What are Synthwave racing games? An introduction

What are Synthwave racing games? An introduction

Retro-futuristic aesthetics paired with catchy electronic beats: How one racing game inspired an entire genre of music to blossom.

Photo credit: Fraoula, Kerim Kumbasar

Synthwave, Retrowave, Outrun, Vaporwave – What do all these terms mean and why are there always cool cars in front of a sunset involved? And what does this have to do with racing games?

Get ready to travel back in time to the start of the millennium when people were fantasising about what people in the 80s envisioned the future to look like. Wait, what? Okay, let’s just go back to the early 2000s.

GTA inspires creative artists in the music world

The very origins of the Synthwave genre are nebulous, but they can be traced back to the French house scene where various artists experimented with this style of music. The tracks were mainly instrumental and inspired by synthesizer themes from Sci-Fi movies and series from the 80s, as well as the New Wave genre.


A reason behind this ignition was the popularity of the videogame Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, as it created a nostalgic feeling for the 80s era and its aesthetics. Speaking of aesthetics, from a visual aspect Synthwave is known for its bubbly neon colours and dark backgrounds which give this retro-futuristic feeling. Apart from movies and series, the creators are also inspired by video games and retro cars among other things. This leads to the next step of the evolution: Outrun.

Testarossa and OutRun become legendary

In 2005, the French DJ Kavinsky brought some more racing action to the table with his track Testarossa Autodrive. Thanks to its title and the fast-paced adrenaline-pushing sound, the song was perfect to envision yourself driving full speed in a sports car. Preferably at night, and preferably alongside the Miami Beach with some neon signs flashing by.

The Ferrari Testarossa will remain an important artefact. This is the car that the players of the 1986 arcade game Out Run by Sega had to drive. The goal of this racing game was to avoid traffic in your speedy Testarossa and reach one of five destinations. It became one of the most popular arcade games of the era and counts as one of the most influential racing games of all time. One reason behind the great success was definitely the amazing music. The original soundtrack was composed by Hiroshi Kawaguchi and the players could select between three songs: Passing Breeze, Splash Wave, and Magical Sound Shower. A fourth track called Last Wave plays at the final score screen.

Kavinsky kept going with his fascination for the title as, in 2013, he released his first studio album titled “OutRun”. Additionally, two music videos were produced for the hits Protovision and Odd Look, featuring aesthetically pleasing night-time driving and a real Ferrari Testarossa. With that, the unique genre was fully cemented in the world of electronic music. The terms often are used interchangeably, with the genre being called Synthwave, Outrun or other names.

Synthwave racing games complete the circle

Music and video games often inspire each other, and synthwave is no excecption. Indie developers started to create games that incorporate the synthwave aesthetic and of course, featured fitting soundtracks. If you are now in the mood to listen to some music and hop into a fast car while driving through the night: We have five recommendations of synthwave racing games for you!

Neon Drive: For Neon Drive, published by Fraoula, you need a bit of rhythm in your blood. You are driving a car trough futuristic environments and need to steer it according to the songs that are playing, avoiding obstacles on the ground at the right time.

Synthwave Dream ’85: Why drive normally when you can drift the entire time instead? Synthwave Dream ’85 by LoneDev gives you a high speed car and then sends you on an infinite track to drift as if there were no tomorrow. The game also features splitscreen multiplayer.

Electro Ride: The Neon Racing: This title by Sylwester Osik is a classic racing game but transported into a neon retro alternative universe. You have to race against others, collect east bloc cars, achieve the perfect racing line and more.

Retro Racer: This game by Sweet Games is all about 80s visuals. You have to drive through four different levels, each one with a different design. Supercars, vhs effects, IBM computer graphics – everything in one game.

Cyber OutRun: You don’t have to obey the law in a retro futuristic parallel universe! This is why in Cyber OutRun by Kerim Kumbasar you are on a pursuit and have to avoid getting arrested. The arcade-inspired game comes with three different modes to explore.

What other Synthwave inspired racing games do you enjoy? Tell us on Twitter at @OverTake_gg or in the comments down below!