The Sheffield-based Gremlin Graphics put out some of the most fondly-regarded games of the 16-bit era — including some absolutely cracking racing games. Ask any Atari ST and Amiga fans to name some of their favourite racers and doubtless Gremlin’s Lotus series will be high on their list; likewise, Super NES petrolheads will likely count the Top Gear/Top Racer games among their all-time classics.
Full Throttle All-American Racing from Gremlin released in January of 1995, right at the tail end of the Super NES era — the PS1 had already released in Japan a month earlier — and is, as you might expect from a game of this period, not remembered by all that many people. It’s also far from being one of Gremlin’s best games — but it certainly is, at least, interesting. And that’s what makes it worth a look.
In Full Throttle All-American Racing, you take on the role of a racing enthusiast with a passion for both motorcycle and jetski racing. You’ve decided to participate in a tournament that spans the length and breadth of the United States, all in name of proving yourself The Best Racer. Along the way, you’ll need to use your winnings to upgrade your road- and water-based rides as well as making sure you don’t wreck yourself during each race — otherwise your dreams of winning big will come crashing down.
Actually, despite that setup, Full Throttle All-American Racing does allow you a reasonable amount of opportunity to customise your experience. You can take on motorcycle-only racing or the aforementioned combination of motorcycle and jetski racing — though oddly not jetski-only events — and participate either in a single-stage, multi-race “weekend” event, or the full 12-stage championship. Plus one or two players can compete, with the latter making use of a split-screen display.
Most racing games on the Super NES fall into one of two categories: classic “vanishing point” racers, where the road stretches off into the distance and your vehicle slides from side to side rather than actually “turning”; and “mode 7” racers, which make use of the Super NES’ special graphics mode to provide a quasi-3D effect by taking a 2D image, laying it flat on the “ground” and allowing things to happen atop it. Good examples of the former include Gremlin’s own Top Gear/Top Racer series; classics of the latter variety include the legendary F-Zero and Super Mario Kart.
Full Throttle All-American Racing is a bit unusual in that it incorporates both. The motorcycle sequences clearly use a variant on the engine developed over the course of the Top Gear/Top Racer series — also seen in Nigel Mansell’s World Championship — while the jetski sequences use mode 7 to allow for much noticeably greater freedom of movement. This gives the two event types a very distinctive feel from one another, and alternating back and forth between them over the course of the combination events has quite a nice rhythm.
I say “quite” nice because Full Throttle All-American Racing makes some curious decisions about its mechanics that give it a rather peculiar, distinctive feel that is a bit of an acquired taste — and one which I can see putting a fair few people off.
The main issue is that regardless of whether you’re racing on two wheels or the surface of the water, it’s nigh-impossible to just overtake someone. Instead, when you pull up alongside another racer, they appear to “snap” to your position on the track and do their best to barge you off the road or onto the riverbank. You can fight back, of course — the shoulder buttons allow you to kick to either side of yourself on both vehicles — but having to do this in order to overtake literally everyone on the track gets a little tiresome after a while.
The problem is compounded by the fact that there are only six racers who “matter” on the course so far as your position is concerned: the coloured “rival” characters. But they’re not the only ones on the course; some yellow “drone” racers are also participating, and simply get in the way of you making your way up the pack in both types of race — overtaking them has no impact on your position.
Thankfully, the “drones” are a little easier to get rid of — they tend to take just two or three kicks to knock aside compared to the five or six required to temporarily dispatch a rival — but it still gets kind of exhausting after a while.
On the one hand, this approach to racing is kind of interesting; it means that each jostle for position almost feels like a miniature “battle” where you need to truly “defeat” your opponent in able to take their position in the field. But, yes, having to do it for every racer ahead of you — unless you have a nitro boost, which provides one of the few, rare opportunities to actually overtake someone in a normal manner — gets old, fast.
And all this isn’t helped by some absolutely atrocious rubber-banding. Make a single mistake and you’ll find a significant number of your rivals (and drones) screaming past you at a moment’s notice — but you’ll also find that the rival characters are more than capable of catching up to you and overtaking you even if you’re going flat-out for the finish. And, unlike you, they don’t end up “snapping” to their opponents’ positions and getting locked in combat in order to take the lead.
This probably all sounds very negative and to a certain extent it is — but at least it’s trying something a little bit different from the norm. It’s not implemented brilliantly, no — the textbook example of a racing game featuring a literal “battle for positions” is still Tokyo Highway Challenge on Dreamcast — and it’s full of weird bugs even without bearing in mind its strange design. But it does at least provide something to distinguish itself from the numerous other racers on the platform by this point.
Full Throttle All-American Racing is not a Super NES racing game that I’d necessarily recommend to anyone over and above established classics like Top Gear/Top Racer. But it is a game that shows Gremlin willing to experiment with the format — and as such it’s worth remembering.
If you’re in the mood to give it a go for yourself today, you can find it as part of the Piko Interactive Collection 2 cartridge for Evercade.