The Neo Geo was famous for its staggering selection of fighting games, but it was less blessed when it came to racing titles. Only a handful were ever released during the console's lengthy lifespan - hardly a massive shock when you consider that the 2D nature of the console made realistic driving games tricky - and of that rather slim selection ADK's Over Top remains one of the most notable. A spiritual sequel to Thrash Rally - also developed by ADK - this top-down racer combines 2D backgrounds with smoothly animated CGI vehicles to create a fast but disappointingly shallow take on its genre.
Over Top keeps things simple as far as control is concerned. You have an accelerator and a brake, the latter of which also doubles as reverse when your vehicle is stationary. Double-tapping the brake causes you to come to a halt more swiftly than normal, while tapping it then then pushing a direction on the stick performs a drift, which is handy for getting around sharp bends but has to be deployed correctly to be effective.
Like Out Run from a decade earlier, Over Top doesn't have separate courses but a single large track that winds its way through various locations, including snow-capped mountains, arid deserts, rain-swept docklands and bustling villages - all of which are contained on a single island, amazingly. The objective is to reach the checkpoint of each sub-location before three other rivals; upon arriving at the checkpoint seconds are added to your clock and the race continues. Run out of time in between these points and it's game over.
Over Top offers eight different vehicles, each of which has unique capabilities that determine how well it performs in the game's varied environments. The Ferrari and Lamborghini clones are blisteringly quick on tarmac but once you reach the desert and snow stages they struggle. The Hummer and Jeep lookalikes may be sluggish on the open road but they come into their own in more hostile locations where the racing surface is slippy or uneven. These differences mean that while certain vehicles may charge ahead in the opening stages, by the time driving conditions change they're at a disadvantage when compared to the slower challengers. If you'd rather not concern yourself with such details, you can always opt for the small compact car which doesn't excel in any particular area but is comfortable on almost every road surface.
There are ways to redress the balance in each stage if you find yourself struggling. Keep your eyes peeled and you'll notice shortcuts hidden on the side of the track - these often have a different road surface that allows certain vehicles to catch up with the pack. One particularly amusing shortcut sees your vehicle jump off a pier and sail along the water, James Bond-style. These shortcuts are vital to the game's longevity because outside of small deviations in the course, there's little in the way of variety here - there's just one route through the game and it takes a matter of minutes to finish. Certain trackside objects are destructible - piles of hay explode in satisfying fashion, for example - but on the whole interaction is pretty limited; even driving your vehicle at full speed into a solid wall simply brings you to a stop without any damage.
Back in the '90s Over Top's use of CGI imagery would have had quite a visual impact, just as Donkey Kong Country did on the SNES. However, by modern standards it looks rather rough, despite showcasing some slick animation. The opening attract sequence is entirely pre-rendered but looks hilariously choppy and low-res, even by the standards of the period. The music, however, remains firmly rooted in the past, with likeable easy-listening jazz tracks jarring disconcertingly with the high-octane action taking place on-screen. It seems churlish to criticise a retro game for looking and sounding old, but in Over Top's case it feels like a relic which was perhaps a little on the stale side even at the time of release.
Over Top is perhaps best remembered today for the fact that in its original AES form it's one of the rarest Neo Geo games available, regularly commanding massive amounts of cash on the secondary market. Its status as a hard-to-find title may have amplified its status with collectors, but in reality this is actually a very average racing title which lacks longevity and won't keep you occupied for very long. The range of different vehicles is a nice touch and the game controls well, but outside of cutting seconds off your time and finding every shortcut there's little to keep you coming back for more. On the plus side, Over Top being available for such a low price means that those of you dying to play it legally can now do so without having to sell off your vital organs in order to cover the cost of the Neo Geo original.