Friday, 27 May 2011

Overhead Racers #9

Toobin' (1988)
By: Atari  Genre: Overhead Racing  Players: 1-2  Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Arcade  First Day Score: 25,752 (one credit)
Also Available For: NES, Game Boy Color, Amiga, Atari ST, PC, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, MSX

By the late 80's, overhead racing games had been around for a while. Various companies had tried their hand at their own versions and some might say Atari had lost their crown. So what did they do to rectify the situation? Make another Sprint-based game? No, not exactly. Their next game was one which scarcely even fitted the genre. Atari invented the genre though, they can do whatever the hell they want with it surely? Indeed they can, and accordingly their next game of this type was a water-based one. Not featuring speedboats though, as may be your first thought, but 'radical tube riding dudes' instead! The game takes place on various rivers and waterways of the world which you, and either a second player or computer controlled opponent, must successfully paddle to the end of.

The 'tubes' in question are of the circular, inflatable variety and they are ridden by Bif (player one), accompanied by Jet (player two) or Flotsam (computer). Regardless of occupant, they are controlled in the same way - one button paddles with your chosen dude's left hand, another button does the same with his right hand. These are used on their own to steer the character left or right, and are used alternately to increase his speed. The game is divided into three classes, each consisting of five rivers which flow one to another after a short transitional passage. Each fifth river ends with a finishing line before you start the next class. The rivers are varied and range from the fairly realistic likes of Colorado, Amazon, and Nile, up to the rather less authentic Jurassic, Styx, and Canals of Mars!

Realistic or not, the rivers are all home to the same kind of features and, as you would expect, they are a mixture of helpful and less helpful items. Perhaps the most common feature are the many 'gates' which can be passed through for bonus points. Bumping the edge of a gate before passing though it reduces its points value and going through one after your opponent also substantially reduces its worth. Just as common as the gates are empty drinks cans floating in the water. These can be picked up and thrown at your opponent for more points, and you can also collect treasure and bonus letters for even more. It's not quite that easy though. The rivers are also overrun by sharp sticks, rocks, spiky logs, ice, and various other things that will puncture your tube and bring your race to a swift end.

There are plenty of others hazards around as well. Most of them are unique to certain rivers but whatever form they take, they're generally something shooting at you from the riverbank, and there are a lot of scary animals looking to do you harm too. Sea snakes and crocs are bad enough but anyone can do without a grizzly bear swiping a head-sized paw at them! That's one of my favourite things about Toobin' too. Unlike road-based racing games, Atari were rather limited with what they could do with the actual courses here. It's not practical to include long sweeping curves or hairpin turns - every river runs from the top of the screen to the bottom - so they've instead put a lot of effort into making each river as unique as possible. This is basically done by changing the graphics each time but it works!

They're not the flashiest or most detailed graphics of the time but the amount of features and variety packed-in is impressive. Whether it's a waddle of penguins diving into the Yukon river, demons throwing tridents at you on Styx, or wizards casting spells on the Black Forest waterway, there's always plenty to see here. Each river is most of the width of the screen and filled with small islands and multiple hazards. How you weave your way through them is up to you - you can go for speed or you can try and collect the treasure and pass through every gate. Either way, you can't be too reckless as your tube can only be burst three times before it's game over! The music and sound effects aren't really anything special but there's a lot of them and they're pretty funny and suit the game well, especially the Jaws theme that accompanies a croc attack! This, the appealing graphics, and the busy atmosphere gives the game a great vibe. It's enjoyable for the solo player and Flotsam's AI is decent enough to provide a good challenge, but Toobin' was, more than any of Atari's previous overhead racers, made as a two-player game, and in this capacity it really hits its stride. Bumping your friends into spiky things is very satisfying and the multiple routes down through each river makes it enormous fun. I'm not sure if Atari could've made a game much more different from Super Sprint and still fit within the parameters of an overhead racing game, but hats off to them - Toobin' is an original take on the genre which retains the great gameplay of its predecessors.

RKS Score: 8/10


  1. That looks like a good one, I'm going to have to see if they released a Famicom version of it!

  2. Yeah, it's great fun! :) It's an American game, of course, so I don't know if it made it to Japan. Actually, I've never thought about it before but I suppose you can't play NES games on a Famicom? Is there an adapter or something?

  3. I have strangely nostalgic memories of this game, Simon. It was one of many games in the "arcade room" at a hotel my family often stayed at when we went on vacation in the 80s. I loved it, even though I wasn't all that good at it, and I often wished for a good home port of it. I do believe there is an NES version, although I don't know if it's any good!

  4. I love gaming memories like that, Bryan, I'm glad I reminded you :)