Top Gear – Punching It Down The Blacktop

This is it. The race of your life. Head to head. Nose to nose. Flag to flag for the championship of the world. And only your best friend – or your worst enemy – stands in your way as you chase each other around 32 fiendishly tricky racetracks scattered from Paris to Rio.

Then there was the SNES trilogy known as “Top Gear” (or “Top Racer” as it was known as in Japan). The sequels after the first TG became more advanced as far as options for races, cars, designs, and required “money” to purchase parts and accessories won from high pole places in a race. The original Top Gear is valued for the fact that it was simplistic in nature: chose your name, chose your transmission (auto or manual), and chose your controller layout, and a car, and just race!

You each choose your car carefully for speed. handling and power. Grab the controls, and punch it down the blacktop. This is awesome splitscreen racing at its best, and it takes all your skill, courage and splitsecond timing to stay on the road, day after day, night after night, past roadblocks, barriers and pitstops. So gear up. Get your motor running. And go for the nitro. There’s only room in the winner’s circle for one!

Graphics:

The graphics in this game do their job well a neat opening screen is followed by a well laid out options screen which includes an impressive (by SNES standards) digitized photo behind the text. In the game itself the graphics are pretty good and the cars themselves are well drawn. One effect in top gear I have never seen anywhere else is the way that during some races day changes to night and vice versa which improves or worsens your visibility.

Also back drops are unique to each track, you can see the leaning tower of Pisa in Pisa, the Eiffel tower in Paris etc. The pit lane is also well animated and the speedometer, timer.Are intuitively laid out so you can glance at them quickly without crashing. I also liked the little speech bubbles coming out of the side of the car whenever you crash into another car or use a nitro. For example if you get caught in a group of cars and you keep banging into them the driver will say something like ‘get outta my way’ or ‘are you blind’.

The Controls:

The controls are in a word faultless. you have 4 control options including a left handed option where you hold the SNES pad upside down. Maneuvering your car is simplicity itself as is cornering. overtaking on high speed corners is no problem as you can go full speed round the outside or take a small speed drop and pass on the inside.The brake and nitro buttons are easy to reach requiring just a roll of the thumb to reach. In manual gears mode a simple tap of the R or L buttons will take you up or down a gear.

Music and Sound FX:

I have to say I think Top Gear has the best music in any of the earlier racing games. The title song is a classic (It is also the ending music for lotus1 on the genesis) and the in game tracks are also perfect and always seem perfect for whatever track you are on, high notes seem to coincide with sharp turns and generally the music has a rhythm that manages to get the adrenaline going as you are tearing round hairpin bends. The sound effects of the car (skidding, engine noise etc.) are also perfectly recaptured.

Gameplay:

Top Gear’s Strong point is its thrilling gameplay. The fact that its permanently split screen (like Mario Kart) will always have you competing against another “human” player is it’s trump card. If you are playing in one player mode the second players car is controlled by the SNES and it will have to refuel just like you. In two player mode player 2 will control this car. In each race there are 20 cars and your position on the starting grid is determined by your finishing position in the previous race e.g) if you finished 1st you begin the next race in 20th, 2nd = 19th and so forth.

When you finish first on any given track in a country, you earn 20 points, 2nd place earns 15 points, 3rd place earns 12, 4th place earns 10, and 5th place earns 8. That is the cut off point however, because if you do not finish a given track 5th place or better (out of 20 cars), you will not advance to the next track. In addition, you must finish at least 3rd or better on any given country or continent in order to advance to the next country.

There are 32 tracks over eight areas around the world: the United States, South America (mainly in Brazil, but oddly it includes one track in Mexico), Italy, Germany, Japan, France (including one track in Monaco), The United Kingdom, and Scandinavia (Sweden, Finland, Norway, and Denmark).

In addition, you can choose one of four cars, most of which contrast sharply from one another. The white car is best for fuel consumption but on average it clocks the lowest speed, while the red car is the fastest on average but drinks gasoline like water. The blue and purple cars share a similar speed and gas usage rate, but the blue car handles more soundly around turns then the purple car does.

