Seems like it’s called Full Throttle in Japan and Top Speed elsewhere – presumably the name was changed thanks to the existence of the ZX Spectrum / MSX motorcycle racer Full Throttle – but either name is perfectly appropriate for this, a racing game with no brake button. Not that you’d want to use a brake button. If you need to slow down, you can just let go of the accelerator or, if you’re me, crash into every god-damned car on the road.
With very little preamble, Full Throttle chucks the player head-first into the thrilling world of driving like an absolute maniac. Let’s be clear about this right from the get-go: Full Throttle is very much a copy of OutRun. There is no subtlety about it. You race your sports car (a red car, naturally) along various streets, trying to reach the checkpoints before your time runs out. Traffic gets in your way. The 3-D effect of the graphics are handled with sprite-scaling technology. At the end of each stage, the road splits into two routes, left or right, and you can choose which way you want to go. So, it’s OutRun, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. Far from it. What could be better than more OutRun? We’ll just have to hope that Full Throttle manages to capture the essence of OutRun’s gameplay.
Here’s one thing Full Throttle has that OutRun doesn’t: nitrous oxide. Three times per stage, you can press a button for a speed boost. During the first stage, the game works very hard to make sure you don’t forget this. “USE NITRO” is a bit blunt, though. Couldn’t you have gone with “NITRO O.K!” or something? It's coming across as rather bossy.
Look, Full Throttle, am I driving this car or are you? If OutRun had nitro boosts, it would never have badgered me to use them. Yes, I know you’re only trying to help. You’re right, the road is nice and straight here and is thus a suitable place to use my nitro. Okay, fine, I will use my nitro.
I feel betrayed.
The nitro boost is a welcome addition, though, It helps differentiate Full Throttle from OutRun at least a little, and if I’m going to be crashing anyway I might as well do it at two hundred miles per hour rather than one hundred.
After a short and simple first stage spent rushing though the city streets, our driver finds himself only 72 miles away from Los Angeles. Los Angels, sorry. Now comes the time to make a decision about which route to take, although honestly there didn’t seem to be much difference between them. Neither path felt more or less difficult than the other, and there’s no branching tree of routes: you pick left or right at the start of each stage, but they merge together at the end rather than fanning out. This means you’re always heading towards the same goal, rather than the five different goals of a certain Sega-developed arcade driving game.
As you can see from the map screen, several of the stages also have a left / right choice within the stage, which adds some replayability – although honestly, I always seemed to end up taking whatever side of the split I happened to be nearest to as I weaved my way through the traffic. Like I say, there’s not much to choose between the routes. If you look at stage five, for instance, you can see that your choice is between “desert” and “desert with a couple of trees.”
None of Full Throttle’s quirks and foibles matter much if the actual racing part is good, and I’m happy to report that it is. It’s definitely fast, I’ll give it that, particularly when you’re nitro boosting. Roadside obstacles and other vehicles are smoothly scaled, and they fly by quickly enough to provide a real sensation of speed. Your car’s handling is pretty good for the most part, too. When you’re moving left or right but not going around a corner – when you’re jinking to avoid traffic, that kind of movement – your car can feel a little floaty, like it’s simply sliding from side-to-side rather than actually turning. That lack of resistance takes a little getting used to, but once you are used to it Full Throttle offers an uncomplicated, high-speed, obstacle-dodging driving experience that feels about as much like the platonic ideal of an “arcade racer” as you’re likely to find.
The course designs don’t feature anything especially innovative or unexpected, but they do provide plenty of twisty-turny roads for you to slide around on like a madman and really, that’s all you need: simply staying on the road and out of a multi-car pile-up is enough to keep you engaged. Speaking of the other cars, they feel bit more like other regular road users than in OutRun, where the CPU vehicles always gave the impression they were trying to get in your way on purpose so they could claim on their insurance. I’d say Full Throttle isn’t as difficult as OutRun, overall. OutRun can still be quite challenging even if you turn the difficulty down, but on lower levels Full Throttle is easy enough to finish even for a relative novice.
