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Top Gear Overdrive

Rated E for Everyone


Nintendo 64 (N64)


Kemco (Distributed by Microware)


Snowblind Studios


November 1998

ROM Size:

96 megabits


One to Four Simultaneous






Rumble Pak, Expansion Pak



> Final Rating: 4.3 out of 5.0


The Top Gear franchise debuted on the Super NES back in the spring of 1992. Coming out of nowhere, the game was a major surprise hit mostly because of a fantastic two-player Championship mode that was never seen before. But it also had extremely fun arcade-style racing, with nitros and pitstops, and a huge track selection with varying weather conditions.


Top Gear 2 (available for the SNES and the only game in the series thus far available for a non-Nintendo system, the Sega Genesis) appeared in the fall of 1993, but didn't achieve the same commercial success. The game introduced a system of earning better upgrades for your vehicle. Then Top Gear 3000 (SNES) was released in early 1995 and was a disaster. The game went with a futuristic theme, straying away from the theme of the first two. It was the first Top Gear game to include a four-player mode, though.


After that debacle, the next Top Gear game, Top Gear Rally, didn't appear until the fall of 1997 on the Nintendo 64. Unfortunately, it was a game of love and hate, because it didn't have much to do with the series other than the name. I was one of the people who absolutely lambasted the game, and now we come to Top Gear Overdrive, which was developed to hark back to the series' roots and please people like me. Get ready for some sweet arcade-style racing.

Gameplay & Control

Top Gear Overdrive was positioned as a racing game for those "who love to cheat" from the start. In reality, there's not all that much emphasis on cheating, especially compared to a Mario Kart 64 or Snowboard Kids. The only forms of cheating in Top Gear Overdrive are using nitros, taking shortcuts, and bumping into other cars. So don't dismiss this game yet. It's hardly a full-fledged racing simulation, but it's fast, fun, and semi-realistic. Plus, it's got a great one-player mode in addition to a cool multi-player mode.


Racing comes in two forms in Top Gear Overdrive: Championship and Versus. The Championship mode is a six-season campaign that has you using and earning better vehicles as you race the five tracks (Frigid Peaks, Fertile Canyon, Swampy Depot, Downtown, and Sandy Beaches) in a variety of weather conditions (clear, snowy ground, raining, foggy, and night). Each season has an increasing number of tracks to win, each track is a three-lap race (an average lap takes about a minute), and you must finish in the top four to move on to the next race. Like Top Gear Rally, you start out being able to only pick from two cars, a VW Bug lookalike and an Eclipse lookalike (the 10 cars are based on real ones, but they're not officially licensed). Also, the first two don't move that fast or control that well. But the game definitely gets a lot faster as you go along. Coming from a different development team, Top Gear Overdrive doesn't have the extremely cool Paint Shop feature from Top Gear Rally. But if it's any consolation, you can hold Z while choosing your car to bring up a screen that lets you pick a custom color—from a palette of 5,768 colors!


The Versus mode works basically the same as the aforementioned Championship mode, except it's just one race. You can play any race in a season after you've completed that whole season. The cars you open up are also available in this mode.


And here's the best news: Not only the Versus mode but also the Championship mode can be played by one to four players! And even in the three- and four-player modes, there's computer competition—an N64 first. So there are a total of 12 cars on the track in the one-player mode and 8 cars on the track when two to four people are playing. As a trade-off to the pretty graphics, though, the intelligence of the cars was designed so no more than three cars appear on the screen at once. You also always start out in last place, so that means you'll slowly work your way to the beginning of the pack by the second or third lap. Nevertheless, the game can still get frantic as you try to navigate the bends at high speeds.


In Top Gear Overdrive, money is important because you don't get anything for free. You win a certain amount of money based on what position you finished in the top four (and the money increases each season). There are also special places to run over on the tracks to get extra money and extra nitros (you get three nitros each track). Interestingly, whenever someone runs over the icon, it prevents anyone else from picking up the item for five seconds. That can make for some heated competition! Then, after each race, you can either upgrade your vehicle's handling, acceleration, top speed, or braking, or you can save up money for the next car. You can also buy nitros, but that wouldn't be smart since they can be readily found on the track.


Besides the nitros, the two other ways to "cheat" are taking shortcuts and bumping your opponents. Top Gear Overdrive has the best use of shortcuts I've seen in some time, with multiple visible and hidden shortcuts on every track. Some shortcuts are merely multiple paths that are easily seen. But other shortcuts can only be taken if you "run" into them. For example, if you're going fast enough, you can maybe knock down a barrier to take an alternate route. Also, some shortcuts are real time savers, but other shortcuts will only help you if you can navigate them without wrecking.


The game also says you can cheat by running into your opponents. This really doesn't come into play as much as you would think—until you get going really fast. There are certain barriers that will make your car blow up if you run into them too fast. You can also blow up by going too fast off a hill and by jumping over the barrier. If you blow up, you're put back on the track quickly enough, which doesn't make this slightly annoying quirk a big problem.


