Racing Game History: Sega’s Monaco GP (1979)

While Sega may be best remembered for their legendary console war skirmishes with Nintendo in the 1980s and 1990s, the company that brought us Sonic the Hedgehog is no stranger to speed. Sega’s arcade race games in particular read like a best of list with titles like 1986’s OutRun, 1992’s Virtua Racing, and 1994’s Daytona USA. But there is a game that predates those classics and managed to deliver the raw thrill of the race without fancy-schmancy 3D, polygonal graphics or iconic, chiptune soundtracks. With the real Monaco Grand Prix going down in just a few days (Sunday, May 28) we thought that now would be a perfect time to revisit a virtual Monaco Grand Prix.

Cosmic Cottage Arcade

Originally released in 1979 in Japan and 1980 globally, Monaco GP is a Sega-produced racer that lives up to the hype of the legendary race that inspired it. Rather than the behind the car, third-person view prevalent in modern race games, Monaco GP is a top-down affair where players have a bird’s eye view on the cars and the track—and what a track! This game is dripping in bold colors that present a trippy abstraction of the concept of a race track more than an accurate depiction of the race. The suggestions of houses and buildings fly by at blistering speeds, but you won’t see them because you’ll be too busy dodging obstacles like slippery puddles that will send your car spinning out of control or sections of the track that suddenly narrow requiring lightning-quick reflexes.

The deluxe, cockpit-style arcade cabinet helped immerse the player with a seated experience complete with a proper steering wheel, a gas pedal, and a shifter allowing you to switch between the simple binary of high or low gear. A tabletop and stand-up version of the game was also produced with the same controls, but lacking the ability to sit down like players were sliding behind the wheel of a real race car. 

Sega would later revive Monaco GP with new titles as the years wore on and video game technology improved. Super Monaco GP hit arcades in 1989 featuring a behind the wheel perspective and vastly more realistic graphics. Versions of Ayrton Senna’s Super Monaco GP II were released on the Sega Genesis, Sega Master System, and the Sega Game Gear in 1992 blessed by the world-famous racer.