Codemasters has become the undisputed kings of console racers in recent years, thanks to DiRT Rally, GRID and, of course, the superlative F1 series. And though some people fondly remember Codemasters as ‘The Dizzy People’ from the 1980s, the company’s racing lineage was strong right from the get-go.
But in the 35 years since its first racing game, some once-bleeding edge titles have been left to be reclaimed by nature at the side of the great gaming racetrack. But in true Forza Horizon style (which would have been an awesome link if Codemasters had published it, but they didn’t – sorry), here are some real barn finds. Remember these?
The original BMX simulator was coded by Richard Darling of early Codemasters fame in 1984. Running two bikes on a single-screen track means that detail was through the roof for the home computers of the time. The bikes had inertia and there was – indeed still is – a real sense of centrifugal force as you corner on the banked curves.
But what was pretty revolutionary at the time was the inclusion of an action replay after each race. Sure, that became a staple of ’90s racers, but Codies was doing it all the way back in Orwellian calendar digits. Despite having gameplay that would perfectly suit 4P local play on Nintendo Switch, the name’s dead today, though you can at least play the game’s sequel Pro BMX Simulator in the rather excellent Oliver Twins Collection for the Atari Evercade (pictured), alongside a host of other Codies classics.
Well worth the money, and you’ll support the National Video Games Museum too.
TOCA Race Driver 2
I can’t believe nobody talks about this anymore. Way before GRID, Codemasters had tried making a racing game with a story – something that modern racers should really try again today (and will be attempting with the upcoming F1 2021). But while the first Race Driver game was groundbreaking in that sense and decently made, the sequel utterly perfected the formula.
The story is great, Scottie (your mechanic) is the stuff of legend, and the cars are properly fragile too, unlike today’s ubiquitous soap bars. But the icing on the cake was Xbox Live online play, which was even – somehow – copied across to the decent PS2 version.
But the OG Xbox and Race Driver 2 were perfectly matched. Providing the best graphics in a serious racer, amazing online play and so many racing disciplines from V8 Supercars to Land Rovers racing in the hills, it’s no wonder it topped the charts when it came out. If only GRID’s engine was used to make a TOCA Race Driver 4…
F1 Race Stars
In the battle for the title of ‘best kart racer that isn’t Mario Kart’, few have as strong an argument as F1 Race Stars.
With super-deformed F1 cars and their officially-licensed drivers (including Michael Schumacher and Bruno Senna, it was a pretty great era), it’s a very strange mix of fun gameplay and normally ultra-serious motorsport, but it works. And not just sort of holds together, but is actually legitimately ace.
The only wrong decision to my mind was eschewing powerslides, which is a bit of a shame since powersliding is one of the few things you can ask your car to do in a karting game apart from accelerate, turn or stop. But sliding an F1 car is not normal unless you’re Nelson Piquet, so fair enough. I suppose.
That aside, only sporadic moments of ‘which way does the track go?’ threaten to spoil the fun, leaving everything else a solid, smooth and assured racer. Even the track design’s good. If any game deserves a PS5/Series X sequel, it’s F1 Race Stars.
Oddly, before Micro Machines was remade, Micro Machines was remade. Yes, I’d forgotten about that too, but after all that is why we’re here.
Brief recap: around the time of F1 Race Stars, Codies decided it could still make its toy car racer even without the Hasbro license, and so Toybox Turbos was born. Ironically, when Codies did then secure the license again, the ensuing Micro Machines World Series turned out to be a bit of a mess and remains totally forgettable. It took all of the limelight away from this game, which is actually very good!
There aren’t enough set-pieces, perhaps, but those that are here are charming and it’s got a fun, friendly feel without feeling dumbed down. Very nice indeed. Best bit? The hammers, of course, echoing the rather awesome Micro Machines V3 on PS1. It’s a shame the camera moves to be always behind you, but that does stop people pushing left when they meant right.
Yep, this is a comparatively new game, yet it’s been instantly forgotten. Why? Because it’s a racing game WITH NO RACING.
Hindsight is indeed a wonderful thing, but looking back, that’s surely the reason this failed so hard. It’s not even a bad game, though it’s surprisingly dull in single-player. Pitched as a racing equivalent of Overwatch, Fortnite or Rocket League, this was supposed to be the racing game you’d play when you wanted a quick-fire gaming burst of driving action.
Trouble is, it’s confusing, complex and hard to do well at first, scuppering its chances of ever taking off (well, that and the dreadful online lag if the game didn’t choose you as host). Gotta feel sorry for its developer, the former Motorstorn dev, Evolution Games. They were acquired, made Onrush… and went straight to limbo. Yes, without passing ‘Go’.
Nature’s cruel, but the game industry is crueller.
Blimey, this is a blast from the past. Micro Maniacs is another Micro Machines-alike, only instead of toy cars, you’re racing tiny, running people. Well, tiny running monsters to be precise.
A girl with no skull over her brain clutching a teddy bear, a mouth with legs called MawMaw… it’s odd in a kooky, Addams Family kind of way. But it’s also fun and funny. Everybody racing onto a portable turntable (as your dad), only to be confounded by the rotating vinyl turning them around is still laugh-out-loud funny.
Codemasters’ traditional environmental jokes are present and correct, and some of the levels – like the garden in Hoops a Daisy – still look surprisingly lush. It is a bit hard to enjoy before you’ve learned the track layouts, especially since there’s no minimap, but I suppose since everything else is so small, a micro minimap would be a single pixel speck.
What do you mean, that’s not how it works? Either way, a modern remake of this would be awesome.
And that’s it for this particular round-up of Codemasters racing games that deserves better than being used to prop up the coffee table. Tell us in the comments if you can think of some more, too!