So after connecting the SNES to the TV, plugging the TV into the wall, some questions were running through my mind. Has the game held up over time? Is it fresh or new? Is the game [still] fun? What is for dinner tomorrow night?
The short answer is yes, but it isn't very fun if you just took my word for it, now is it? So I'll give you the long answer as well. I'll start off by saying since this is the first racing game I have ever played, it has been in the family a long time. And in that long time, I never truly appreciated the game. It was one of those games that you just happen to have, but never played. Though in hindsight, I can only appreciated the game's beauty now, since as a kid it just frustrated me. Note, I did not beat the game during this review, I played enough to see if it re-captured my attention, made me want more of the game. It did.
First some information about the game. The game is obviously called Top Gear, though in Japan it was called Top Racer. Released in 1992, it was one of the first, if not the first, racing game for the SNES. The developer was Gremlin Graphics, later changed to Gremlin Interactive before being bought out by Infogrames (Wikipedia and MobyGames), it was based in Sheffield, United Kingdom. Their list of games has nothing that really pops out, except for the 'Plan 9 from Outer Space' game based on the movie, which is recognized as one of the worst movies ever made (so on a personal note, I want to check that out...). Kemco was the publisher, who is who is still around apparently.
* * Game setup * *
Ok, so you choose your name. (I choose Player 1, it is my middle name after all), the gearbox, one of four made up cars, and the difficulty (amateur, champion, pro). Then you start off in the first country, the U.S., and compete in four different races. After getting in the top 5 of each race (or perhaps world rankings), you unlock/progress to the next county. Since this is a early SNES game, you get passwords. Yes, it's a password game. Also, from the screenshot below, you'll notice that there are two cars on the screen. That's actually how the game always is. If you're playing on your own, the bottom car is the computer; a vengeful, idiot computer who usually beats you in a race just for kicks....the jerk...
* * Controls * *
There are 4 preset controller setups. I choose the first one, with gear shifting mapped to the L and R buttons. I quickly discovered that pressing the buttons didn't always work how I wanted it to. I soon discovered that despite the buttons large real estate area, the actually binary buttons (on/off) were towards the stalk of the cord. Once I figured this out, it was easier to play....as long as I kept this in mind...
You essentially get to do this; accelerate, brake, nitro, shift up, shift down, and turn. That's it. It's simplified essentially. And once you get the shifting part down, the controls are really easy to pick up.
* * Graphics * *
What can I say? It's a 16 bit system, a product of its time. What I will say is that playing it is very similar to playing an old arcade cabinet at the bowling alley down the street from your house that hasn't updated anything since the 80s. It's very nostalgic, very retro, and there's nothing wrong with that! It's also amusing to see what Gremlin did to get over system limitations. It appears that each car is a total of 5 or 7 images. To give a sensation of 'speed' the colors of the road and grass alternate between different shades of the same color. The tires also alternate between black and white to simulate it moving. If you ask me, that's very creative.
* * Music * *
Ah, glorious midi music. I'm an a sucker for midi music, so it was nice to hear it instead of some hip hop or rap song that I'll easily forgot moments after turning the system off. No, Top Gear music was actually catchy, I found myself singing along to it. I will say that there's at least 5 songs. One for the title and one for each race in a country. The race songs seem to always be in the same order for each country.
* * Car Selection * *
Since this is a sim blog, it should be expected that I note the cars available to play. All are unlicensed cars so no lawsuits will take place. Each has different characters than the other ones. As you can see from the screenshot, those characteristics are max speed, 0 to 100, tyre grip, and fuel consumption. Each has their pros and cons. I decide to use the white car majority of the time because it had the quickest 0 to 100 time out of the bunch. I honestly think the different cars were put into the game so that each one offers a different experience, as opposed to 'choose me I'm cooling looking'.
* * Gameplay * *
This is the meat of the game. If this fails, the game isn't worth playing. The verdict is.......it's a blast to play. Its also a challenge and you can't just pick it up and play straight through. Some races are really long and you can easily run out of gas. Yes gas, as in the stuff you pump into a real car. You have a fuel meter and if you run out, your car drifts until it eventually stops. And left me tell you, it is nerve wrecking because you thought you filled it up enough gas, but no, you didn't. You just passed the pit stop on your last lap and BAM, low fuel flashes across your screen. You think to yourself "can I make it" then quickly decide you have no choice but to press onward. You are in 1st place, and you pray and hope you'll make it to the finish line. So you keep driving your car eagerly watching that fuel gauge, watching the last bar of fuel disappear. You're a good distance away from the finish and the inevitable happens...no fuel flashes across the screen. Your car just drifts down the road. You ran out of nitro as well, might I add because that's how you got into 1st place. You think it's over, but wait, what's that? Is that...no way it can't be, but it is! It's the finish line! And you somehow win a race with no fuel. It's happened to me twice, and is it quite exhilarating.
I also noticed that if you drive in first gear, you'll use up all of your gas before you finish your first lap, I found that amusing. I also heard a gear shift when I was in fifth. Granted, I started the car in fifth to see how long it would take me to get up to speed. I honestly didn't noticed any difference from just normal shifting. It seems like an odd glitch, but I doubt the programmers expected anyone to find this.
The collision detection is annoying I'll admit. If you hit anything, you grind to a halt, all momentum is lost. If you hit another car, well, they got a free boost. And when you're driving over hills or around a turn, you catch up to other cars really fast, sometimes too fast to react properly and not hit them.
* * Nintendo - Hard * *
Nintendo-Hard was before my time, as the games I grew up with were getting off of that ideology, mainly because you could save the game. I was 5 when this game came out, so it was roughly starting to change to the 'save' features we know and love today.
So I'll say this. Each of the 7 countries have 4 races. Depending on the track length, you may or may not need to get gas. The ones requiring fuel-ups are the challenging ones. You have to place in the top 5 to progress to each new race. Fail and well...the game doesn't take pity on you. Main menu for you, loser. And as mentioned before, if you hit something you come to a stop. Let's not forget that with each turn the car either goes toward the center of the turn or away from it.
This all adds up to a challenging game, even on the amateur setting. Every time you race its a gamble, because even if you memorize the track, the biggest variable will always be your opponents. You need to dodge them to maintain speed, which is easy going straight and get's increasingly difficult on the turns. You dodge an opponent on a apex and you'll quickly hit a sign/tree, losing all your speed.
* * Would I recommend it * *
I would, I totally would recommend it. It's a real fun game, and despite some gameplay issues, it's really fun. In fact, those issues add a new layer of fun and strategy to the game. Like I said before, playing each race is a gamble, and that's really half the fun. It's essentially a limited, 16-bit racing simulator. What's not to love?
* * Conclusion * *
Has it stood the test of time? It completely has. Its a nostalgic, retro game to play that is challenging and a blast to play. If you have a SNES, I suggest tracking this game down. Or get a emulator and a rom because the controls are simplistic, so it'll be easy to play on a computer.
Final note: it is worth your time playing.
*** All images are not mine, but are from gamefaqs and were sent in by the readers. If you submitted the image and don't want it being used, tell me and I'll take it down.