There are big differences between each car and playing the game with a different car makes each play feel like a different game as depending on your car you could have a very manueverable machine or something that handles like a brick on wheels. (when driving the blue or red car it becomes much more difficult to overtake and avoid objects). Or you could have a vehicle that needs to be refuelled once, twice or not at all on a particular track.

Also acceleration varies which is crucial when you’re starting off or just after a bad crash or pit stop.the nitro power also varies from car to car also which affects the duration and overall speed boost. Also max speed comes into play also some cars ‘hold’ speed better than others and do not seem to slow down as much after a nitro boost or a steep hill.

When your low on fuel you have to pit stop to do this simply steer into the pit lane and when your fuel level is sufficient drive out again. Pit stops require tactics as pitting early in the race will give you more time to catch up. If you do run out of fuel it does not mean you are out of the race as your car drifts forward for a while and if another car hits the back of you will start moving again.

Because of this its possible to do a whole lap with out fuel until you either manage to finish or reach the pits. Although more than likely you will lose a lot of positions waiting to get hit or stop in a lane where no other cars even goes. In 2 player mode you can just get the other guy to give you a push though.

The tracks are all well designed and on the longer courses it is possible to have many different tactics about when to refuel or nitro. Some tracks like the black forest are true to life as this track is full of steep hills just like the real place. The speed in Top Gear is phenomenal, it is not un-playably fast but it’s devastatingly quick and smooth when compared to the likes of F-Zero and Mario Kart which are sluggish and seem slow in comparison.

Challenge Factor:

Top Gear has three difficulty levels the higher levels make the computer cars faster and more aggressive and also add more obstacles to the course. Although completing the game is not too difficult you should try to finish first in every race, as any loser can finish fifth. also you should try and beat the course record which is shown on the pre-race screen.

As well as that you should attempt to complete the game with every car like in the red car you can not afford to crash and you can hit speeds of around 240 mph if you are good. The red car also guzzles fuel like there is no tomorrow but goes a lot faster than the blue and the white car. To sum up the white car is for beginners, the blue and purple cars for intermediary players, while the red is for the pros.

Final Thoughts:

Top Gear does not hold a lot of weight in the history of racing games because it does not have the super deluxe choices, features, and add ons like it’s sequels did, or other games that would follow it on other systems. And that is a shame, because not only is Top Gear simplicity in its most compelling form as far as strictly racing goes, but it also paved the way for other games to copy the system it implemented and make it even better, solely from a gameplay stand point.

If you have an SNES and want to re-live a glorious Pre-whacked out racing Era of games, Top Gear would be one of those you will want to get your hands on. The experience will give you arguably be one of the best racing games ever in your collection.

Final Fantasy 3 – When Magic Disappeared Forever

Ages ago, evil beings created powerful creatures called Espers, and unleashed them against each other. The resulting battles left their world a smoldering rubble. Legend has it, the Espers destroyed themselves and most of humanity. Magic disappeared forever.

Centuries have passed and a rational world now exists with Espers living only in myths, until one frozen solid since the ancient wars is unearthed. Suddenly, there are reports of magical attacks on civilians. Imperial Commandos launch raids using magic powered MagiTek weapons. Magic is obviously alive and the world is in danger again. Who or what is behind the rediscovery and redeployment of this legendary power? What chaotic plans exists that will wreak havoc on this orderly world?

Final Fantasy III is one of what many consider to be the classics for RPG genre games. Released as Final Fantasy III for the SNES in 1994, it is actually the 6th installment of the immensely popular Final Fantasy series produced by Squaresoft. The game takes place about 1000 years following the ending of a great war called “The War of the Magi” which removed magic from the face of the world.

It is a typical turn based RPG with the player having control of over 15 playable characters each one with his or her own strengths and weaknesses and different fighting styles and stories to tell. The main character is a young half-human, half-Esper girl whom is trying to find her place in a world torn asunder by war. The main villain in the story is one of the most colorful villains in the Final Fantasy series, a rather funny clown named Kefka.

