Readers of this site will come to realise that I have some pretty clear favourites when it comes to arcade developers. One such developer is Taito, a company who have made a lot of great, and many not so great, games in a variety of genres. Racing is perhaps not their strongest area but they’ve managed to come up with a few real gems over the years. This is, in my opinion, one of them.
Continental Circus was released into the arcades in 1987. It made use of Taito’s Z-System hardware which was one of several answers they had to Sega’s “super scaler” arcade systems. It shares this platform with another of Taito’s big hits of the 1980s, Chase HQ.
Unfortunately I never got a chance to play this game in the arcades, my early experience of playing it came via my brother’s Amiga 500. This was one of quite a few home ports the game received including versions for the Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64 and Sinclair Spectrum. The Amiga version of the game was actually quite good, the graphics and sound weren’t on the same level as the arcade but it was a decent conversion.
There was, however, something about Continental Circus that wasn’t easily translatable to home computers at the time and that was stereoscopic 3D. The sit-down cabinet versions of the game had the option of being played in 3D through the use of a special active-shutter type visor which Taito licensed from the US Navy. This is reflected in the game’s start-up screen which lists the relevent patent number (US4021846).
3D goggles aside, Continental Circus is actually quite ordinary by the standards of the day. It’s a good game and I like it a lot but aside from a few nice cosmetic touches there are no surprises here; it’s a pretty standard Grand Prix themed racing game in the same vein as Final Lap or even the much earlier Pole Position. It isn’t groundbreaking but it’s very well put together. The graphics are very bold and colourful, it feels quite fast and the music is distinctive in that special way that all music composed by Taito’s sound team was around that time. The tracks you race on are based on real F1 circuits and feature some of their key landmarks and you drive a very thinly veiled copy of a real F1 car. The player’s car is based very closely on the Lotus 99T driven by Ayrton Senna and Satoru Nakajima in 1987; the driver himself resembles Senna with a helmet very reminiscent of that worn by Nakajima.
If you want to play Continental Circus today, it’s quite accessible. It’s emulated in MAME; although it’s listed as having imperfect graphics it looks fine, and it’s also on the Taito Legends compilation for Xbox, PS2 and PC.
Bonus Video: A few years ago I spent some time trying to beat this game. Below is an old recording of one of my successful runs.