Review: Neo Drift Out (Neo Geo CD)

 Neo Drift Out is a rally racing game released in Japan on July 26, 1996, for the Neo Geo CD. This is a unique release because there was no version for the Neo Geo AES cartridge system. Neo Drift Out is a sequel to the Super Nintendo title, Super Drift Out.

Three rally cars are featured in the game. The Toyota Celica is the fastest car in the game, but has the poorest handling. The Subaru Impreza is a well rounded car. Lastly, the Mitsubishi Lancer is the slowest car, but also the best handling.

There are 7 races total, the first being a very short practice round. After that, there is the European stage, which takes place on asphalt; Africa stage, which takes place in the African Savannah; Snow Land stage, which is a tarmac course in a snowy setting; Southern Hemisphere stage, which is another dirt and/or gravel type stage; Scandinavian stage, which is the obligatory ice stage; and Great Britain stage, which is mud. Overall, there is great variety between the stages, and they all feature a unique color palettes, road surfaces, and track side details.

The cars themselves look excellent. They have a nice 3D look to them and plenty of animation frames to make the directional changes very smooth. Another nice touch is the front wheels actually animate separately from the car when you steer left and right.

The action takes place in a 30 degree isometric view, rather than a top down view in the Neo Geo CD's other rally game, Rally Chase. This gives a nice view of road, and shows of the track side detail. Neo Drift Out also makes use of the system's sprite scaling capabilities. As your speed increases, everything gets smaller, giving you the sensation of the camera zooming out. Everything scrolls along very quickly and smoothly, giving a fantastic sensation of speed.

You don't race against other cars directly in Neo Drift Out, but rather against the clock. This is pretty standard fare in rally games. The longer stages have a checkpoint you must also pass through to continue on the stage. Unlike some games, when you run out of time, the game doesn't immediately end. You continue on through the next checkpoint or the finish line. I found this very helpful, as it gave you a chance to memorize the remainder of the track.

Before each turn, there is a visual on screen picture that shows you what is coming up, whether that be a turn, series of turns, a jump, or an obstacle. While this is enough in the earlier stages to be successful, later stages require some track memorization. Instead of placing your car in the middle of the screen, your car is always towards the back of the screen (depending on what direction you are facing). This allows you to see as much of whats coming up next as possible.

Where this game shines is it's brilliant physics engine. It is really easy to swing the tail of your car out and power slide sideways through the turns. The latter stages get trickier as you must switch directions multiple times to make it through the section, but you feel a real sense of accomplishment when you get everything just right. Additionally, the car handles different on each road surface. This is the best 2D racing game I have ever played, and one of the best racing games I have ever played.

On normal difficulty, I found the challenge ramped up quite nicely. Most gamers should be able to win the first couple of stages on their first try. But things get harder from there. The last two stages in particular require multiple attempts before you get everything just right. If things get to easy, there is a hard difficulty level which shortens the amount of time you have to complete a stage.

The stages have multiple paths, but they aren't really short cuts. In my personal experience, the only level that required taking an alternate route was the final stage. If you are struggling with a stage, I would recommend exploring these other paths to see if they better fit your driving style. Sadly, this is really the only replay value (besides beating your previous best times) of Neo Drift Out.

This leads me to my only complaint of this game. Once you get good at the game, you should be able to complete it in about 10 minutes. I wish the courses were longer, or wish there were more of them. Additionally, more cars would have been nice. Thrash Rally features 9 cars in total. On the flip side, Sega Rally (on the Sega Saturn and arcades and released around the same time) only features two cars and four tracks.

Each stage features it's own unique music track. I was glad I didn't have to listen to the same song over and over through the stages. They are all fast upbeat songs, which compliment the quick game play nicely. The engine noises do a good job representing the whine of a turbocharged 4 cylinder rally engine. There is also announcer that shouts out commands during the race (left, right, etc). I found it to be a nice touch, and doesn't get too repetitive or annoying.

After the initial load up, the load times between each stage are very tolerable, and take between 5 and 20 seconds. I didn't find them overly long, and didn't take you out of the action. Neo Drift Out does not contain any Japanese text at all, so it is very import friendly.

Overall, I found Neo Drift Out to be a great racing game. The handling and game play is silky smooth and make Neo Drift Out an absolute blast to play. This is also one of the prettiest 2D racing games I have ever played. The sound does it's job, the music isn't distracting, and the engine noises sound good. A few more stages would have been nice, but Neo Drift Out is a nice break from the sea of fighting games on the hardware. I highly recommend it.

Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 7/10
Game play - 10/10 
Overall - 8/10 Very well polished and a blast to play