Joining forces with him are a few other military style villains with lesser roles and even a few NPCs who get involved. There are many plot twists that include cut scenes involving characters that allow the player to have a “real-time” feel with the story. The characters have “expressions” that while being very basic, convey the general theme of each scene to the player. In my opinion, this game is perfect for the player who wants to see some of the best the SNES had to offer in terms of RPGs.

Gameplay:

As far as games for the SNES go, there are only 1 or 2 other games as engrossing as Final Fantasy III. All of the elements that make the other games in the series enjoyable are here. The player can rename all of the characters in the game including the ever present summons (called Espers in FFIII).

There are a multitude of side quests in the game that vary in difficulty from easy to difficult in terms of time and involvement to complete, and the level of commitment necessary to complete the game can vary between 25 hours. To just finish the core storyline of the game, can be up to 100 hours give or take. This is if you want to obtain what is called a “complete” gaming experience meaning gathering all of the most powerful weapons, armor, and magic, and also leveling characters up to maximum levels.

The only reason the game is not getting a 10 rating in this department is the fact that while leveling characters is not a problem in the beginning and middle of the game, once a character reaches the higher levels (above 60) it becomes a very time consuming, tedious process to level up the character sometimes taking hours upon hours to raise a character just one level. This I would say is the main common problem with RPGs of this era. But, if you do not mind that sort of monotony, this game is for you.

The characters in Final Fantasy 3 offer a host of clever individual attacks. Each character has his or her own special talents and the player can choose to utilize each character’s talents or can just ignore them. An essential part of each Final Fantasy is magic, and this game is no exception. There are a multitude of magics available to the player to use, each one learned from equipping certain Espers.

The longer an Esper is equipped, the more magic is obtained from the Esper and once the learning curve for the Esper reaches 100%, all of the magic available from that Esper is learned. Some magic is able to be learned from two to four Espers, while other magic may only be learned from one specific Esper. This makes Esper use a conscionable thought process. The player must plan their use of Espers in order to learn the needed spells.

Graphics:

Again, I am comparing this to other SNES games. This game is 2-D. Plain and simple. It features a 3/4 overhead view 90% of the time and also features an overworld which has since been all but removed from most RPGs. The graphics were considered state of the art in 1994 when this game was released. There are rich color textures and some very good use of the Mode-7 graphics capabilities of the SNES in both scaling and rotation which are show cased especially when the characters use the airship for transportation.

As far as actual graphic renderings are concerned, the game is 2-D, so if you are expecting to see walking, talking, fully rendered 3-D you are out of luck. In scenes where the graphics are made to be inflated or close up, they become pixilated the larger they become. These problems aside, the graphics for its day, when compared to other games out at the time, were considered to be very quite advanced.

Sound Quality:

Here’s where the game shines. The score is enormous! Created by the world-renowned Nobuo Uematsu, there are at least 100 different songs in the game (including renditions of the main theme) and also includes a scene with one of the earliest examples of voiced “singing” in video games. The songs feature 128 note polyphony and a beautifully detailed musical story. Because the game’s dialogue is text based, the music allows the player to get involved on a more emotional level with this game and the characters than many other games out at the time.

There is a great combination of deep bass, singing strings, and synthesized keyboards to keep the listener enthralled and engaged throughout the game. There are very few songs that last less than five minutes without repeating so the player never really gets the boring monotonous feeling that usually accompanies games from the SNES.

Replay Value:

There are very few games that can be left to sit for years on a shelf and then picked up and played again with the same level of commitment and enjoyment as Final Fantasy III. The game is just as much fun the every other time through as it was the first time through. As a matter of fact, with all of the side quests and obtainable items, weapons, armor, and magic, the game could possibly be one of the hardest RPG’s created for the SNES to obtain a “perfect” or 100 percent complete game. There are always ways to expand the difficulty of the game and make each play through a unique experience.

Concept:

Not exactly the most cutting edge in gaming, this game has the very familiar “fight the monsters and gain levels before fighting the final boss and saving the world” theme. While the Action RPG gamer will find this game very repetitive, the fan of the Turn Based style RPG gamer will love it.

Having a female as the main character in the game is a concept that was not used very much prior to Final Fantasy III. This seemed to be a risky idea but Square pulled it off flawlessly. Also, with all of the other characters in the game, the stories unfold rather nicely for each character. This adds to the depth of the game as well as the entertainment concept.

