Genre: Racing Developer: Gremlin Graphics Software Publisher: Vic Tokai Players: 1 Released: 1994
You have to love Vic Tokai. That company brought over some interesting games to the systems it supported. For our beloved 16-bitter, VT either made or published the likes of Whip Rush, Flink on the Sega CD, and Trouble Shooter to name a few. But they also published a little racing game that, by the time it hit the Genesis, SNES owners had been enjoying for a while… Top Gear 2. Released in 1994 when Sega players were busy with Castlevania: Bloodlines, Beyond Oasis and Sonic & Knuckles, it didn’t exactly make the biggest splash, even with its somewhat clever “there’s nothing half fast about it” (say it out loud) tag line. But was that because this racer couldn’t get up to speed, or because gamers drove right by without looking? Read on.
The finish line. It’s what all racers want to reach first. But it’s not as simple as driving the fastest. You’ve got more to consider with the other nineteen drivers that want that checkered flag as much as you do, ready to bump and nudge you out of their way as you all careen through the turns and up the hills of race tracks all over the world. Can you out-wit and out-drive the others to call yourself the champion?
Visually, there are better looking racing games on the Genesis to be honest. While certainly not Master System-like in terms of on-screen colors and whatnot, the Genesis wasn’t being put to the test when it comes to graphics with this game. There’s a fair bit of detail in the objects that come at you, be they cars, road barriers, trees, or what have you, but the minimal shading results in many objects looking rather flat. The game’s not horrifically ugly, as the designs are decent, it’s graphics simply don’t push the Genesis very hard. The animation however, is good. Your car turns pretty smoothly with plenty of frames when you spin out, jump or crash hard.
As one would expect, the scaling is a bit rough but serviceable. Think Space Harrier II, and that’ll give you a good idea of what to expect… though the other cars and the tunnels do scale better than the roadside objects. There are short and long tunnels to fly through that start off at a surprising distance, with a nice weather effect overlay that takes place during some races (rain coming down as the sky flashes white for lightning, and snow falling on the icy tracks… the rain and snow use the same effect though, just colored differently). There are also fog and night effects, with both partially hiding objects that are farther away. Lastly, the backgrounds. Like the rest of the graphics, they’re pretty simple in terms color usage and shading, but do the job well enough despite how they don’t hold a lot in the way of visual splendor. You’ll recognize everything (sailboats, mountains, buildings, etc.), you just won’t be wowed by them. So while the game can’t be called gorgeous, it looks at least of average quality overall.
Aurally, Top Gear 2 is a bit odd. There are only four songs in the entire game. One of them is for the title screen, making for some heavy repetition with the remaining three if you choose a particular set of options (which I’ll get to shortly). The instruments used in the music aren’t bad, and the compositions themselves are enjoyable, making for music that’s above average. Sound effects-wise, you’ve got what you’d expect in the game. Tire screeches, crashes, the roar of the engine, cars passing by… things of that nature. These are done pretty well, and so don’t come off irritatingly as your race for the championship rolls on.
When it comes to gameplay, this is where the game steps into the spotlight more. TG2 is a mixture of fast paced arcade-like racing, and simulation-like traits. There are roughly sixty-four tracks in sixteen different countries, with passwords for saving your progress at the end of every fourth race. The tracks vary from dry, to wet and slick, to icy and slippery as hell, and you’ll even lose some visibility at night or in the fog. Money can be earned with each race depending on how you place ($1,000 for sixth, to $10,000 for first), and this money is then used to purchase better tires, a better engine or gearbox, better body armor, and longer burning nitro boosts. These things will allow you to go faster, stick to the road better, have noticeably improved handling, and be able to take more bumping and thumping before your car starts being affected.
That last bit is where a touch of simulation comes into play, as your car can be damaged, and that damage does indeed affect its performance. Worse handling, a slower top speed… these are the types of penalties for constantly ramming into opponents, road signs, trees, etc. too much. Of course, half the time it’ll be the opponents hitting you. The CPU AI, while not in-depth, is present enough to cause the other cars on the road to get in your way as you’re trying to advance.
