Over Top is possibly one of the more obscure Neo Geo titles, often out-remembered by the other title of the genre, Neo Drift Out. Developed by ADK, this isometric racing game is quite a unique experience for the system.
The controls are very simple: A is accelerate, B is break and that’s all you really need to know. With a sort of isometric viewpoint you have to successfully drive your vehicle to the many checkpoints of the race within the time limit. You begin with just 99 seconds on the clock but in classic arcade racing style, every time you reach one of those sacred checkpoints, time is extended.
What’s cool about the gameplay is the drifting. While the less harsh corners can be handled with just taking your finger off the accelerator, the countless sharp turns require you to do hand break turns like a rally car. Drifting is a huge part of the game and it’s how you can successfully win against the three other AI drivers and complete the course.
Along with the gameplay, you’re guided by a rally style warning as to what the next corner holds. It shows a brief sign a second or two before the actual corner as to how you should actually take it, whether it be a hard right, left, hairpin or chicane. While I feel this guide is for the most part reliable and fairly representative of the actual corners, I personally prefer to use the map located in the top left corner because you can see the turns much further in advance.
The track itself is seven stages long and it takes you on a rollercoaster ride of environments. One minute you’re in the snowy mountains, the next you’re in the middle of a desert, or a town. It’s like a mini world tour similar to other arcade racing games like Outrun. Because of the sheer variety and rapid fire nature of them, it never gets old. The terrain can also have a big impact on gameplay. Of course driving in the sand, rain or snow can change the feel of the vehicle.
Hidden from the map and usually only seen jut after passing them, Over Top has plenty of short cuts and alternative routes available. This is where track memorisation comes in. You really need to know the track in advance before you can get the short cuts consistently and for them to affect your times.
For an arcade game I found that Over Top had a surprising amount of vehicles for selection, a nice variety too. You can even select which gaudy colour you want. You have the standard road cars, sports cars, trucks and even a motorbike. Interestingly they all handle quite differently especially according to the environments. While I didn’t fully get into all of them, I found the more balanced, standard road cars to be the best option for me.
Over Top is a tricky game. Getting to grips with the drifting, different vehicles, different terrains and maps means that you might actually struggle with it at first. Of course publisher HAMSTER are on hand to give you the option to tone down the difficulty. While normally I would say it’s an okay thing to do, I would refrain in Over Top’s case. Why? Well Over Top is one of the briefest Neo Geo games around and certainly one with the possibly the least amount of content. You can easily complete the game in less than five minutes.
It’s not a game like Metal Slug or Alpha Mission 2, where the true goal is to actually complete the game, Over Top is about completely mastering it, attaining the fastest possible time. Lowering the difficulty only makes it a more hollow experience, something which I found out very early on. Once I completed it I immediately cranked the difficulty back up and began to actually learn the game and play it like it should be played: mastering the controls, learning the maps, finding the shortcuts and giving it all I’d got. In that regard Over Top is a very pure arcade experience.
Once again, HAMSTER have done an excellent job with the port here. Included are the usual game variations, either Japanese or western releases, plus the Hi-Score mode which gives you one credit to get the high score, plus Caravan mode which gives you five minutes to get the highest score. At the risk of sounding like a broken record however, I fail to see their purpose in this title. For a start, the game must be completed in one credit anyways which leaves Hi-Score pointless, secondly, the game will most likely be finished in under five minutes which leaves Caravan mode pointless. I appreciate that these modes are in every Neo Geo release from HAMSTER and they have their purpose in other games, but Over Top certainly doesn’t need them.
Graphically I think it looks pretty good, although comparisons may be made to Neo Drift Out, to which Over Top may not be looked on so favourably. Personally I like the style, the environments are really nice but the vehicles themselves do look as though they are play toys. The music is also not the best. There are some decent songs in there but the rest sounds like 16-Bit techno. I have to say that the sound effects, especially the constant tyre screeching, is a little grating on the ears too.
Overall, I think Over Top is a game you will either love or hate, love for its cool arcade, drifting gameplay mechanics, or hate because of how brief the experience is outside of trying to master it. Saying that it’s impossible to defend the notion of there not being multiple courses available to master. There really should have been, even for the time. Sadly, due to licensing issues, Over Top is probably the only Neo Geo arcade racer we’re going to get, so I think it’s a unique enough experience to at least try.
Game provided by HAMSTER.