Racing games are an interesting sort. Like shooters, they’re at times so oversaturated with decent-yet-forgettable titles that it’s hard to pick the quality ones out from a sea of titles. Luckily XBLA is limited to 20-ish titles that revolve around the genre. Even still we have our favorites that we feel best represent what Xbox Live Arcade racing games should offer. While 20 participants enter the ring, only five make our list.

5. TNT Racers

Cute and cuddly, this little title takes a page from the Micro Machines games of yesteryear, packs with several cars and tracks, then stuffs it all into one 800 MSP package. It’s filled with top-down racing goodness, multiple modes, and several powerups to eliminate the competition. Perhaps the best part about the game is what might be dubbed a ‘payback’ feature; when a player is eliminated they return as a ghost car. They can still acquire powerups and try to get revenge. But where this little racer shines is in its mulitplayer modes. Having friends pick up your extra controllers leads to a trash talking, loud time. If you’re a fan of couch multiplayer this is well worth your points.

4. Sega Rally Online Arcade

Sega seems to be the one external publisher that has no fear of publishing titles on XBLA. While other publishers have released a handful of games, Sega pumps out multiple a year. One of their greatest is Sega Rally Online Arcade.  It’s a great arcade-style experience using Sega Rally Revo‘s engine and Sega Rally 3‘s assets. The result is five tracks, roughly 10 cars, and a quality multiplayer component. We’re still bummed Sega didn’t bother to include the Lancia Stratos, but Sega Rally still has plenty of replay value for your money.

3. OutRun Online Arcade

Those who didn’t buy it before 2012 have missed out; those that did will have a blast playing through what is essentially OutRun 2006 HD. The series revolves around using real Ferrari cars in incredibly over-the-top driving experiences. Most turns are taken at a high speed 45 degree drift. During any of the games Heart Attack sequences players have to drive through gates, avoid falling meteors and UFO abduction, run a specific line, and more. OutRun truly embodies the Arcade part of XBLA. It’s a shame that DLC wasn’t release with the additional cars and stages from OutRun 2, because we’re still clamoring for more.

2. SkyDrift

Why aren’t more people playing this? It’s part Diddy Kong Racing, part Blur and part Plane Crazy. The visuals are downright gorgeous. Players race in environments that are colorful and details in planes just as impressive. Each plane has a distinct feel to it, yet the controls are easy to master. At 1200 MSP it may seem like a bit of a steep buy, but that purchase includes several tracks, planes, paint schemes for planes, a career mode and mulitplayer. If you’re just hell bent on not spending 1200 points, snatch this one up the first time it goes on sale. We need more people to play with!

1. Hydro Thunder Hurricane

Oh come on! Was there any question in your mind what game would take first place? It’s everything we loved about the original Hydro Thunder and more. The boats are fast, the jumps massive, the speed intense, and the controls satisfying. Vector Unit used their impressive water physics tech to give the game that much more realism. No longer does Hydro Thunder feel like hovercrafts on a road painted blue. There’s so much we could say about this game, but we’ll let the eight boats, 30+ skins, eight tracks, three modes, and deal-of-the-century DLC speak for itself. If you buy only one racing game on Xbox Live Arcade, make it Hydro Thunder Hurricane.

Upcoming games

In addition to these great titles 2012 is shaping up to be a great year for racing fans. Trials Evolution will feature proper four player racing this time around and has a track editor that looks to make Halo Reach‘s Forge mode look like a tinker toy. ATVs will finally get some XBLA love with Mad Riders, which looks to take the Skydrift/Hydro Thunder theme and apply it to quad racing. Wrecked: Revenge Revisited is setting out to dethrone TNT Racers as the best top-down racer. This one comes from the guys who worked on the Micro Machines games back in the day, so they just might succeed. Two other titles to watch for are Jeremy McGrath’s Off Road and Bang Bang Racing. Both are shaping up to be quality titles.