Welcome to our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans, nagging questions, and whatever else we feel like talking about. No matter what the topic, we invite everyone in the comments to tell us: What Are You Playing This Weekend?

This weekend, I’m going to be playing The Next Penelope: Race To Odysseus. It’s a top-down racing game that clearly draws a lot of inspiration from both Micro Machines and F-Zero. The Steam Early Access version just went live yesterday, so I haven’t had a chance to sink my teeth in just yet. It has been on my radar for over a year because it’s the first game from developer Aurelien Regard since the dissolution of his previous studio, Arkedo. I was a big fan of Arkedo’s work, from Nervous Brickdown to Hell Yeah! Wrath Of The Dead Rabbit, but I was especially taken with Big Bang Mini, a clever spin on the “bullet hell” style of shoot-’em-ups that was inspired by fireworks displays. Penelope also boasts some rather massive shmup-style battles, so I know I’ve got that to look forward to.

The Next Penelope is coming along at a rather auspicious time, as 2015 is shaping up to be a banner year for independently produced arcade-style racing games. Along with Penelope, here are two more with pre-release portions you can download and play right now:

Distance

I would describe Distance as Burnout-meets-Tron-plus-lasers. Kickstarter backers have had the alpha for over a year and the beta was released to Steam Early Access just last month. A spiritual sequel to Nitronic Rush, Distance offers a lot of style—barrel rolls, anti-gravity, and have I mentioned the lasers?—but it’s the sincere focus on survival over speed that keeps me hooked. There are a lot of obstacles ready to slice, smash, and otherwise blow you up, so a large chunk of my experience with Distance has been about getting through the courses alive and looking good doing it.

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Drift Stage

GIFs of Drift Stage have been filling up my Tumblr feed for months, and it’s easy to see why. This game is a love letter to low-polygon art and the bright colors and sounds of ’80s and ’90s arcades. The aesthetic is the obvious selling point here, as though a Dreamcast game had somehow been converted to run on the Mega Drive. The free alpha has only one time-trial stage to play again and again, but it also sports a photo mode for people to really show off those slick orange and purple pixels. Plus, the throwback synth soundtrack by MYRONE—replete with digital slap bass and dueling guitars—makes me want to take a swig of Hi-C Ecto Cooler and pile up my quarters for the next game.

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