Japanese Street Racing is Back
Night-Runners promises to take players on a retro, VHS-filtered journey back to the thrills of ’90s street racing
The glory days of racing games seem to be over. Take a look at the total sales of racing games. There’s a clear trend indicating that new racing games see much less attention than they used to (well, aside from Mario Kart). I would argue — though this might be a controversial view — that the last decade’s worth of racing games have lost some of their edge. They don’t seem to be pushing the boundaries as much as their predecessors from the 2000s and prior.
It may seem ironic, then, that I’m about to discuss a racing game that is a deliberate throwback. It’s a game that celebrates Japanese car culture and the Japanese street racing scene (which certainly isn’t entirely new to the world of video games, although it probably hasn’t been as widely explored as it should be).
The game in question is Night-Runners, an indie racing game that “heavily influenced by 1990s — early 2000s car culture, with strong RPG elements” (quote from the developer). Let’s take a closer look.
Night-Runners is set in the glory days of Japanese street car culture: the ’90s and ’00s. Some of the most legendary Japanese cars were build around this twenty year period. And it’s arguably the era when Japanese street racing broke out into mainstream pop culture (with the debut of the Initial D manga in 1995, which also led to a highly popular arcade game of the same name).
Although the game is set in Japan and primarily features Japanese cars from the era, you’ll also find some European and American legends here too. The “tracks” (i.e. roads) range from winding mountain roads through to inner-city streets and highways.
The developers are attempting to tick every box when it comes to graphics. It’s not so much that they’re looking to build something that will go toe-to-toe with the next Gran Turismo. It’s more that they’re creating a style that is representative of the images in our mind’s eye. When you think about Japanese street racing, what does your brain conjure? My head goes to endless dark highways dotted with soft pools of light from street lamps sitting high overhead. Glossy surfaces of exotic cars that dare not be too sharp, because this isn’t reality, it’s a a place we’re visiting in a dream.
This is exactly the kind of world being conjured in Night-Runners. The entire game is presented as though it’s a VHS recording; there’s a fuzzy abstraction blanketed across the art design, right down to the timestamps you’ll see everywhere.
This isn’t Gran Turismo. It’s you and your mates watching a VHC cassette you recorded decades ago — only now you literally get to re-live those moments by picking up a controller. Delicious.
Let’s not forget the importance of a good soundtrack. Night-Runner’s music is broader than you might think at first — ranging from 2000s style hip-hop and R&B instrumentals through to (suitably fitting) synthwave.
Tuning & Modification
Driving cars is fun, sure. But so is modifying them. The ability to purchase a car and then tinker with it to your heart’s content — improving its performance and making it unique — is a welcome feature in any racing game.
Night-Runners is expected to feature extensive tuning support. You’ll be able to move freely around your garage and modify your cars there. Parts are classified into four different tiers: stock, street, race, and prototype.
Race and prototype parts affect the car’s performance (for example, adding downforce and reducing weight). Street parts, on the other hand, are all about the look (which, let’s face it, is pretty important too).
What’s really cool is that you can even customize your car’s interior. You can add gauges and re-paint plastic parts, apparently — it sounds amazing.
Night-Runners seem very promising. This is a game that gives players something they’ve been seeking for a while now: a return to the golden era of Japanese street racing.
The development team are pouring a great deal of passion into the project, which you’ll see if you check out their Instagram and Twitter pages. There’s a clear understanding of the classic aesthetic that many gamers are longing for.
Of course, the game is still well into development and things can change at any time. The team plans to deliver a playable demo by the end of this year, so more information will be available then. Make sure to also check out the official YouTube channel for Night-Runners if you’re interested in following its development. We can’t wait!