Review: Over Top (Neo Geo CD)

Over Top is the spiritual successor to Thrash Rally on the Neo Geo CD console. Over Top was released in 1996, one of the last titles for the ill fated Neo Geo CD, and one of the few racing titles for the system.

Over Top features only one game mode, which is a single race around one long track. The track is spans nearly every imaginable terrain around the globe. The 7 sections are City, Village, Lake Side, Mountain, Desert, Port Town, and Park.

There are eight different vehicles to choose from in Over Top, all based on real world cars:

F350 (Ferrari F50) Falcon 395 (Hummer H1) 146comp (Peugeot 205) Dio version R (Lamborghini Diablo) AW-600 (large truck) Dominator (SUV) AKW D-1 (dune buggy) Safari 750 (Honda motorcycle)

Each of the 8 vehicles has different stats based on 4 different terrains, pavement, sand, dirt, and snow. The vehicles are all very well balanced. The F50 is a beast on the paved roads, but useless on the snow, for example. I was able to obtain victory with each vehicle, and achieve similar race times with each. This fixed one of my biggest gripes from Thrash Rally, which had only a couple of cars you could actually be successful with. While they all have varying top speed and acceleration, the real difference is how the handle on the various terrains.

Over Top is a gorgeous game. The opening intro video is stunning and almost FMV like, which is impressive for a system that doesn't feature any video decoding hardware. The car selection screen features each car rotating in pre-rendered 3D. Additionally, you can change the color of the car on the fly during the vehicle selection screen.

The actual race track is beautiful as well, and a huge step up from Thrash Rally. The racing surface, backgrounds, and track side detail is great. There are lots of little touches from birds flying over head to people standing around waving flags. The different sections of the track all look different, and offer a lot of variety. There is also random weather; throughout the race the clouds will come out making everything darker, and sometimes rain (or snow) will come down.

The sound in Ove rTop is good as well. Each vehicle has it's own engine note. The F50 has a nice high pitch whine that only an Italian V12 can produce. The AW-600 (large truck) features a nice low rumbling diesel sound. Another nice touch is each vehicle has it's own horn sound. While the horn is useless, it shows that a lot of attention was spent on the little details. The soundtrack is excellent as well. While identical to the cartridge version, it still sounds better than any other cartridge I've ever heard. The last track in particular is a great trance/techno style music that  compliments the slick graphics well.

The control in Over Top is average for the genre. The A button is the accelerator and the B button is brake and reverse. The reverse is wonky however, and you need to press right if you are trying to reverse to the left. After you get the hang of the game though, you won't need to reverse, but its weird none the less. Each vehicle has it's own feel, with the exotics being especially quick and nimble on the pavement and the large trucks being nimble on the mud and snow.

Where Over Top really shines is the short-cuts. Each section has at least 1 shortcut that eliminates a large chunk of the section. If you want to beat the race before the time runs out, you need to do a bit of exploring in order to find these shortcuts. Some are very obvious and involving crashing through some conveniently placed cones. Others you will likely find by accident, missing a turn and continuing straight. Once you find these short-cuts, you need to remember them all and hit them all in order to win on the harder difficulty sections. If you can't find them, search YouTube.

This is also where Over Top falls a bit short. After you find all the short-cuts, you can win the race with any vehicle. There is only one race, and once you get good at the game, it takes less than 4 minutes to complete. While each section offers a lot variety, they only last 30 seconds or so. Over Top is just way too short.

The other problem with Over Top is the load times. After a long initial load time, you are greeted with the main menu. After you select start game, you have another 30 second load time before reaching the car select screen. Select you car, and the color, and you wait yet again before the race begins. After clearing the first section, which takes less than 30 seconds, you have to wait another 25-30 seconds before section 2 loads. This process repeats through the entire race. You spend half the time looking at a load screen. This is annoying!

Thankfully, you can select your car from the main menu by going to the options screen. From here you can change your time limit (I recommend selecting infinite time until you get used to the game), and your car, including color. While it's not animated, it gets the job done. You can also choose to race just 1 of the 7 sections, and increase the lap times. This allows you to explore the section to find the short-cuts.

Over-Top is a good racing game, but the experience is over before it gets started. The excellent sound track and gorgeous graphics really show off the Neo Geo's power and are worth the price of admission. The long load times almost ruin the experience. The controls are good and there is a nice variety of vehicles to drive. I recommend Over Top for racing fans, but others might not be as patient with it's shortcomings.

Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 8/10
Game play - 6/10
Overall - 7/10 Good controls, but lacking in track variety, and hampered by load times