10 Weirdest Racing Games Ever Made

At first blush, racing games seem pretty simple: drive car, go fast, win. But while most games in the genre are content with this simple formula, plus or minus a few weapons or a boost mechanic, some developers take the basic skeleton of a racing game and decide to go in a weirder direction.

Maybe instead of cars, you pilot a special vehicle that has a unique control scheme, or no vehicle at all; or maybe instead of a person driving a car, you're a bear (seriously). Or maybe you're an anime girl instead of a car (no, seriously). Whatever the concept, the one thing these games all have in common is that, well, they're a little weird.

10 Sonic R

Sonic is a natural fit for the racing genre – his whole character is literally "go fast." But just like his mainline games, Sega has gone in a lot of… unorthodox directions when designing racing games around him. Sonic R, the lone 3D Sonic game for the Saturn, is a good example.

Instead of having Sonic and friends drive cars, the game's racing is on-foot, and each track is designed to be explored more than it's built to be raced through. It hasn't exactly aged gracefully, but Sonic R's unique ideas and awesome soundtrack are definitely memorable.

9 Drive Girls

I'm playing fast and loose with the definition of "racing game" for this one, but it's just so off-the-wall that I have to include it. Drive Girls is a PS Vita exclusive in which you play as a bunch of different anime girls who can all transform into modern cars. Suffice to say that it's more than a little confusing to watch a soft-spoken blonde warrior in skimpy cybernetic armor turn into a shiny Honda sedan.

The gameplay is really more action than racing-focused, having you fight off waves of enemies in both car and girl form. Why do you need to turn into a car to do this, you ask? Well… why not?

8 Kirby's Air Ride

Kirby's Air Ride is proof that "weird" doesn't necessarily mean "bad." You play as Kirby (different-colored Kirbys in multiplayer), racing on fanciful, colorful tracks. But rather than controlling your acceleration, the game moves you forward automatically, and you use the A button to brake, drift, charge a boost, inhale enemies, and use copy abilities.

Which function the button performs changes based on context. It's definitely an unusual design for a racing game, but its simplicity is appealing, and with its variety of modes (including the beloved City Trial) Kirby's Air Ride has become a cult classic.

7 Pyongyang Racer

One of the few video games developed in North Korea, Pyongyang Racer is pretty bare-bones. It was designed by the software company Nosotek as an advertisement for the tourism industry in Pyongyang, North Korea's capital; since it was built to be played in a web browser, it makes sense that it's not exactly full-featured.

All you do is drive around a flat render of Pyongyang's streets, trying to collect information on city landmarks while a traffic cop reprimands you if you drive incorrectly. If it were made anywhere else, it wouldn't be particularly notable – but since Pyongyang Racer is a rare piece of North Korean media to make it out of the country, the game is a bizarrely valuable cultural artifact.

6 Racing Lagoon

Back in the 90s, Squaresoft was one of the most successful developers in video games, harnessing the technological jump to 3D to create iconic and indelible games. Their success also meant that they could get a little weird, with games like Parasite Eve introducing new levels of complexity and genre-blending style.

Racing Lagoon beats all of them, though. A Japan-exclusive PS1 title, Racing Lagoon marries RPG mechanics like leveling up, experience points, and a deep and involved story with neon-soaked street racing. It's weird, it's stylish as heck, and it's extremely 90s Squaresoft.

5 Enviro-Bear 2000

Every winter, I think about how I'd rather be a bear – full of food, safe and warm in a cave, and asleep. Enviro-Bear 2000, though, reimagines this comforting fantasy as a stressful experimental racer. You play as a bear driving a car through a forest, searching for food to see you through the coming winter.

You only control the bear's paw, though, which makes driving and eating at the same time a challenging endeavor. You'll also have to dodge angry bees, badgers, and other cars in your quest to fatten up. I think I'll stay a human, thanks.

4 Excitebots: Trick Racing

The Wii was chock-full of weird experiments, as Nintendo and the rest of the industry scrambled to figure out how to harness the console's broad appeal. One of the first wonky moves Nintendo made was bringing back the classic Excitebike series as Excitetruck, an arcadey offroad racing game.

Then they followed it up with Excitebots, which replaced the monster trucks with, uh… (checks notes) robot animals that transform into karts and do tricks in the air. Okay, sure. The game is surprisingly fun, but its concept is so absurd that it borders on parody.

3 Driver: San Francisco

Driver: San Francisco is most well-known these days for not being available on any digital storefronts, but this oddball open-world racer deserves to be known for its bonkers concept.

As you participate in different races throughout a fictionalized version of the San Francisco Bay Area, you can astral-project out of your car and into other vehicles, like city buses or taxis. This lets you use the surrounding traffic to influence a race to your advantage, like some kind of driving god.

2 PocketBike Racer

This is the second advergame on this list, which goes to show that no idea is too strange for capitalism to turn into an advertisement. Back in the 2000s, Burger King decided that it would be a good idea to develop a series of cheapo Xbox 360 games to advertise the brand; PocketBike Racer is one of them.

You can play as Burger King icons like The King himself or, uh, a burger, and race around suburban neighborhoods on tiny bikes. There are only five tracks, and the gameplay isn't much to write home about, but the novel experience of playing as a giant hamburger on a tiny bike makes this unlike any other racer.

1 Sonic Riders

Like Sonic R, Sonic Riders is an unorthodox Sonic racing game full of interesting ideas and marred by messy execution. Where Sonic R transplanted the speed and exploration of Sonic's side-scrolling platformers to a 3D racer, Sonic Riders drops the hedgehog and his friends onto hoverboards, with a whole set of complex, interlocking mechanics.

You've got tricks, drifting, drafting, managing air (basically gasoline), different pathways through courses based on character type, one of the strangest boost-start mechanics in racing games, and more. Feel dizzy yet? Sonic Riders isn't the most approachable racing game ever made, but I did wear out my Wavebird's thumbstick on it back in the day, so there's definitely something appealing about it.

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