The fast paced Forumla 1 action returns, retaining all the gameplay elements of the original.

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Any title on the PC Engine needs to be first swallowed with the understanding that you're playing on a 16 bit machine that is, from first mooted concept, now more than 20 years old. Back then, you didn't have a lot of choice as to what graphic and sound tricks you used to cover up poor programming or lack of playability. If your game didn't have that essential 'fizz', even the PC Engine, as brilliant as it was, wouldn't save it (and of course, this console is littered with many crap titles that bear witness to this fact).

Luckily for you, me and anyone else that ever stumbles across Nichibutsu's December 1992 release, 'F1 Circus 92' for the PC Engine, all such fears can be abandoned! This little 6 megabit HuCARD plays like an absolute demon and if you aren't caught up at least once in your life playing it at 4.30am one morning, after a marathon finger-busting 6 hour session, saying to yourself ''just ONE more crack at that damn Hockenheim track!..'', then I give in...

Never having been released in the States, you'll need to navigate a few Japanese language menus here, but that shouldn't present any problem. The track names are all in English, as are the driver and team listings and much of the info you'll need to set the cars up. Navigation menus also use plenty of it. It's mostly smart-arse comments from the designers about how you still haven't qualified on tracks that'll be presented to you in their native kanji and katakana, and lets face it, you'll already know that sad fact anyway won't you, without any translation needed!

'F1 Circus' takes you through a year in the World Championship, on all the courses with all the teams (remember when Hakkinnen and Shumacher were yet-to-be superstars and Damon Hill or Nigel Mansell were the kings?....this game does!). You'll start by trying to qualify in each race, beating a certain time and gaining a 1/2/3 race finish. As you race further on and beat each track, you will begin to amass points and challenge for the lead in the World Championship. All pretty standard stuff and game ideas that were continually used for many years after, in all sorts of titles. Nothing unfamiliar to you there.

What is unusual is that all this action is occurring from a top-down perspective. And not just 3/4 or a 45 degree angle Ala 'Zaxxon' or 'Ikari Warriors' (in the arcade). Nope, this one is a full on, helicopter view as in 'GTA' for the PlayStation. You stare straight onto the roof of your car (and everyone else's) as you race around each track and each track scrolls towards you, you don't drive around it. These type of limited movement driving games were some of the very first type on any home console and Nichibutsu didn't see fit to try anything new, 10 years later, for the PC Engine.

But here's the great thing: it doesn't matter. In fact, this title is insanely addictive, despite the obvious limitation of this style of gameplay! It's not the graphics that draw you in (basic 16 color sprites). It ain't the sound (plink, plonk, beep, warble!). And it can't be the freedom of movement and realistic driving model employed (err mm....there ain't one!). It's the relentless and craving NEED you're going to have to beat this sucker that keeps you at this game for days at a time!

Blessed with a forgiving and adjustable control system and the ability to customize the car's individual driving style and features to your liking, 'F1 Circus' absolutely demands you stay glued in front of it until you've beaten those record times! If it didn't steer right, or if you crashed all the time and it wasn't your fault, or if the other cars just couldn't be beaten, no matter what you did, then this title would be easily forgotten amongst a vast array of much prettier, flashier and realistic driving sims (and even mentioning 'Gran Turismo' here is like comparing chalk and cheese, so I won't!).

But the fact is, this game CAN be beaten (it'll take you weeks of application, probably). The rewards are small sometimes in our gaming lives, but somebody's got to do it, right?....'F1 Circus 92' may just get YOU a step closer to gaming Nirvana on the PC Engine.... ^_^ .

Jon Scanlon





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