Only the basic options are available in Top Gear Overdrive. Looking at the control first, the default controller setup has the A button for gas, the B button for brake, the Z button for nitro, the R button to look behind you, the Left C button to shift gears, and the Bottom C button to switch between three camera views. I recommend you don't shift in this game because only one button does it; you shift up while holding the gas button and shift down when it's not pressed. The actual feel is still too loose for an arcade-style racing game, but it's not as bad as Top Gear Rally because you learn to compensate for it going around bends. Besides, bumping off of objects won't make you lose too much speed.


You can also toggle the sound configuration, turn the brightness setting on or off, reset the save data, and switch the resolution setting. The sound configuration option lets you change the sound type and levels, which is something you may want to change slightly. If you turn the Brightness setting on, which I don't recommend you do, then it brightens the picture quality. Picking the "Reset Save Data" option will reset the Championship season data if you want to start a new one. Finally, there are three options for the "Hi-Res" setting: off, half, and full. Off makes the game run in normal resolution without the Expansion Pak. Half makes the game run in a letterboxed high-resolution mode without the Expansion Pak. Full makes the game run in a full-screen high-resolution mode, but it requires the Expansion Pak to even switch to the option.


The biggest problem with Top Gear Overdrive is that it seems rushed. What kind of a racing game, even if it uses weapons or cheats, doesn't have a Time Trial mode? And why doesn't the game save your best racing times? Furthermore, you can only save one Championship season at a time, which is a problem if you want to have one by yourself and one with friends. I would have welcomed Controller Pak support with open arms. Plus, the Versus mode was obviously thrown in at the last minute, because after you finish a race, it automatically takes you back to the title screen. Why doesn't it let me immediately pick another track with the same cars? And why doesn't it keep track of how many times each person won?

Graphics & Sound

One portion of the game that doesn't seem rushed is in the area of graphics. Top Gear Overdrive is absolutely breathtaking. The five tracks are completely different in terms of texturing and design. You'll find waterfalls, bridges, wheat fields, forests, ships, and much more populating the environments. The distant backgrounds, which are absent in the three- and four-player modes, almost look like painted murals, adding to the beauty. The cars are modeled more accurately and realistically than Top Gear Rally, too. The weather effects are even quite impressive. And guess what? There's absolutely no pop-up, absolutely no fog, and almost zero clipping. But most important is despite the splendor of the graphics, the game moves extremely smoothly and extremely quickly. One has to wonder how Snowblind Studios was able to make the game look this good yet maintain an excellent frame rate? The developers were also able to attain a fast and fun multi-player mode (although it's still slower than the one-player mode) for Top Gear Overdrive. Make sure you open up the faster cars for greatest enjoyment, though.


But wait. We didn't talk about the Expansion Pak yet. Being the second game to support the accessory (NFL Quarterback Club '99 was the first), Top Gear Overdrive actually makes good use of the exciting addition of more memory. By plugging the Expansion Pak into your system, it enables the game to run in a higher resolution mode that is full screen. The full-screen, high-resolution mode actually makes the game run a smidgen slower, but it gives the textures and backgrounds more definition and more clarity. The cars also lose their jagged look. Whether you choose to play Top Gear Overdrive with or without the Expansion Pak, it's the best looking racing game for the system thus far.


The buzz in the music industry is that heavy metal is starting to make a comeback, and Kemco and Snowblind Studios decided to go with such music in digitized form because the graphics are too beautiful to have much processing power left for MIDI music. They actually licensed MPEG Layer-3 Audio playback technology and enlisted the services of an upcoming metal band. Portland, OR-based Grindstone supplies six tracks—complete songs with vocals—from its self-titled album. With song names such as "Hollow Eyes," "Threshold," "Appropriate," "Mir," "Everything," and "Come Alive," the music is much like the heavy metal sound that dominated in the mid-to-late 1980's. And I love it. For space reasons, the songs are in mono and do lose some of their quality, but it's more impressive than I was originally expecting. The actual sound effects, however, are in stereo and are pretty good. The only problem is that there's not much variety and almost no voice. What's extremely disappointing, though, is that the music was removed from the two-, three-, and four-player modes, although there are still sound effects.


Top Gear Overdrive still can't quite live up to the legacy of the original, but it's the best Top Gear game since then. With gorgeous graphics, excellent track design, fitting original music, fast and frantic races, great multi-player racing, and a cool cash/upgrade system, Top Gear Overdrive stands on its own as one of the N64's best racing experiences. Only the few problems of not enough tracks, lacking features, touchy control, and a difficulty setting that's a little too easy detract from the game. Otherwise, it's a great game for both arcade racing fans and for those looking for something more akin to PlayStation racing games. A tremendous first effort by the small group at Snowblind Studios.
















In spite of a few annoying quirks and problems, Top Gear Overdrive remains one of the best one-player racing experiences on the system. Disappointingly, I must report that the two-, three-, and four-player modes aren't quite as good as I hoped they'd be. They suffer from being a little too slow, having no music, and getting boring. The vaunted computer competition doesn't really exist, because the cars are always so spread out that there's never any kind of ongoing battle. This even affects the one-player mode. But the one-player mode eventually gets fast enough, along with the full-screen view, to make the experience seem more exciting. Ironically, you should only buy Top Gear Overdrive for the one-player mode, not the multi-player mode.


Review by: Scott McCall

First Reviewed: December 11, 1998

Appendix Added: January 2, 1999




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