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Top Gear Review Rewind


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On 05/03/2021 at 10:00 AM by Jamie Alston

The Super Nintendo shifts into gear
RECOMMENDATION:

For any retrophile looking for a deceptively engaging racing game.

Ever since Namco’s Pole Position made its debut in the arcades in 1982, the racing genre has been considered an essential medium in the gaming world. The increase of video game consoles making their way into homes throughout the mid-to-late ’80s further solidified the popularity of racing games. Players looking for deeper mechanics than what was available from the current offerings of the day could rejoice when Kemco published Top Gear in 1992- one of the first driving games for the Super NES.

You choose one of four sporty vehicles with various performance attributes in speed, handling, and fuel consumption. The three most important categories are top speed, grip, and fuel consumption. You’ll race through 32 tracks spread across eight countries, including the USA, Brazil, and Japan. During each race, there are 19 other drivers to compete with, including your rival CPU car that will do its best to threaten your chances of finishing in the coveted number one spot. You can also have a friend race with you for some two-player fun as well.

Interestingly, you’ll have to be content with a split-screen view whether you’re playing solo or with another person. This took some time to get used to but came in handy when I needed to block the CPU car from passing me. The duration of the races can range from three to seven laps. Longer races take a significant toll on your fuel gauge, and such information must be considered when selecting your car. Lengthy courses lasting more than five laps have a pit lane that allows you (and the CPU driver) to replenish fuel. The catch, of course, is that you’ll risk losing three or four positions, which can be difficult to recover at times.

The sense of speed is quite pleasing, and turning corners and navigating hairpin turns are very fluid and more natural than could be said of many racing games back then. I can’t recall a game from that point in time that featured cars that turned corners as realistically as these do. When cornering on a downward incline, you can “feel” the car getting pulled into the slope the faster you go. When climbing a steep hill, your speed noticeably reduces just like it does in real life.

The game has three difficulty settings to match the player’s skill. No matter which setting you choose, the challenge will steadily climb as you progress through the races. Most will notice on the higher difficulty levels that the first, second, and third positions are increasingly hard to overtake. And one mistake- such as hitting road signs and other obstacles- can cost you the entire race. You’ll also find that some courses have tricky roads that constantly vacillate between being a broad five-lane highway or a narrow single-lane road. This creates challenges in two significant ways.

Since you’re driving with 19 other cars on the track, it can be difficult to pass anyone when the road narrows suddenly, forcing you to either ram into the back of another vehicle or back off until the path widens. The other challenge is desperately trying to maneuver sharp corners, only to have the road narrow down suddenly as you’re coming out of the curve.

The above predicaments create a persistent danger of careening into an object on the roadside or getting your speed clipped enough to give the CPU rival a chance to catch up to you or put him further ahead. Fortunately, the rival CPU car also makes errors with bumping into other drivers, which helps to even the odds. Even so, don’t expect the rival car to make too many mistakes in one race, as it won’t always happen when you need it.

You also have three nitro boosts that are at your disposal. Using it can go a long way in helping you stay ahead of the pack if you use them wisely. While they are ideal for using on straight-aways and light turns, they can also serve you well after coming out of the pit lane or making up for lost ground after crashing into something. On the flip side, this also contributes to depleting your fuel supply, which can send you into the pit area sooner than you’d like, lest you run out of gas and lose the race.

If it sounds like a degree of strategy involved in winning each race, it is. And that’s where the brilliance of Top Gear shines through. It has the initial accessibility of an arcade racing game and requires the player to work out a winning strategy as they learn the ins and outs of the courses and when to pit it for refueling. The constant threat of my rival overtaking my position kept me vested in the race, making a hard-won victory all the more exhilarating or a narrow defeat that much more bitter. No matter the outcome, I felt fully engaged from start to finish, which helps this game to be more than a passive experience.

 

The visual high point can be best observed in the different scenery within each country. Of special note for me were three locations in particular- New York, Tokyo, and Hiroshima. New York is a lovely night course with monumental buildings and small lights constantly ahead of your car.

Tokyo is alive with its busy city streets and wide highways. The race in Hiroshima will begin in the morning just before sunrise while it’s still dim. Then as you approach lap two, the scenery brightens up gradually to reveal a sun-kissed landscape in the scrolling foreground with a Japanese structure standing under the sun.

And those are just a few of the well-detailed geographical locations to be seen throughout the game. Each country has faithful recreations of the cities, forests, or countrysides that beautify each race. There are a few locations that don’t impress quite as well as others, but most of the 32 courses look very good, with the graphics chugging only a little at the highest speeds when the screen is busy with five or six other cars and objects on the road.

The soundtrack is limited to the same four songs per circuit. And to be honest, I didn’t care for the music when I first heard it. But after giving it a few sessions of play, I found it to be enjoyable enough while flying down the road. The only real problem with the song selections is that at least three of them sound the same.

The music for the title screen & options menu and first and second race sound very much alike; it’s as if the developers cut a few corners (no pun intended) when planning the game. At least two of the songs are merely remixed tracks from Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge and Lotus Turbo Challenge 2 (published by Gremlin Graphics, who also developed Top Gear).

The sound effects aren’t as noticeable thanks to the louder soundtrack, but they play their part. The car’s engine sounds and screeching tires on the pavement sound realistic enough to convince you that you’re driving a real winner, provided you win the race, of course. Things fall a little flat when you bump into something- no matter if it’s a car or some other hazard on the road. You get this underwhelming “thump” that does little more than annoy you when you keep hitting it, trying to get back on course. Those gripes aside, the audio presentation gets the job done and won’t take away from you’re enjoying the game.

Top Gear is a competent racer with arcade and simulation gameplay mechanics that results in an engaging and balanced game. There is also a simple password system in place so that you won’t be forced to race through all 32 tracks in one sitting. If you’re looking for an accessible racing game with more depth than Rad Racer or Outrun can deliver, Top Gear would be a welcome addition to your Super NES collection.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:


All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.


These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.


This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.


Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.


Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.


A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.


 

Comments

The Last Ninja

05/03/2021 at 06:35 PM

Picked this up a few months ago, and at first I didn't like it because, um, I ran out of gas? What? But as I spent more time with it, I started to learn the ins and outs, and yeah, there is a good amount of strategy here. The sense of speed is really impressive, and the different locations are cool.

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

05/03/2021 at 09:20 PM

Initially, I had the same concern as you. I didn't like that I had to worry about the gas running out. But what turned things around for me was seeing that the rival CPU car is also bound by the rules of the game. Come to think of it, that's another reason why the split-screen works so well for this game because you can adjust your strategy based on the actions of the CPU car.

But yeah, I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed Top Gear, especially not having played it for the first time until the mid 2000s.

Cary Woodham

05/04/2021 at 07:42 AM

I didn't play that many racing games on the SNES, other than Super Mario Kart.  I rented F-Zero and other friends had that one, so I played that one a bit, too.  And years later I got Stunt Race FX.  But when you have Super Mario Kart, one of my top five favorite games of all time, what else do you need?

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

05/04/2021 at 10:31 AM

True statement my friend. My brother and I were late to the 16-bit era. I got the Genesis and he purchased a Super NES within weeks of each other sometime in 1995 or '96. Super Mario Kart was the only racer I remember us having back then, but we played the heck out of it! It was a true masterpiece.

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