Overall:

If you are a fan of the Final Fantasy series, a collector of vintage games, or a person who is interested in getting involved in the series but is worried about the complexity of the newer Final Fantasy titles, this game is for you. Final Fantasy III is great for the “old-school” player and the “newbie” alike. It has a great story, great sound, and WILL take over your life for a few days if you let it. The characters are original, have many different abilities to use, and have emotions that make playing this game really great.

The NPCs seem to have more of an impact in this game as opposed to most and the main characters are some of the most imaginative I’ve ever come across. The towns are sprawling, the graphics are engaging, and the sound is rich and vibrant. The story unfolds well, and from the opening scene, most players are hooked. The enemies are varied and numerous and the bosses difficult while not being impossible. I highly recommend this game to anyone who owns a SNES.

Kirby Super Star – Dream Land Is Under Siege Again!

Dream Land is under siege again! Our hero, Kirby, returns to instigate a rescue. King Dedede is snatching up Dream Land’s food supply, but he is not the only one! Dyna Blade, Meta Knight and a slew of other evil baddies are on the loose and wreaking havoc throughout the land.

Use any of Kirby’s amazing powers to create a “helper” to assist you in battle. Or have a friend join you for some two player action by taking control of Kirby’s helper. Help Kirby work through EIGHT challenging games filled with action and adventure. Enter the fray in Spring Breeze, enter a foot race against King Dedede in Gourmet Race and tackle a winged warrior in Dyna Blade.

Tweak your reaction skills in Megaton Punch and Samurai Kirby, then battle your way through the Great Cave Offensive, Revenge of Meta Knight and Milky Way Wishes. Each game is different AND some extra special surprises are in store for you!

The Gameplay:
It is classic Kirby game play and much more in 8 great games! The gameplay is both fun and challenging at times. Everyone will enjoy controlling Kirby around the Dreamland and beyond. You make your way around by swallowing Kirby’s enemies and then using them as projectiles or you can steal their powers if the enemy you swallowed has one. There are lots of enemies with powers so you won’t always have the same old powers over and over again.

The powers you get also do more than one thing, for example: if you acquire the beam ability you can shoot the beam regularly, charge it up for a powerful blast, grab an enemy and shoot it up and make these blue dots come out of the wand hurting enemies. When you have a power, you can also create a helper based on the power you have. The partner will then help you on your quest and can either be controlled by AI or a friend of yours can control it instead.

You can also find powers and touch them to get them in some places instead of sucking in and swallowing enemies. Kirby can fly, if you already didn’t know that and if you want you can fly over things. When underwater you can use certain powers but otherwise you have a special underwater attack.

The levels are fun and the enemies are well thought out. The bosses are great they range from easy to very hard and provide a good challenge while being fun at the same time. When Kirby stops flying he spits out a cloud of dust, which is capable of hurting enemies. Kirby can also slide when he is running to hurt enemies.

Here is a run down of the games in Kirby Superstar that are shown in the instruction booklet…

Spring Breeze – King DeDeDe has stolen all of the food in Dreamland and once again it’s up to Kirby to stop him. Spring Breeze is a simple yet fun way to introduce new players to the world of Kirby. With the classic Kirby formula of swallowing enemies and stealing their powers you make your way through the 4 stages you must get through. Each one containing a boss you must fight. It isn’t a challenge to most players but a good way to sit back and have some classic Kirby fun.

Dyna Blade – A giant bird called Dyna Blade is terrorizing the land and guess who is up to the task to stop her. Yup, that’s right Kirby is! Offering more levels, which will provide a greater challenge to players than Spring Breeze, Dyna Blade is a much bigger Kirby game contained in Kirby Superstar. There are also some secrets, which I will let you find on your own.

Gourmet Race – After climbing a really tall mountain to get the precious food that lies on top, Kirby discovers King DeDeDe is on the mountain too and he intends to take all the food. Kirby and King DeDeDe decide to have a race collecting food to see who gets it all. Basically you race King DeDeDe to the finish in the stages and collect the food while you’re at it. You can also play time attack to try to beat your best times.

