Top Gear Racing, Bottom Gear Graphics
Top Gear was one of my favorite racing games from my childhood. I have played this game many times through and know just about every detail of the game. Is the game good? Let's see.
To start with, the game is quite ugly for Super Nintendo Entertainment System standards. It's not bad enough that you can't tell what things are, but it certainly doesn't use the full power of the console. The graphics also do a poor job of discriminating between hazards. For example, most turns in the game will have arrow signs telling you to turn. Crashing into theses signs drastically slows your car down. However, the much larger construction signs as hazards on the road don't slow you down any more than these signs. And some obstacles, despite being much smaller or weaker than these signs (such as billboards and even GRAPES) will stop your car as if you'd just ran into Superman. There is also very little variation in terms of level design (graphically) - all there seems to be are grass levels, snow levels, and desert levels. There are also night and day levels, sometimes the sun rises or sets during a level, and your headlights turn on or off - a nice effect for the time.
The sound is even worse than the graphics. It isn't outside of reason to think that the original Game Boy would've handled these sounds - generic music, crashes that sound the same whether you're hitting rocks or trees, and nitro that sounds like a finger snap.
But games are not sounds or graphics. The real question is the gameplay good?
You have four cars to choose from, as well as automatic or manual transmission, a few different control schemes, metric or imperial, and even the ability to type in your name. The cars range from a lightning fast car that guzzles down the gas, accelerates poorly and turns like an elephant, to a slow car that turns on a dime, accelerates quickly and seemly never runs out of gas. Fuel consumption is actually quite an important part of the game - the longer races have pits, and it isn't unusual in 7 or 8 lap races to visit the pits twice. But the car makes a big difference - for example, in San Francisco, the Red and Purple cars cannot finish without pitting. The Blue car can get away without pitting, but it will have to move fast to finish without doing so (gas depletes based on RPM, not time or speed). The White car on the other hand can indeed finish the race easily without making a pit stop - a big advantage. On shorter levels, there isn't even a pit stop on the track at all, and if the curves on the track are gentle, then the faster cars have the advantage.
If you're playing alone, then the bottom half of the split screen will be accompanied by "Computer". Really, that's its name (the other AI drivers all have names). It's actually pretty fun to play like this, as it's like having a 2-player mode without the second player. Computer drives much differently than all the other AI drivers. The other AI drivers finish at fixed times (the one to beat is Richie) but Computer's top speed seems to "rubber band" - if you just sit there and don't move, Computer will likely finish 8th. But if you're miles ahead of Richie, then Computer is going to be the only AI close to you. Strangely, the fuel gauge seems to be stacked against Computer - he'll use fuel much faster than you would, but Computer is over-safe about pitting (I've only ever seen him actually run out of fuel once). None of the other AI drivers need to pit, nor do they ever seem to crash.
The controls for this game are pretty smooth, although a tad slow if you're driving one of the cars with bad grip (pretty sure that's indented). The gas pedal, the brakes, shifting gears, and the Nitro all work as expected. It is nice that if you're playing with another person that both players can set their own controls.
The levels are functionally quite well designed. Some tracks are speedways, some tracks are constant turns, and some lay in between. You are racing from country to country around the world and some tracks have landmarks visible (though the graphics render them unimpressively). You progress through the game by finishing at least 5th in a race (in 2 player mode, only one of you needs to finish 5th or higher). But the points add up on the poorly named world ranking (it really should be regional ranking, as it resets every region), and you need to be at least 3rd overall to continue to the next nation. Should you finish below 5th in a race, finish below 3rd in a region, or run out of gas and not finish at all (it is possible to "coast" across the finish line, or to be hit from behind by another driver and "knocked" into the pits) then you are sent back to the beginning of the country and you need to try again.
This game is actually pretty fun to play despite it's poor graphics and sound. Give it a try, the racing is quite fun. But watch out for your rivals - Computer and Richie.