Run laps around the competition with these top Android racing games

by Tim McLain

Start your engines, Android-carrying race fans! Whether you're a road race fan, or prefer to get your speed on in the cockpit of a jet-powered boat, here's a short list of solid, race-ready apps waiting for you in the Android marketplace.

Asphalt HD ($4.99)

Gameloft is known for combining top-quality graphics with super-smooth arcade control schemes, giving casual racing game fans a lot to love. Asphalt HD marries a dizzying array of content with a long list of unlockable racing whips, offering up a high-quality racing experience that can only be had on newer Droid devices. There are 30 vehicles to unlock from the usual suspects (Ferrari, Audi, Ducati anyone?), along with 12 tracks of goodness.

Racing is fun, with the default tilt-steering setup working well after a little practice. The first few tries will result in over-steering into walls and competitors; figuring out the sweet spot for avoiding this will be critical to your long-term success as a top finisher.

New racers will quickly unlock fetching female co-pilots, special racing events, time trials, drifting competitions and a fair amount of cash, which can be used to buy new cars, upgrades to rides and lots more. As long as you're not looking for a true driving simulator, Asphalt 5 has many hours of arcade racing fun in store.

Related: Classic arcade games on the Android

Reckless Racing ($2.99)

From the first moment you press your gas pedal to the firewall and hear and see a cascade of virtual stones and dirt flying from your back tires, you'll be hooked on this instant Android classic. The top-down view makes it easy to see the tracks, which are just curvy enough to challenge your drifting abilities. Add a quality musical score and lots of "Yeehaw!" hootin' and hollerin' when you take a jump or cut off a fellow racer, and you can't help but smile and enjoy the ride.

Take some time to play with the controls, and remember that a few small taps on the directional buttons make for good turns; hold down left and right at your peril. Bubba, Otis, Lurlene, Cletus and Floyd are waiting to challenge you in single player mode, or dive into the multiplayer to compete with the best of the best, then post your times on the leaderboards for all to see. An in-game chat module adds an additional layer of smack-talking to this must-have racing experience.

Wave Blazer ($2.99)

Hydro Thunder fans, your long wait for a mobile version of this boat-racing classic is nearly over. Wave Blazer brings the familiar action, quality graphics and smooth controls to your Android device.

The gameplay is familiar: Place in the top three of each race, and more boats and race locations are unlocked. From snowy ice racing, to Caribbean island hopping, there's something here for everyone. Tilt your phone to steer, make appropriate use of your nitro to boost your way past the competition, and be sure to move to better boats, and the action moves along.

Sadly, the AI of your opponents is a bit lacking, there's no way to ram other boats out of your way, it's too easy to get stuck on walls, and there's not much in the way of collectible items embedded in each track. Let's hope Polarbit can bring these features and fixes to an update in early 2011!

Touch Racing Nitro ($3.95)

If you're a fan of mini-RC car racing, you'll feel right at home in this visually appealing game. Take control of a tiny race car, and use your fingers to control the gas, brake, steering wheel and nitro-booster to dominate your opponents across three unique environments and 18 tracks in total.

With a bit of practice, the finger-touch controls make for a satisfying racing experience. Save your nitro boosts (which you can pick up from the track during each race) for the final set of laps, and you'll quickly pull out ahead and place in the top three without much trouble. This is a slick, challenging racer that should find a good home on your Droid device.

Need for Speed Shift (on sale for $0.99)

I saved the very best for last. Designed to run on the newest Snapdragon-powered Android devices (EVO, Incredible, Droid X), EA's Need for Speed Shift is the go-to racing app, putting you in the driver's seat for a groundbreaking 28-state career mode.

The entire 3D racing experience is spot-on, with accelerometer controls that make nailing the turns easy, adding on-screen buttons for changing camera angles, braking, and more. As you progress through the career mode, you'll earn money to unlock new cars, upgrades like slick tires and nitrous boost.

I find the hood view the best way to master the turns on most tracks. Be sure to click the camera button to find which view works best for your style of racing. Get your friends in on the action with local Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connections, and you can all ooh and aah over this top-quality racing title for the Droid.

Related: New Android device? Download these games first