arcade racing games. The first is a recently released 2D top-down racer with unique controls and six-player local multiplayer. The second moves toward combat racing with upgradable cars and tons of levels to conquer. The third is an excellent physics-based racer with a focus on skidding and sliding around corners to get to the finish line.

When it comes to racing games on the iOS, you have plenty of choices. Whether you want to race cars, motorcycles, ATVs, jet skis, or planes, the iTunes app store has excellent options.

Probably the most recognized racing games would be Firemint's Real Racing, the Need for Speed franchise, or the Asphalt racing games, all of which offer 3D racing action. But we've found that sometimes it's the arcade racing games that can be more fun if you're in the right mood.

This week's collection of iOS apps is all about arcade racing games. The first is a recently released 2D top-down racer with unique controls and six-player local multiplayer. The second moves toward combat racing with upgradable cars and tons of levels to conquer. The third is an excellent physics-based racer with a focus on skidding and sliding around corners to get to the finish line.

Cut the corners close and jockey for position in this top-down 2D racing game.

(Credit: Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

VS Racing (99 cents) is a true top-down racing game in the classic sense--there are no 3D effects or complex car models, but it's still pretty fun. The control system offers up three types of steering (there is no gas or braking in this game). When you race for the first time, the game suggests you use a steering mechanism usually found in ball rolling games--tilt to turn so that the car is always traveling "downhill." We tried a couple of races using the suggested method, but found the other two directional steering options to be much more reliable.

VS. Racing offers a single player campaign as well as local multiplayer over Wi-Fi with up to six players. In the single player game, you start off easy to get used to the controls in what are called the Local Qualifiers. As you progress, more racers are added to train you to jockey for position against other cars. After the qualifiers you move on to Regionals, then compete in the championship all the way to the Finals. A loose story line shows up as static dialogues between the game's characters in between races, but there's not much to it--in other words, you won't be playing this game for the story. Still, the racing action is pretty fun with 34 races across six unique tracks.

Multiplayer would probably be the best part of VS. Racing, but it's limited to matches played over local Wi-Fi. If the developers added racing online with GameCenter support, it would probably be great fun matching up against five other players online. We hope the developers are planning that for later versions. The game could also be improved by adding more tracks.

Overall, VS. Racing is a fun racing game, but might be a bit easy for serious arcade racing fans. If you want a top-down racer that's reminiscent of classic arcade games, VS. Racing is a fairly good option, but it gets online multiplayer and GC support, it will be even better.

When you get behind in this game, use your weapons to take people out and improve your position.

(Credit: Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

Death Rally (99 cents) is an iOS adaptation of (and homage to) the classic, much-loved top-down PC racer of the same name. Much like its predecessor, Death Rally has a gritty feel (although much more PG than on the PC) and some of the best racing gameplay and graphics on its platform.

At its most basic, Death Rally is a 2D arcade racer in which you duke it out for pole position in short, brutal races against multiple opponents, with some help from your guns. You control your car with a virtual left joystick (the lack of fancy controls means you need to master sliding around corners), and you control your special weapon (you can unlock several in the game, from a shotgun to a mine-layer) with a virtual right joystick. Your primary gun is always firing if there's something to shoot at.

What makes Death Rally so addictive is how it rewards you for quick, pick-up-and-play races: you're unlocking and upgrading weapons and cars--for cars, improving their speed, handling, and armor--and each race gets you slightly closer to a new or better weapon or vehicle, which in turn lets you compete on progressively more difficult races against increasingly craftier opponents. You get cash for a variety of accomplishments, including winning or placing, taking out competitors, and making or breaking course records. Death Rally keeps things fresh by continuously changing the available races, with enough maps, difficulty settings, and special challenges to always pique your interest as you work your way toward gaining fame and beefing up the hardware in your garage.

Death Rally is a racing gem, combining intuitive and visceral gameplay with a supremely satisfying RPG-style advancement system. It's a must download for arcade racing fans, especially if you can find it on sale.

The physics in this racer are exceptional, but you're going to have to master drift-like turns.

(Credit: Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

Reckless Racing (99 cents) is just plain fun, taking some gameplay ideas from old classic console games like RC Pro-Am, and adding in modern graphics and physics to make a racing game that is a blast to play and looks great on the iPhone 4 Retina Display.

The game delivers on two major counts: graphics and controls. Reckless Racing is absolutely dazzling, with vibrantly colored cars and tracks that are just shy of photorealistic. And you get to choose from five control schemes--everything from basic left/right-gas/brake buttons to an onscreen steering wheel to accelerometer steering. We're partial to the buttons, but we are also enamored with "tank" mode (in which your car just goes flat-out the entire time--all you do is steer). Whatever control option you choose, you'll find absolutely perfect arcade physics. Cars skid and slide and screech around corners (in varying amounts depending on whether you're on gravel or asphalt). If you like drift, you'll love RR.

The game's half-dozen vehicle options include Otis' flame-adorned pickup, Cletus' old army jeep, Floyd's cab truck--you get the idea. As far as we can tell, each car is identical in terms of handling and performance, which makes for a level playing field and a better game--you're battling the track and your driving skills, not the car.

RR offers just seven tracks, which does seem a bit limited, though as you progress, you unlock reverse versions of each one. That more or less brings the total to 14, but we would still love to see EA add some new tracks in a future update.

Single-player options include Dirt Rally (your basic championship mode) and Hot Lap (in which you race for the best single-lap time). Then there's Delivery, which is just like it sounds: you pick up and deliver as many packages as you can in a fixed amount of time (3, 5, or 8 minutes). This takes place on a larger, more open track--and it's a blast.

Of course, any single-player racer gets boring after a while, which is why we like that RR offers online multiplayer races for up to four players.

Overall, if you're looking for a classic isometric racer like the days of old, Reckless Racing takes the best of that classic genre and adds in modern graphics and physics to make for an excellent arcade racer.

Got a better top-down racing game that's not mentioned here? Please let us all know about it in the comments.

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