Ported by Hect Co. Ltd. and NMK Co. Ltd. for the Nintendo Famicom in 1985, for the MSX in 1986 and released for the American NES in 1988.
Converted for the ZX Spectrum 48k by Manuel Lemos with graphics by Ricardo Pinho and music by Paulo Gordinho. Details of release unknown.
This comparison could be considered somewhat of a sequel to my Road Fighter entry, since both of the games are available on that pirated NES multicart which was mentioned back then, and both of the games shine with their small amount of conversions. The only two official home conversions that are in relatively common knowledge are - again - for the Nintendo and MSX, but surprisingly, a conversion does exist for the 48k Spectrum. Only a .z80 snapshot image of it currently exists in the World of Spectrum archive, which is certainly intriguing... perhaps it was officially unreleased? The Nintendo version never got released in Europe, so the only way we could have ever had a chance to play that version was a Japanese or an American cart on a modded or an original non-regional console. Again, the MSX version is the only one that got as far as Finland, although this time, I don't have it in my collection.
The Spectrum version has been given a nicely rounded 8.00 with 34 votes at World of Spectrum, the Nintendo version has been given a D at Questicle, and the MSX version currently has four stars out of five from 11 votes at Generation-MSX. Whether all that makes any sense or not remains to be seen...
DESCRIPTION & REVIEW
When I first came across City Connection, it felt like one of the most irritating and unrewarding arcade games in existence. It still doesn't feel much better, but at least I have come to appreciate its existence a bit more for being one of the very few side-scrolling platform games that have a car as your controlled character. The only other one that currently comes to mind is Taito's Choro Q on the MSX, which came out the previous year. At first look, the two games look very similar, but the basic idea is quite different. While in Choro Q, your mission is to build two cars from three parts at each end of every level by dropping them down on each other in the correct order, City Connection is more based on Miner 2049'er in that you need to paint all the bits of road in every level in a different colour by driving on them, and all the cities are circular. While you're painting the roads, you need to look out for police cars, cats and spikes. Police cars can be fended off by throwing oil cans at them, but cats and spikes are simply lethal. Collecting randomly appearing balloons will warp you off to further levels.
The charm of City Connection is in it's simplicity and unique combination of good gameplay devices. Still, one of the most important elements that gets you hooked on the game is that smiling cat standing on the road in a silly position with a stupid grin on his face make your car explode. It should be noted as one of the truest, if only slightly exaggerated examples of real life representation in games. This one clearly says "cats are evil bastards, stay far away from them or you will explode." City Connection is great fun for about 15 minutes at a time, max, if you can get into the spirit of it. It's not a classic in the way that Super Mario Bros., Paradroid, Elite or Pac-Man is, and it cannot be even called particularly good, but it certainly has its own spot in gaming history as one of the silliest arcade games of its time.
City Connection is a relatively early arcade game, so you can't really expect anything too complicated from it. As the game is a side-scrolling platformer with a car as the controllable character, of course the game will scroll automatically into the direction you want the car to go, which is left or right. Whenever you turn around, the car will perform a slightly pausing U-turn on the spot. Because the car is always performing everything in a high speed, it will be unable to perform jumps for a couple of seconds, as you will see it's kind of wheelie'ing after a turn. However, you can go even faster by pushing the joystick/pad control left or right as you go, making the already hectic game ridiculously fast. You can perform two different kinds of jumps: a regular one that will keep you on the same level, and high jump that will take you one level higher - this can be done by holding the joystick/pad up while pushing the jump button. When you fall down, you can change the direction in mid-air. Firing the oil cans is performed with the fire button. Not too much to learn, but mastering the game can be a real pain in the arse.
The Nintendo conversion is the only one of the three to play almost exactly like the original arcade game. Only the speed-up feature is missing, which wasn't really all that necessary in the first place, since the game is so fast by default. It must be mentioned, though, that the original Japanese release of the Nintendo conversion is slightly slower than the American re-release.
Somehow, it comes as no surprise that the MSX version has no scrolling - it has been made into a flip-screen version of the game, due to the machine's inability to perform scrolling properly. This, in turn, makes the police cars' appearing and disappearing more random, and completely irrelative to the adjoining screens. It has its pros and cons, but basically it's not an altogether very good thing, mostly because you are never able to anticipate anything. A more minor change into the gameplay dynamics has been done as well: here, when you shoot a police car, the car will instantly turn into a bonus heart item instead of start spinning. To collect better bonus scores, you have to shoot as many cars during a short period of time and collect the hearts before they disappear. In all the other versions, you could just pile up the spinning police cars and then nudge them off and collect bigger bonuses, and the only thing you have to look out for are the stupid cats.
|ZX Spectrum: Select your trail!|
Surprisingly, the mysterious Spectrum conversion comes very close to the original as well. The one major difference is your ability to choose your route of four stages at the beginning of the game, which will stick for the rest of time while the game is on - you have to reset the computer in order to be able to select the other route. In the game itself, the playability is almost as close to the original as you could possibly expect, speed-up feature intact and everything; only two things need to be mentioned, neither of which are too bad. The scrolling is a bit of a downer, making it clearly the slowest of the bunch, but it's still very playable. There is also a tiny difference in the drop angle of your car, which in this case doesn't take you from the previous ledge above straight to the next ledge below, and instead lands down in a slightly softer angle, making you drop two "blocks" further than you would in the other versions. It's not too bad, but it does affect your gameplay in that you will need to be driving around collecting the missed bits more often than in the other versions.
