Videogaming’s top 10 punishing courses

They're twisty, exhilarating and sometimes frustrating. To celebrate DiRT: Showdown, here's Harry's pick of gaming's most punishing courses...

Racing games love to make us swear. They love to make us think we’re about to win, then stick their metaphorical foot in the way and send us crashing, face first to the floor. That’s one of the reasons that we go back to them time and time again – we’re all gluttons for punishment. An easy racing game might keep us entertained for a while, but thrashing to innumerable victories starts to feel hollow after the thousandth gold medal has been hung around our by that time hideously disfigured neck.

Of course, that difficulty can come in all shapes and sizes, but the end results are usually the same – we think up some innovative new words to call the game, then pick up our mangled controller and try not to mess things up this time round. Here are ten racetracks that may well have you crumbling your pad into dust, but that we secretly really love anyway. These should keep you busy until DiRT: Showdown arrives at the end of the month…

Rainbow Road – Mario Kart

Nothing makes you reconsider your life more than plummeting off the edge of a rainbow coloured raceway for the millionth time. It’s bad when it’s your fault, it’s even worse when it’s someone else’s. Mario Kart might pretend it’s all cute and nice and family friendly, but underneath that veneer of smiles and non-predatory moustaches there lies some of the most fiendish tracks ever devised by man. With its lack of safety rails, mixed with the slippy, slidey handling of the competitors, Rainbow Road is a nightmare of tragedies and triumphs.

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Desert Bus 

Desert Bus earns its place on the list thanks not to its intricate design, or the fiendish nature of its AI, but because actually finishing it is a punishing ordeal. An unreleased mini game from a cancelled Penn & Teller Sega CD game, Desert Bus is about driving down a straight road for eight hours, in a bus that veers every so slightly to the right. Completing the journey bags you one point, with another point awarded if you make the return trip. This is a joke that became an internet phenomenon. If you need to try it, you can buy a version on iOS or Android, with all money going to the Child’s Play charity. 

GigaTrack – Trials Evolution

Most of the tracks in Trials Evolution are around two minutes long. They’re tough, requiring brain power and dexterity to complete, but having to start them again half way through if you’re trying for a perfect run isn’t too frustrating. Gigatrack is between 15 and 20 minutes long, a beast of a course that just goes on and on and on, fooling you with false dawns and fake peaks until you wish you’d never started it. A brilliant piece of design, and the sort of track you’ll have nightmares about for years to come.

The Nurburgring – Gran Turismo 5

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While video games are supposed to be about escapism, sometimes having half a foot in the real world can make for some pretty interesting experiences. For example, very few of us will ever take a super car around the infamous Nurburgring, one of the most difficult and demanding race tracks in the world. Gran Turismo 5 gives you that chance, and, as it turns out, it’s actually quite difficult. Full of tight corners and luxurious straights, the main problem with the Nurburgring is trying to remember what happens next.

Turning Right – Outrun

There’s something delightfully masochistic about Outrun, a game which is to all intents and purposes about trying to impress a woman with your Ferrari handling abilities. If you really want to make her weak at the knees, then you’re going to have to make sure you take the right hand turn at every fork in the road. You’ll be faced with harder corners, more traffic and a tighter time limit, but it’ll make the blonde bombshell sat next to you less likely to slink off with a Lamborghini driver or something.

Fujimi Kaido – Forza 3

Another track that’s all about sweeping curves and remembering which way you’re supposed to be going. Fujimi Kaido requires Zen-like levels of concentration if you’re after a perfect run. Success and failure are separated by a kerb’s breadth, and there’s not enough time to pay attention to the beautiful scenery the game’s throwing at you. Only those who transcend their physical form, or who are quite good at racing games, will reach the chequered flag here.

100 Meter Dash – Track And Field

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Whilst the other titles here might be tests of concentration, patience and cold hard pretend driving abilities, few of them are likely to cause you any lasting injuries. International Track And Field on the other hand could well lead to sprained fingers and a debilitating loss of pride. Konami turned button bashing into an art form, forcing players to sacrifice the dexterity of their digits in order to cross the line first. Who needs cars when you have pixelated men running around in tiny shorts? 

Monaco – F1 2011

Another real life track, this time probably the most famous in the world. The Monaco street circuit weaves its way past expensive hotels and yachts, and is considered by some to be the ultimate test of a Formula 1 driver. It’s no surprise then that Codemaster’s hyper-real take on the 2011 F1 season features one of the toughest recreations of the principality’s raceway to date. Hard enough when you’re qualifying, but trying to race to victory with twenty other cars all competing for position is a formidable challenge.

Grass Valley – Road Rash

Sure, it might not have the toughest corners of the offerings here, and it might not last the longest either, but none of the other tracks in this list feature thugs with chains trying to cave your skull in as you try to overtake them. Few things can fuel animosity like a club to the face just before the finish line, and though Road Rash lacked the ability to even spell finesse, it’s by far the most physically punishing title here.

F-Zero X – Big Blue

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It’s the width of the tracks that cause the most problems in the F-Zero series. Whereas more realistic games keep a tight line, making the road ahead that much easier to read, F-Zero throws you into these wide expanses and lets you figure things out for yourself. Big Blue’s mix of ridiculous jumps, sharp white track and occasional loop the loops make it a punishing track for brain, eyes, and guts alike.