Continental Circus was the first in a 'new wave' of driving games in the arcades, after the race 'em up drought that followed OutRun. The coin-op boasted extra-swift graphics, multiple locations, and most revolutionary of all, true 3D. The player had to watch the game through a special visor, and the on-screen graphics flickered at an alarming rate to produce that legendary 'reach out and grab you' effect. Unfortunately, playing for long periods gave you a migraine, and many arcade bosses ran a nice little sideline in paracetamol vending machines.
Now Circus has arrived on the 16-bit, sadly (or not, depending on the sensitivity of your cerebellum) missing the 3D feature. Nevertheless Circus is easily one of the fastest and bestest driving games you'll see in the home.
ROUND THE BEND
The game starts with a quick overview of the track. There are eight courses, spanning the globe, ranging from America to Mexico, to Japan and that metropolis, Dorking-on-the-Weir. Each track comes equipped with its own array of tight bends, straights, and yet more bends, all slyly sequenced to give even those genetically descended from Nigel Mansell cramp where it hurts most.
Then it's on to the starting grid, with you resting in 100th place. A buxom bint parades around for a while, then departs sharpishly as the manly rev of the sampled engines fills the air. The light steps from red to green - and they're off!
The road is three cars wide, and hurtles along at an amazing pace. Trees and billboards blur past at the sides, while the track meanders left and right, raising and dipping convincingly. Other cars appear out of the horizon. You bullet past them, engines roaring. You can almost smell the diesel. The other car drivers are quite unskilled at first. They generally stick to their lanes, and perform predictable manoeuvres around bends. Venture to Monaco or Japan however, and your opponents become cleverer and more weasel-like. They change lane when you least expect it, drive three abreast, and jangle their furry dice at you.
SMASH 'EM UP
One collision with any other car sets your engine on fire; two smashes and you make like Mansell (i.e. spin out of control and blame the car). If you get hit once, you can be saved by pulling into the pits. Here, a couple of engineers charge on and swiftly douse the flames with a fire extinguisher.
Timing is quite crucial. Along the track are markers, which extend your time limit. On the later tracks you simply can't afford the cash, since the delay means you'll more than likely run out of time millimetres from the chequered flag.
The playability, the excitement, the realism. A good conversion of the coin-op, definitely.
Macca: Continental Circus is FAST! The track, the scenery, the cars, even the high score table all hurl about at incredible speeds. The speedo clocks up to a max of about 395 km/h, and you get a phenomenal impression of speed with the scenery and road-line rocketing about the screen. In fact, this is the first racing game I've played on the Amiga I've actually felt exhilarated. I was gritting my teeth as I screeched around the hairpins, groaned aloud when I collided with my umpteenth Ferrari, and almost cheered when I eventually made it past Monaco (a track coughed up from Satan's bottom if ever I saw one).
The road is brilliant. It curves around bends, hills and valleys amazingly fast, just like the arcade. The graphics are good but not stunning, some animations had to be sacrificed for velocity. The intro screens are backed by some excellent digitised in-action shots of Grand Prix and the like; but the in-game horizon graphics and scenery are a bit bleak and usually out of scale. The cars are good though, detailed and immediately recognisable.
I am surprised how faithful Circus 16-bit is to its arcade father. The 3D has obviously gone, but little else has disappeared. The brilliant crash sequence (when the car erupts and fragments of fuselage and driver 'explode out at you') is sadly missed.
One feature that has been retained however is the rain shower. Randomly, during play, the sky suddenly clouds over and it starts to rain. The road becomes slippery, and the corners take that much extra-skill to manage. I lapped up the challenge, opting not to change to low gear when cornering - they're still picking up the wreckage. The sound has been directly sampled from the original, and consists of loud neeeeowwwww's and rumbling engine noises. The synthy tunes are bearable.
But the thing that makes Continental Circus a great game is the addictiveness. It's unbelievably addictive. The timing, the competition, the credit system, the exhilaration, the speed, the lure of extra levels - they all come together to make it one of the most compulsive games ever. You'll be mumbling "Just one go," into the early hours. So get into your mini, switch on the turbo boost, drive on round the pits and pick up your copy of Continental Circus NOW!
Jonathan: With a name as enticing as Continental Circus I was expecting great things of this game, so was pleased to find that the ST has not really suffered in comparison with the Amiga. Gameplay's all there and the graphics aren't half bad - neither is the sound.
Driving round and round in wiggly circles is what it;s all about and Circus accomplishes this task very well - it's basically Pole Position with knobs on. There's a frightening impression of speed, although it's a shame that it's created by light and dark lines coming towards you in the road rather than more adventurous means. Your vehicle also proves to be very nippy when dodging between the rest of the 100(!) cars taking part in the race.
Realism more or less goes out of the window. This is the first time I've tried changing down into first at 400 km/h (and got away with it) and I'm sure the delicious blonde who stands in front of you to signal the start of the race isn't really acting in her best interests. Also, how come, although you're in front at the start of the race and only three or four cars overtake you, before you get up to a decent speed, there are millions of cars further down the course to overtake? Well weird!
Perhaps I'm just picking holes, as none of these things affects the gameplay.
For pure, unadulterated, mindless enjoyment, something like Circus is hard to beat. All it boils down to is holding the joystick in the forward position and waggling it to the left or right every now and then, which is just the ticket at the end of a hard day's toil. If you want something a little more thought-provoking, then what are you doing reading about a racing game anyway? Go away!
There are a couple of 'features' in Circus that make it differ from its contemporaries. Firstly, when you hit another car you don't instantly blow up. Instead, you drive along for a while spewing out smoke and flames - then you blow up. However, if you can find the pits fast enough you can call in for repairs, invariably though, disaster strikes just as you pass the pits, so it's quicker to simply crash and get a new motor! There - a playing tip for you! The other feature? Oh, rain.
Graphics, sound and all that kind of stuff are pretty good, though I'll always wish they could have been better. There's a constant brummm noise as you drive along, building up to a wweeeooor as the revs build up, then every so often, complete silence and a neeeoww as another car passes. Pktchoof! Indicates a collision.
If you're looking for a very playable conversion of the arcade game, then this is it. The programmers have done extremely well, so I can't fault in that respect.
Red, Amber, Green. And I'm off...