There are a couple of things in the environment that give Full Throttle a little more spark, too. I’m very fond of the various billboards that line the roads: while the billboards in 1980s arcade games are almost always fun to look at – and almost always either advertising another of the company’s games or being hastily-altered versions of the Marlboro and Coke logos – there are some particularly good ones in Full Throttle. The roadside trees make a rustling noise if you drive right underneath their branches, which is a pleasing little touch which also helps sell the idea that you’re driving really fast. I like the tunnels, too: a fun visual change that forces you to make sure you’re actually on the road rather than skidding around on the hard shoulder when you reach the entrance, but short enough that they don’t overstay their welcome. I especially enjoy the tunnels because I once managed to completely miss the entrance and slam into the wall with such force that the game momentarily had no idea what the hell was going on, its programming unequipped to deal with someone being so bad at the game. My car eventually vanished and then reappeared on the road, so happily it all worked out.
It’s not all good news for Full Throttle, though, and despite its little flourishes it still feels just a touch bland when compared to OutRun. Yes, I know I’ve done nothing but compare this game to OutRun but if Taito didn’t want those comparison to be made then they shouldn’t have copied OutRun so thoroughly. Anyway, compare this beachside scene to the opening stage of OutRun. It’s technically fine, and the sunset sky is nice, but it feels ever so slightly barren next to OutRun. Maybe part of that is down to having seen it before – racing a red sports car along a beach is something that’s already been done, even if this one is set at sunset.
The most striking example of this blandness comes up when you reach the goal. No adoring crowds, no celebrations, no fun – just the same old metal scaffolding you’ve been driving under for the whole game, only it’s standing in a muddy brown field and there’s a “GOAL” banner draped over it. It hardly feels like a reward, does it? In fact, what is feels like is that there was a circus here recently and they forgot to take the goal sign with them when they packed up and moved on. Seriously, I’m looking at this screenshot and hearing Nick Cave’s “The Carny” in my head. Maybe it’s because the yellow sky and baked earth make it look like Australia.
Before we get to the goal, let’s head back and look at a few of those billboards I mentioned earlier. First up is this advertisement for “Manhattan Vice,” which I assume is a CSI: NY-style spin-off of Miami Vice. It’s an appropriate image, because in 1988 Taito fused the high-octane buddy-cop action of Miami Vice with the equally high-octane arcade driving of Full Throttle to create Chase HQ, a game that’s markedly more fun than Full Throttle itself. This is due in no small part to Chase HQ feeling far less like a shameless rip-off of OutRun.
There’s also an ad for Operation Wolf, Taito’s own military-themed shoot-em-up. Nothing much to say about this one, it’s just the Operation Wolf title screen on a billboard. Seeing it does take me back to a time a) when arcades still existed in Britain, and b) when Operation Wolf was seemingly to be found in every arcade. I can’t think of many games you’d see more often in arcades / leisure centres / at the seaside than Operation Wolf. Not until Street Fighter II came out anyway. And hey, you know what gun you use in Operation Wolf?
Why, that enduring icon of the 1980s, the Uzi, of course! I’m British, so the idea of just being able to buy a machine gun is completely baffling and thus this billboard seemed a bit weird, but then I noticed it says “air soft gun” and that just makes it more weird. Who spends the money to erect a series of billboards, spaced ten feet apart along an entire highway, just to advertise a toy gun?
Here’s another advert, this time for Taito’s trampoline-bouncing arcade game Plump Pop. It’s pretty cute, sure, but I only really mention it because I want to believe that Plump Pop’s working title was Fat Dad.
When you finally do reach the goal, your driver exits his car and lights up a cigarette. Remember, kids: smoking isn’t cool, it’s totally for fools, etc, etc. Mind you, if I’d been blasting through cross-country traffic at these ridiculous speeds, I’d need the warm, relaxing embrace of nicotine too.
“Bravest” might be giving my actions a gravitas they do not deserve. “Driver least concerned with the safety of themselves and others” would be a better bet.
As the credits roll, the rather good ending theme plays and Full Throttle / Top Speed comes to a close, I’m left to reflect on the game that was Taito’s answer to OutRun. Of course, the question was “can we improve on OutRun” and sadly the answer was “no, not really.” It’s a little less interesting, a little less precise and the soundtrack is good but nearly as good as OutRun’s (although few game soundtracks are). That certainly doesn’t make it a bad game, though. You can enjoy a tasty burger even after eating a steak, and that’s what Full Throttle is: a real hamburger of a game. Fast, uncomplicated, not the most nutritious but enjoyable while it lasts – but unlike some burgers I’ve had (late night, post-pub ones, usually) I didn’t regret the experience. Full Throttle is a fun game that’s not quite as good as OutRun. Personal bias? No, I’m stating that as a fact. A man’s got to take a stand somewhere, you know?