Let's play at being Nakajima

Continental Circus logo Amiga Computing Excellence Award

RUMOUR has it that the Japanese intended to call this game Continental Circuit. But following an ancient oriental tradition, established by mis-naming Monkey Kong as Donkey Kong, Circuit begat Circus.
And given the size of the teams of mechanics, engineers and bimbos who follow Murray Walker from country to country, perhaps the term circus is better suited.

As racing games evolved from Pole Position they earned more car-like characteristics. Visit an arcade to see how realistic they have become - Ferrari F1 style gearboxes, hydraulic seats and machines which make the earth move.
The magic spark plug in CC's engine was a pair of 3D glasses bolted on to the cabinet. While these are available for the Amiga at £80 a pair, not many people will own them. It's a shame, because they are spectacularly effective.
Recreating on-track antics is difficult on a computer, and a number of approaches have been tried. Some games like Grand Prix Circuit and Ferrari Formula 1 aim to be accurate simulators. Some, like Crazy Cars and Outrun, are just a simple blast down the highway. Continental Circus straddles the central reservation between the two.

The fun is certainly there. Your yellow Lotus squeals away from the grid. The aim is to finish the race further up the rankings. This does not mean winning, just overtaking enough cars. You start in 100th place and have to make it to 80th in the first race.

The circuits mirror the real Grand Prix circus, starting in Brazil, visting Monaco, Germany and most of the major venues. Being a mere island off Europe, Britain doesn't merit an entry, but then the designers would probably have used Silverstone, which doesn't merit an entry.

Each race is started by a bimbo. She is probably mathematician - with a figure like that she should be. It is the same girl for every race. She must own the card which says 5 seconds.

To get the smoothest start, accelerate while the first (red) light is showing, ease off for the second and then floor it as the green light comes on. A technique you will see practised every Saturday night in Romford.

It can rain. That's the way of the world. While a downpour makes flowers grow and birdies sing, it also makes Pirellis spin. This drastically effects the handling of the car - you have to enter corners wider and slower. In some countries you can take liberties and bump over the curbs. In other places you must stick to the road. If it rains in Monaco, you are done for. Part of the skill of the game lies in knowing the circuits. In America the first section is very short. You must get there without incident to earn the extra time. You need to make firm decisions. Dither about, unsure as to which side to overtake a slower car, and you'll end up crawling over his gearbox.

The accidents are fun to watch - an idea which will appal true race fans. Your first bump will set your engine smoking, a short while later it will burst into flames. I had a car like that once. If you don't make it to the pats to get the inferno extinguished the car will blow up.

The pits aren't as detailed as those in the arcade, which is not surprising. The explosions are a good deal more feeble, which is a shame.

The gameplay has been accurately carried across from the arcade, along with the graphics and sound which were ported from the coin-op.

This is the best game Teque has produced. I'm sure this is partly down to The Sales Curve, which managed the project for Virgin. The graphics are great, this is a fine example of how an arcade game should be converted to a home computer.


Continental Circus logo

VIRGIN £19.99 * Joystick

A game like Continental Circus is really welcome after spending the first part of the morning in traffic jams! Fast, powerful Formula One cars roaring around a famous motor racing circuit. Ah, there's nothing quite like it to release tension.
In Circus, the player views the car from slightly behind and above, a style which is popular in arcade racing games although it detracts slightly from the realism. Thankfully you don't have to bother about revs or oil pressure in Circus and there are only two gears (fast and very fast!) The only time that engine temperature becomes important is when it starts to catch fire!

Naturally, the first priority is finish the race with your car intact, but to progress to the next track you have to achieve a qualifying position. As well as this, there's a time restriction. At the top of the screen, along with our gear and speed indicator, is the countdown timer which indicates how much time you have to reach the next stage of the track.

Other drivers present something of a problem: they get in the way! (Even when you're apparently in the lead: yes, I got to first place and there were still other drivers on the road in front). Normally on racing games, you can manage to leave any overtaking for the straights: not so on Continental Circus! The tight qualification times mean that you have to take very opportunity to overtake, and if that opportunity comes around a corner at 400kph, you have to go for it!

Smashing into other cars either writes off your vehicle completely, or, if it's a less serious knock, sets the engine on fire, in which case you have to get into the pits pretty quick! After the first level, it starts to rain occasionally; this can really mess up the car's handling. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to affect the other drivers, so things get really tough.

GRAPHICS AND SOUND

There isn't all that much you can do with a racing game, in terms of graphics: these are fast and smooth, and colour is bright but not overdone. The backgrounds are OK, although the sense of travelling at 390 kph (which is about a kilometre every ten seconds) doesn't really come over! Sound is a bit poor, the FX are limited and there's only a few short little tunes to pass for music, but in this sort of addictive, fast game, you don't really need symphony.

JUDGEMENT

The first phrase that springs to mind is "just another racing game": there aren't any great features or super-slick ideas, but it is simply a good version of a classic game. For the most part, Circus is challenging, but without being frustrating, although there is a tiny bit of annoyance when the car stops just before the finish line! There's plenty of tracks, the presentation is adequate, and all the playability and lastability which made this type of game such a success in the first place have been preserved perfectly. The game is neatly programmed and, although it could be described as unoriginal, is still worth a peek!