But in this game, the computer controlled cars can also get in each others’ way. For a nice change of pace, you’ll see CPU cars bump each other and get affected by the contact (usually being slowed down considerably), allowing you to blow by whoever hit the back of the other car. Add in some jumps, oil slicks, items to pick up on the track by driving over them, adjustable difficulty that adds more objects to the road with somewhat faster and tougher opponents, car color choices, and even some tumbleweeds that’ll impede you a little if you hit them, and what you’ve got is a racing game that spices things up a little so that it’s more than just simply getting from point A to point B the fastest while going around other cars. But don’t worry, with everything going against you, the game’s not heartless. If you don’t place well in a race, you’ll be started farther up in the pack in the next race (of course, if you finish first, you’ll start in twentieth position, so there’s a trade off). Just know that if you place too far back, you’ll be disqualified and have to start that country’s races over again.
So… what got busted? Well, the controls are good and responsive, the hit detection is fine, and you can’t say you won’t get your racing moneys worth after sixty-four tracks. That said, the biggest problem with the game comes with its two-player mode. While the game features a frame rate that seems to fluctuate a bit in single-player mode, it always stays quite playable throughout. However, the frame rate gets very rough in two-player mode. The split-screen setup causes everything to become choppy, making the game start to near the unplayable point at times as a result. When we add the aforementioned average graphics that could have been done better, the so-so scaling, and the painfully few above-average quality songs, we’ve got a game with some problems. But these things are then accompanied by an unfortunate collection of smaller issues that further mar what could have been a fine racing game.
Firstly is how Top Gear 2 has a rather odd trait… you can’t have music and sound effects during a race. You can only choose one or the other for some strange reason. It’s not like the music or sound effects are terribly complicated, so why this was forced on the player is beyond me. Then there’s the habit of the game suddenly giving you the race. You’ll be in, say… fifth place, slowly catching up to the top four cars. Suddenly, you’ll shoot right by all of them like they’d slammed on the brakes for no reason. They hit no other cars, they just abruptly seem to slow way down, handing first place to you and rarely catching up unless you do very badly. While this won’t happen in every race, it makes your victories feel cheap when it does.
To add another complaint to the pile, some turns in TG2 seem to have a rather bizarre setup. There are turns in the game where no matter how slow you go, unless you drop your speed to something below 50mph (which is a near stand still in this game), you’re going to slide as long as you’re touching the acceleration button. This doesn’t sound that bad, but here’s the thing… if you get bumped into and pushed to the outer edge of the road during one of these turns, you’ll be in a world of hurt. Why? If you let go of the gas, you’ll stop. If you hit the gas, the turn makes you slide and stay sputtering along the track’s outer edge at a slow speed (especially on the snowy tracks), allowing the cars behind you to pass easily until you reach the end of the turn and can get off of the road’s shoulder. It’s a very strange issue that doesn’t occur on all the turns, but it happens enough throughout the game to become a real nuisance at times.
One last point to make, is that you’ll see the CPU cars drive right through the various jumps, roadblocks and such at times. It’s not really bad hit detection, but rather that the CPU cars aren’t affected by those obstacles. This kind of makes it seem you they have an unfair advantage, and really, it would have been nice to see them sending the road barricades flying or hitting the jumps like you do just make it appear like a more level playing field.
As a final note, I’m sure a few are wondering how this game compares to the original SNES version. Well, to be blunt, the Genesis port’s not as good. The SNES has more and better music, music and sound effects during a race, better night and fog effects, noticeably more color (which the Genesis could have done a better job recreating truthfully), it handles the two-player mode better, and it’s tougher. However, the Genesis version doesn’t have that annoying fuel gauge anymore, and the tire screeching sound (which you’ll hear a lot) isn’t as irritating as the SNES version’s. The two versions play about the same in terms of game speed (in single-player mode), have the same track count, feature a two player split-screen mode while racing 18-19 other cars on the road (depending on the mode you’re playing), and offer up the same kinds of upgrades. But in the end, the Genesis version comes off as a considerably scaled-down port.
So what’s the final verdict about Top Gear 2? Well, it has some issues. Fairly flat looking graphics, a strange choice in what you hear while racing, a choppy two-player mode, odd quirks in the races, and things of that nature make the Genesis version feel more like an afterthought on the part Gremlin Interactive. There’s simply no reason this port couldn’t have rivaled the SNES version, but it doesn’t. And while it makes up a bit a ground with its fairly solid racing foundation that has some extra depth thanks to the upgrades you can get and the obstacles on the tracks, all the extra bits in the world can’t hide the fact that TG2 on the Genesis is a flawed port. Yes, it’s still pretty enjoyable and a bit above average in the end, but don’t expect the likes of OutRun or Super Monaco GP in terms of overall quality.