Good characters make good video games, but not every character you remember from a game is good. Whether it’s a character you only see once or twice or just a villain you’d love to see get beaten, racing games have seen a various mix of characters over the years.
With that in mind, we’ve rounded up the five most memorable characters in racing games. We don’t necessarily mean the best character or even the most seen character in a game, just the ones you remember most when you think of that particular game.
Needles Kane - Twisted Metal series
Those who have a nervous disposition or don’t like clowns should look away now. How do you represent a dystopian racing game where kitbashed vehicles compete in destruction derbies? You stick a clown mask on your protagonist and set his head on fire of course.
Needles Kane is the main character of the Twisted Metal series. You can’t miss him because he’s been plastered over the box art since the first entry in 1995. Some may refer to Kane as Sweet Tooth, but this is actually the name of Kane’s signature vehicle, the ice cream truck from hell.
With sharp spikes on the front and a flaming clown head on the roof, you won’t be hearing this ice cream truck playing teddy bear’s picnic on your street corner anytime soon. Throughout the series, Kane has switched between various personalities, but he’ll always be the creepy fire clown to us.
Devon Butler - F1 series
The racing driver we’d all love to punch, Devon Butler made his debut in F1 2019’s F2 Feeder Series game mode as the antagonist everyone wanted to punt into the barriers. Butler was designed as the antithesis to your teammate, Lukas Weber, and he certainly lives up to that.
Butler was so hated that he started building a cult following. Fast forward to F1 2021’s big reveal, and a familiar voice was heard in the trailer – Butler was back.
In F1 2021, Butler is the antagonist to Braking Point’s Aiden Jackson, the F2 rookie on a fast track to the big leagues. Whether he’s causing Jackson to crash into his teammate, Casper Akkerman, or just being a cocky so and so in the paddock, Butler has divided the F1 fanbase.
Some love him, others despise him. But if there’s one thing everyone can agree on, he’s definitely a memorable addition to the F1 franchise. Whether Devon Butler will return in future Braking Point instalments remains to be seen, but if he does we’re he’ll continue to be the not so loveable rogue we know him as.
Mia Townsend - Need For Speed Most Wanted
While it’s arguably overrated, Need For Speed Most Wanted is regarded as the best entry in the Need For Speed franchise, but who’s the most memorable character in the game?
Well, the main protagonist is silent so that rules them out. You’ve also got Razor, the mouthy antagonist who’s memorable but for all the wrong reasons. And then there’s Mia Townsend.
Mia is with you from the start, picking you up from the police station after you’ve been arrested and lost everything. She gives you somewhere to live, a car to race in and even some contacts to enter the Blacklist. She also happens to be an undercover police officer.
Mia clearly has a soft spot for the protagonist, as although she arrests the remaining members of the Blacklist, she allows you to escape, even providing you with a route out of Rockport.
Mia is arguably the face of Most Wanted, appearing on the reverse box and in multiple cutscenes. If you think of Need For Speed Most Wanted, you think of Mia too.
Nathan McKane - GRID series
Another Codemasters villain and another driver we’d love to give a knuckle sandwich. Nathan McKane has appeared in four of the five GRID games, most recently being seen and heard for the first time in GRID Legends.
Nathan McKane is a classic example of talent mixed with pure nepotism. Sure, he’s a good driver and a five-times GRID Series World Champion, but his uncle, Ryan McKane from TOCA Race Driver owns the team he races for.
This relationship allows Nathan to perhaps get away with actions others might be pulled up for. He bullies his teammates, causes crashes out on track, and generally winds up the rest of the grid.
Before GRID Legends, McKane was nothing more than an AI driver that you occasionally rubbed bodywork with. By the time GRID Legend’s Driven to Glory story mode ends, you just want to crash into him at every opportunity. Callum McGowan does a great job bringing Nathan McKane to life, and an even better job making him arguably the most hated character on this list.
Fans of the GRID series, and the TOCA series that preceded it, will know a little more about the McKanes’ backstory, so may be able to sympathise with their plights. But to us, Nathan McKane will always be the pantomime villain.
John Tanner - Driver series
It’s been a while since the Driver series got a new entry, and we’re sad about that. Partially because we like the Driver series, but mostly because we need to see what John Tanner is up to next.
Tanner starts off in the original Driver as a wheelman who only speaks when he needs to. Throughout the series, his personality changes considerably, becoming a wisecracking, sarcastic joker by the time Driver: San Francisco rolls around.
Despite not appearing in Driver: Parallel Lines, Tanner is the Driver series. If you think of a Driver game, you can see Tanner running through the streets of Chicago or Miami or tearing around the streets of Havana and New York.
Driver: San Francisco flipped the script by putting Tanner in a coma right at the start of the game. But don’t worry, you still play as Tanner - you’re just playing in one of his dream sequence.
It sounds weird, but we highly rate Driver: San Francisco and definitely recommend it to those looking for an underrated driving game. Whether he’s an undercover cop for the NYPD, or chasing criminals across the globe, Tanner is a solid protagonist for any game, let alone a driving or racing game.
Reiko Nagase – Ridge Racer series
Appearing in nearly every Ridge Racer game, Reiko is now recognised as the mascot of the entire Ridge Racer franchise. Whether acting as a starter girl, appearing in opening cutscenes or even being the final boss in Ridge Racer 3D, Reiko is definitely the most recognisable feature of Ridge Racer.
She’s so popular that she became a playable character in Pac-Man Fever and Anna Kournikova's Smash Court Tennis.
Lakitu – Mario Kart series
Have you ever wondered who the Koopa in the cloud was in Mario Kart? Well, that’s Lakitu. Appearing in the Mario Kart series since the very first game, Lakitu’s responsibilities include holding the traffic light that starts each race, displaying lap cards letting you know how far through the race you are, and flying the checkered flag to end each race.
Since Mario Kart 7, he also throws Blue Shells at you to destroy your chances in the Special Cup.
Lakitu’s appearances extend beyond the Mario Kart games, but to us, he’ll always be the little dude who sits on the cloud on the starting line.