Continental Circus logo

Virgin/Sales Curve
Price: £19.99

Or should it be called Continental Circuit? One of the most impressively boxed coin-ops of 1988 now appears with slightly less glamorous trappings but with its gameplay still intact.
If you remember, CC was the world's first 'true' 3D driving game. The elaborate console consisted of a pair of glasses, with special filter lenses that alternated black and transparent, and you could only see through one lens at a time. The screen would be showing what you would theoretically be seeing through that eye at the time. Obviously this all happened amazingly quickly, far too quickly for the old Amiga, and so in their infinite wisdom, Sales Curve have decided to drop any thoughts of copying the system across and have opted for a more conventional race game. And what a race game!

Race around eight famous courses of the world. Of course, you have to prove that you're good enough to race them, and this is done simply enough by a ranking system. On each course you have to attain a certain rank before you are allowed to move. For example, you can't move onto track two until you have (a) finished track one and (b) achieved a rank of 80 or lower.

Controls are simple as simple can be. And when you've got a game as fast as this one, they need to be. No Hard Driving/Vette controls to be found here, just old-fashioned four way joystick controls and fire to change gear.

Graphically, it's about as close to the coin-op as you're going to get. The update of the road is incredibly fast and smooth, as is the update of all of the sprites.
Speaking of the sprites, they're among some of the best ever to be seen in a driving game. Large and crisp, they really add to the feeling of 'being there'.

The sound is pretty basic however, even though it is a fair copy of the original. A throbbing engine noise and a whoosh from the passing of cars are all that you're likely to hear, aside from the intro tune.

Response time is fast, and indeed it needs to be. Overtaking takes quite a bit of practice, as it has to be done quickly and in one motion, else you'll find yourself billowing smoke from a damaged engine, or, even worse, spinning off the track and exploding.

An excellent conversion and a brilliant driving game with enough variation between tracks to keep you playing for ages. Go go go!


Continental Circus logo Zero Hero

Neeeeooooooooowwww! We all know about the little translation hiccup that caused the original coin-op Continental Circuit to materialise in Europe as Continental Circus. Now David McCandless takes a look at how Continental Circus has translated to the 16 bitties. Neeeeeeeeoooooooowwww!

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.

Amiga reviewMacca: 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!

Amiga reviewJonathan: 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...

WHAT'S WHAT
TITLE   Continental Circus
PUBLISHER   Virgin/Mastertronic
PRICE   £19.99
FORMAT   Amiga/ST
RELEASED   Now!

Continental Circus logo

Virgin, C64 £9.99 cassette, £14.99 disk; Amiga £19.99

If you've visited the arcades within the last year you'll probably have seen and played one of the hottest driving games around: Taito's Continental Circus. The main innovation for the arcade machine was the stereoscopic 3-D used - the screen is viewed through a pair of special LCD glasses.
No such gimmicks for the home version but otherwise the game's the same. In your super-fast Formula One-type car you must race around the track, reaching the checkpoints within the time limit.

Of course, you're not the only car on the track - contact with computer cars or signs at the side of the track causes your engine to smoke - if you don't get to the pits in time, the car will catch fire and blow up. If you're smoking (very bad for your health) and suffer a second collision, the car spins out of control, exploding into a welter of fireballs. Miraculously, this does not cause your death but slows you down as you have to start accelerating again from a standstill.

Starting in Brazil, you race around eight tracks all over the world, finishing up in Japan. On later tracks an added hazard are the occasional rainstorms which makes the track slippy. To qualify for these later circuits you must complete the lap within the time limit and overtake enough computer cars to achieve the required rank. Fail to do this and you lose one of four credits.
So put your foot on the accelerator and your hand on the gearstick to be first to reach the gorgeous redhead waving the chequered flag!


Phil King This was great fun in the arcades especially with the stereoscopic 3-D which heightened the excitement. Even though this is obviously missing from the home versions they retain the coin-op's fast, addictive action.
Technically, both versions are fast enough but lack any graphical frills - I was especially disappointed by the feeble smoke and explosion effects. The driving itself isn't that realistic, especially cornering where there's no need to slow down unless it's a really tight bend - on torturous circuits like Monaco you can even take short cuts across the grass! But it's the pace and simplicity of the action that draws you in and keeps you playing.
Unfortunately I found it just that bit too easy to complete the first few tracks and it doesn't get that much harder on the later levels.
Stuart Wynne Converting yet another racing game whose only unique feature, the 3D, would be lost might seem a silly idea. But while the finished game is completely unoriginal, it's been programmed well enough to be both attractive and fun to play. The 'extend' part of the game works well, providing a welcome diversion on fairly long tracks which don't change that much. Amiga owners benefit from a slightly faster game, but the C64 version is still very fast and much better value for money. All in all, two extremely competent and enjoyable conversions.