Review: Top Racer Collection is a great drive down memory lane

top racer collection

Kemco’s Top Gear series, known as Top Racer in Japan, is an absolute legend to anyone who’s grown up in Brazil. While I’m not exactly sure why it became such a big hit here and not nearly as much anywhere else is truly fascinating, and for a whole generation of players who had their fill of 16-bit goodness back in the day, there’s nothing quite like these games.

They are so memorable that currency day devs are often inspired to develop their own nifty racers based on Top Gear; such is the case of Aquiris Game Studios’ excellent Horizon Chase and Slipstream, by Ansdor, to name a few. As a Super Nintendo kid myself, sadly I never owned any of the three Top Gear carts, but I vividly recall a vivid competitive scene at my local rental shop. Even though I was more of a Super Mario Kart guy, I never passed up a chance to have a friendly bout with friends every now and then.

QUByte Interactive has been showing off Top Racer Collection at a host of events for a couple of years, and now it’s finally out. Aiming to avoid any lawsuits from a certain TV show, they opted to stick to the original Japanese title, but everything else about it is exactly as you’ll remember, down to the first game’s catchy first stage music and the tinny sound effects from Top Racer 3000.

Each of the three games comes with a set of bonus materials in the form of manual, box and cart label scans, all from the original Japanese releases on Super Famicom, which is to say neat and a tad bit disappointing, as the North American box art for them is quite iconic. But their omission is understandable, given the need to edit out the name in order to avoid any litigation.

top racer collection
I can hear the dang theme song in my head just by looking at this screenshot!

The games themselves run as well as can be expected. They all make use of the same emulation engine, Bleem of all things! Even though I would’ve preferred to see less loading for just about every screen when navigating the collection’s menus, the ROMs are exactly as you remember them. You can select from a number of border options as well as a host of filters, much like your usual retro package, and there’s not much besides those.

On the other hand, there’s online multiplayer! Sadly, I was not able to find a match during the review period, but I’m sure that will change once Top Racer Collection is out in the wild. The idea of playing such nostalgic racers over the web would’ve been considered insanity back in the day, but it’s something that’s made possible now, and I’m sure those looking to relive their glory days with friends that might not be at their side for couch play will get a kick out of this.

It’s especially cool to see how much the gameplay evolved between each release. Top Racer, released in 1992, might look primitive by today’s standards, but it plays and controls surprisingly well, offering a ton of challenge even on the lowest difficulty. It’s by far the most popular out of the three and the one most folks remember, for good reason.

Meanwhile, Top Racer 2, which came a year after, feels like an entirely different game. That’s because original developer Gremlin basically lifted the gameplay and graphics from their Amiga racing series Lotus, which had a much more realistic feel to the driving and visuals, adding options like engine upgrades into the mix. If I had to pick a favorite, this one would be it. I absolutely love how the lighting works here, where racing at night feels dangerous and quite exciting.

top racer collection
Top Racer 2 is REALLY COOL!!

Top Racer 3000 sits between the other two both in terms of graphics and gameplay. You can pick from an even wider array of customization parts to your ride, and for some reason, races take place all over the universe as the “story” takes place in the far flung feature, hence the ‘3000’ in the title. Regardless of the outlandish premise, tracks still look mostly of this planet, though, and the overall difficulty is way lower than the other games, making it the more approachable out of the three.

Rounding out the list is Top Racer Crossroads, a remix-style version of the original game, with new tracks and a list of cars that more closely resemble real-life models, including a delivery van that for some reason is as fast as a sports car. It’s definitely where QUByte spent the most time, tinkering and making the game their own ROM hack of sorts, only licensed. 

Features-wise, all of the games in this collection offer pretty much the same options when it comes to racing, with a globe-trotting, or in Top Racer 3000, universe-spanning tournament where you’ll race across a whole bunch of tracks, as well as Quick Race, Time Attack and Custom Cup. The latter has you pick which tracks you want to race in order. And let’s not forget that all of them also include split screen 2-player, just like in the old days.

top racer collection
Top Racer 3000 really goes all over the place.

Nostalgia is the fuel that powers Top Racer Collection, and in that regard, it succeeds at providing a lot for your retro buck if you’re looking to take a trip down memory lane and enjoy the best that there was in 16-bit wheel to wheel racing. Frankly, I would’ve loved to see more bonus material in the form of design docs and other knick knacks and emulation options, as they would make this more historically valid as some other compilations. 

For what it is; a well-emulated group of terribly adored old school titles, Top Racer Collection delivers. And even if you don’t hold any nostalgia for them, getting a chance to play them in the most crisp that they will ever look, not to mention online multiplayer, is likely enough of a push to give this a go.       

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