A look back: Top Gear Rally
Although you might not think so looking at it today, Top Gear Rally was one of the coolest racing games on the Nintendo 64 back in the day. Made by what would become another of my favorite studios, Boss Studios, it was the first in a line of great racing games by them. Going clear back to the days of playing Rad Racer and RC Pro-Am on the original Nintendo, I’ve always been a fan of the racing genre. Whether it’s the arcade racers like Cruisin’ USA or more realistic games like this one it didn’t matter much to me.
I don’t exactly remember how I happened upon this game, but I want to say it was a Christmas gift in 1997. I hadn’t heard of the game except read a couple reviews in Tip & Tricks, and I don’t recall picking it out myself. Either way it turned out to soak up another significant portion of my childhood.
The coolest thing about the game was how “realistic” it was. You wouldn’t think so looking at it today, but there were some pretty impressive features as far as details go back then. The cars actually acted like they were sitting on real a suspension. You could see the tires bump and absorb changes in the road surface and the cars would lurch to one side as you went barreling around a corner. Not too much to get excited about these days, but back then it was sure something to behold.
At the time it was the most realistic racing game I’d ever played. Up until now I’d only really experienced Arcade style racers. Where you take 90 degree corners at 100+ MPH, and the break button was just there for looks. In stark contrast, the cars in Top Gear Rally felt very heavy, taking time to react and carrying a good amount of momentum with them. You have to use a little more intellegence to keep your speed up and get through a track without constantly sliding off the course. The physics weren’t perfect though. While slightly clunky, the cars were also very “floaty”. Going too quickly over the crest of a hill would lift the wheels off the ground and put Sir Isacc Newton in the driver’s seat. I’d be lying though, if I didn’t say how fun it could be to send your car sailing through the air and finish with a spectacular end over end crash. Very satisfying.
Another cool feature was real time damage. It wasn’t quite precise, but the more you slammed into walls or other cars, the more mangled and distorted your car became. You didn’t suffer any performance penalty, but you always ended up with an amusing looking vehicle by the end of a race.
As if the game hadn’t already outdone itself, Boss included the Paint Shop. While a bit cumbersome with an N64 controller, you were given access to the equivilant of MS Paint to create your own textures for your car. I remember spending a long time, messing with the Paint Shop feature alone. Unfortunately it required almost an entire Memory Pak all to itself! The files were huge, realitivly speaking. But it was just plain cool to go out there and race in a car that you designed, rather than being stuck to a built in generic design.
All in all a very fun game. I’ve had a lot of fun in the past week or so re-learning how to play. It’s a very simplistic game in retrospect. You don’t really race against the other cars, they just run preset speeds on a preset line around the track. It’s not much more than a glorified time trials mode a la Gran Tourismo. Still the half arcade half sim feel is a perfect balance and very fun. I finished up one whole season and unlocked the Milk Truck! Back in the day I must have played quite a bit because I remember unlocking a helmet car, taco car, and even an ice cube car. Weird.