Over Top exists in a strange period of racing game history, and a difficult spot in NeoGeo history. Releasing in 1996, it was a time where 2D sprite work was broadly being shunned in a lot of genres. While the PlayStation and Saturn encouraged a polygonal shift in the home, the 3D push was perhaps more violent in the arcade; home systems could now push sprites and colours with gleeful aplomb, nicer polygonal games were the place dedicated arcade hardware still had a slight edge.

NeoGeo of course wasn’t dedicated arcade hardware, existing as cartridges plugged into arcade cabs. SNK’s AES wasn’t a polygon pusher, instead existing as the ultimate sprite machine. As the arcades moved into the 3D age, AES games converged rather than diversified. Sports games like Baseball Stars or Neo Turf Masters were out; remaining were fighting standbys and side scrolling shooters that still didn’t offend the 3D snobs.

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Over Top is an aberration then, one last sprite driven racer in the corner of the arcade while the newest Daytona or Ridge Racer installment caught more eyes. It’s not a top down racer as the name suggests, but more an askew isometric rendition, but it takes a lot from the top down racing sub genre, mixed with familiar arcade tropes.

As you might expect, you are racing against a time limit, while simultaneously battling opponents. These fellow racers are in sports cars, trucks and bikes, and you’re free to choose your own vehicle from a wide selection; while they all have their own attributes, the game doesn’t make good on its sports car v rally car v bike premise being as how you only have three opponents.

With a thin field, your focus is less on the competition and more on the track itself, as you avoid civilian traffic and the usual carelessly placed rock, and try and take advantage of an array of shortcuts. That’s all fine, but Over Top is hindered by its technology. The game is painfully aware it’s a 2D racer in a 3D racing world, and so tries to make itself more bombastic than it is. ‘Look, we’re hip, our sprites are huge and detailed’ the game screams. Unfortunately they don’t really scale, and instead the camera is zoomed right into the action to show off the cars. As a result, you can’t see a corner coming until you’re right on top of it, and taking a shortcut is more out of chance than knowledge and skill.

The track itself does an admirable job of exploiting the relative strengths and weaknesses of each vehicle you can drive, but handling across the board is skittish to the point of never feeling you’re in contact with the road. It’s more a game of rote memory rather than feel, and repetition would see you to the top of its leaderboard. This is one long point to point race, but divided into about 15 chunks, each comparing your time with the record as you pass through them and giving some incentive to the dedicated.

You’d have to be dedicated to keep playing. There’s only one course here, and a complete run in Over Top lasted me, on my first try… five minutes. This is an arcade game, so obviously epic play sessions weren’t encouraged, but there’s little incentive to come back and try again if there aren’t any other circuits to try your hand on. Meanwhile, if you’re thinking of dipping into the Arcade Archive versions of the game on PS4 or Switch, you’re probably in for a disappointment for your 864 Yen.

Over Top needed to be much more to compete on the same level as racing heavyweights in the arcade and at home. Unfortunately this was more under the weather than over the top. 1/4

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