Review: Top Gear Overdrive (N64)

By Drew Wilson

Top Gear Overdrive is a racing game released on the Nintendo 64. It’s part of a long run series known as Top Gear. We take a look at how this game stands on its own.

Top Gear Overdrive is a game that was released in 1998. It is another iteration of the racing game series Top Gear.

The game starts you off with a Volkswagon which is effectively the slowest car in the game. Still, with this car, you are able to get a real feel for the first few tracks in the first season or so. As you win races, you build up a cash reserve that enables you to either upgrade the current car or simply buy a whole new car altogether. Separately, you could purchase nitro’s that can help you win more races.

One subtle feature is that if you purchase an upgrade to your existing car, you also gradually increase the value of the car. So, that money isn’t entirely lost if you drop a few thousand to increase the cars speed.

The main racing mode is the championship mode which enables you to earn faster cars. The race tracks themselves feature two different item “drop” areas which is basically a painted picture on the road and a light that flashes between red and green to indicate availability. If a car picks up one of the item drops (doesn’t necessarily have to be your car), that item becomes unavailable for a brief period of time. There are two different kinds of item drop area’s. Those are money drops and nitro’s. The nitro drops always increase your nitro reserve by one, but the money drops vary between laps and seasons. The first lap in the first season of a track will give you a few hundred dollars on each drop. However, on the third lap on the 6th season, each item drop is worth a few thousand dollars which tends to be worth far more than a single nitro. This adds a certain level of depth to the strategies you can employ while racing.

Another feature is the various routs throughout the courses. In the first few seasons, the computer players stick to the main rout, leaving you with more than enough opportunity to either catch up or increase your lead. On later seasons, some computer opponents will utilize some of these shortcuts, thus increasing the level of difficulty of the races as you progress between seasons.

There are a few pitfalls to this game. One of the pitfalls is that if you want to start a season over, you have to delete the data from the cartridge. You can’t just save your game to a separate file as the game only allows one saved game. If you want to go back a season, that pretty much entails starting over from scratch. So, there’s technical limitations with this game.

Another pitfall with this game is just how easy it is for cars to explode. This isn’t all that noticeable with the first few cars, but as you get faster cars, your risk to flying off course increases. Sometimes, it’s obvious when your car careens into a forest that, yeah, your car probably should just self destruct. Other times, a tire can land on a divider that touches the boundaries. While your car will bounce back in bounds, it will do so in a giant fireball. This can be quite annoying at times.

An additional pitfall is that the course boundaries aren’t exactly perfect. There’s apparently known polygon “tears” throughout the course which means that if you happen to swerve right on the right part of the course, your car will simply fly through a solid wall and fall down below the course until the game detects your car is out of bounds and place your car back on the track. Fortunately, this doesn’t happen that often, but it can still happen unexpectedly.

The graphics are fairly well done though. Between the shiny body of the cars to the smooth map of the race that denotes where every racer is at to the features along each course including several breakables makes the game quite decent. In addition to this, you can customize most of the cars colours through a very customizable colour pallet through holding Z in the car select screen. Few games actually feature this scale of customizability in this era. Some games allow you to select from a pre-set number of colours, but this game allows you to browse through the whole spectrum of colours thanks to the 365 (I think?) colour pallet.

The music, to me, is a major draw to this game. While all the music is by one band, the music made me a fan of the band Grindstone because I liked the way it sounded (Grindstone is now defunct, but is now known as Point Defiance). I’ve got no complaints about the sound effects either. There’s different engine sounds, there’s the honking of the horn if you pick something up and the hissing of the nitro when you use one which actually blends well in the overall gaming experience.

Overall, I thought this was a good game. Unlike the first Top Gear Rally game released on the N64, this game takes concepts from the roots that made the series popular such as item pickup’s on the course and upgradable cars. I kind of wished this game had more seasons personally, but this still was a fun one to play with.

Furthest point in game: Beaten the game twice.

General gameplay: 20/25
Replay value: 8/10
Graphics: 8/10
Audio: 5/5

Overall rating: 82%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85

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