Great Cave Offensive – While on a picnic, Kirby falls into a hole and discovers a gigantic cave rumored to have millions of dollars in treasure. Kirby must make it through the cave and collect all the treasure. Well you don’t have to collect it all but if you want 100% on your game file you need to collect it all. The Great Cave Offensive poses a challenge to even the most skilled players because some treasures can be quite hard to find and acquire.

Return of MetaKnight – The evil MetaKnight and his crew have set out to conquer dreamland with their giant flying ship. Naturally Kirby jumps on the warpstar and heads for the action. Revenge of MetaKnight can pose quite a challenge to people and it has a great story. It also uses the classic Kirby formula but many surprises and challenges await you.

Milky Way Wishes – The sun and the moon are having a fight causing the days and nights in Dreamland to become all mixed up. Guide Kirby through many different planets in an attempt to get things back to normal. Instead of the classic swallowing and copying powers, Milky Way Wishes is different. You find the powers and then you have acquired them permanently. You can then switch between different powers any time you want and this concept puts a whole new fun twist on Kirby action. Milky Way Wishes is extremely fun and quite difficult also at times.

Megaton Punch – This minigame is quite entertaining but also quite easy. You can play 1 or 2 players and select a level for yourself. First you set Kirby’s power meter by pressing any button when the power meter is full, then you press any button again when the two cursors flying around meet exactly to form one and finally you press any button when the swinging pendulum is inside the ring. Now you have your score and if it’s greater than your opponents you win. It’s that simple.

Samurai Kirby – Like the other minigame you select the amount of players and the level of difficulty in Samurai Kirby. This game is a test of reflexes and requires you to press any button as soon as you see “!”. Who ever presses it first wins. Don’t press any button to early because you will be disqualified if you do it too fast. Samurai Kirby offers lots of challenge and fun.

Graphics:
Some of the best on a SNES ever, Kirby has never before looked better. Most of the enemies look really good and well detailed. The food you use to restore Kirby’s health is also very good. The backgrounds are simply amazing and show Dreamland’s fascinating world well. All the movements on the screen look excellent; Kirby’s and the enemies. The little cut scenes are near perfect and really well detailed. Kirby Superstar is one of the best games in terms of graphics on the SNES.

Sound Quality:
Everyone loves to listen to the Kirby music, right? It’s pleasant to the ears and flows well with the game. Some stages may have mediocre music but most of it is simply the best. The sounds are also great and match with the actions cleanly and near perfectly. If you hit something with a certain power the sound you imagine to be heard will be heard. When you become invincible, you get a great fast paced music and who could forget the music from the Kirby dance. Everyone loves the Kirby dance, or at least I would think so.

The Game Controls:

The controls in Kirby Superstar are really good and easy to learn. You use the D-Pad to move Kirby around and can double tap the D-Pad right or left to dash. You also can press up on the D-Pad to go into a door and press down to make Kirby sit/duck. While pressing down and B at the same time will cause the star warrior to slide. Pressing the B button will make Kirby jump while pressing it continuously will cause Kirby to fly.

Your flying time is infinite so do not worry about falling. The Y button is probably the most important in the entire game as it causes Kirby to swallow enemies, which you can then spit out at other enemies or use to acquire an ability. The Y button also can be used to shoot air bullets while flying and use the water gun while under water. When you have a power you can use the A button to create a helper and if you have no power you can use the A button to get rid of the helper.

The L and R buttons cause Kirby to guard protecting him from most but not all enemies and obstacles. Start pauses the game and if you want to reset it you just have to press the Start, Select, L and R buttons simultaneously. You can also use the A button to warp to Kirby or self destruct yourself if you are the helper and can’t go too far away from Kirby but this is not too big of a problem.

The Replay Value:

With eight games in one plus the mini games, you will be playing Kirby Superstar for a long time. Collecting all the treasure in the Great Cave Offensive and all the powers in Milky Way Wishes will take you a while. If you have a second player to be the helper, you will be beating these games over and over again simply due to the fun of the multiplayer feature.