There is one thing that makes the arcade version really annoying compared to the home conversions, and that is the way the road changes colour. In all the home conversions, the road gets coloured up in blocks, while in the arcade original, it is done by pixels. So, in case you need to turn the car around at edges of the platforms, you really need to be on the dot so you don't need to turn around again to get that one pixel's worth of platform coloured. Although it's understandable that the writers of arcade games must have had a thing about precision and creating things that are impossible to reproduce to the home conversions, it still is a really annoying feature. For this reason, I consider the arcade and Nintendo versions to be equal. Finally, although the Spectrum conversion is the only one not to feature a two-player mode, I cannot honestly consider it a failing, since the two-player mode is played in alternating turns, and offers very little in terms of longevity, and as such, holds no weight of worth in my calculations.
In essentials, all four versions accomplish to deliver the main characteristics of the game quite nicely, apart from the MSX version's thing about scrolling. Obviously, the arcade original has the most colours, the best scrolling and animations, and most detailed backgrounds of the lot.
|Title screens, left to right:|
Arcade, MSX, ZX Spectrum, NES, Famicom
It also happens to be the only version to have an animated title screen, which reminds me quite a lot of the intermissions in Pac-Man and its sequels. The Spectrum version is the only one that has been blessed with a loading screen instead, although whether it actually is a loading screen or a separate title screen remains a mystery. There are also two different-looking start-up menu screens for the Nintendo: the Japanese version and the American one. The MSX start-up screen takes after the Japanese Famicom version, but looks quite a lot bulkier.
|Three randomly chosen locations. Top left: Arcade version. Top right: MSX version.|
Bottom left: Nintendo version. Bottom right: ZX Spectrum version.
I shall not bore you with too many shots of all the locations in the game, but for the sake of documentation, the amount of locations will be mentioned and specified to some extent. The original arcade game has 12 locations, all of which feature different level layouts. These are Manhattan, the Grand Canyon, Easter Island, Paris, Neuschwanstein Castle, London, Sydney, Egypt, India, Holland, China and Japan. The ever-mysterious Spectrum version has 8 locations, although you can only choose to play four of them at once, and you need to reload the game in order to get access to the other four levels. This might suggest that the game was supposed to be released as a cartridge, but who knows. The available levels are: London, Holland, India and China for trail number 1; and Paris, Japan, Egypt and Sidney (sic!) for trail number 2. The Nintendo and MSX versions both surprisingly only feature 6 locations: Manhattan, London, Paris, Neuschwanstein Castle, India and Japan, although I cannot verify the MSX version's German location. All representations of the locations are good enough, considering that the locations are only really represented in the backgrounds, and in half of the versions, even the look of the police cars, but have very little to do with gameplay.
|Bonus score counting screens. Top left: Arcade version. Top middle: Famicom version. Top right: NES version.|
Bottom left: MSX version. Bottom right: ZX Spectrum version.
When you complete a level, the game will show you a customary "well done" screen with bonus score counters adding to your overall score from the leftover time and objects that you might have collected, such as oil cans and balloons. All the Japanese versions of the game feature a picture of a girl, who is the original player character - probably one of the earliest examples of a human female being featured as the main character in a video game. The American version has a male lead character posing in various different manly poses, varying after each level. The MSX and Spectrum versions have no human representative at all; all they have is either a blank screen with score counters (MSX) or the score counters being superimposed over the level graphics (Spectrum).
|Death scenes, left to right: Arcade, Nintendo, MSX, ZX Spectrum.|
Finally, there are two types of deaths in this game. The more common one is surely the one where you bump into the cat, and you send him off flying in a straight diagonal direction. The other one comes with the collision into either a police car or a spike, which will disintegrate your car into a dozen little hearts that fly all over the screen in a clearly pre-programmed pattern. Only the Spectrum version differs from the others in that you die similarly in both cases (the latter way).
In this kind of a game, scrolling is imperative, so that no unwanted surprises come in your way. For that reason alone, I would be inclined to place the MSX version on the last place again, but it doesn't help that the police cars are sometimes almost unnoticable against the backgrounds. Then again, the same could be said of the Spectrum version, but at least it scrolls. Some of the location backgrounds look better on the Spectrum than on any of the other two home conversions, but the monochrome sprite graphics makes the action sometimes difficult to see clearly. I think the order is quite clear without me banging on about all of it again.
From what I was able to count, there are four tunes in the game. One is the main title tune, which is a short original tune by the developers, and it plays on the between levels bonus screen as well as the the main title screen. The in-game tune is an adaptation of Tchaikovsky's "Allegro non troppo e molto maestoso" from his Piano Concerto No.1, which has been given a different ethnic variation for every level in the game. The third one is played when you hit the cat - a tune known to the Japanese as "Neko Funjatta" (I Stepped On The Cat). We here in Finland know it as the "Cat's Polka" and for some reason, the english-speaking population of the world knows it as the "Flea Waltz", which is a straight translation of its German name, "Der Flohwalzer", which is strange because it's certainly not a waltz. The other death tune sounds like a short excerpt from the refrain of "Oh Susannah", but I'm not entirely sure about it. Feel free to correct me if you know better.
Unsurprisingly, the Nintendo version follows the original soundtrack the closest. Even though it doesn't have everything that the arcade version has, it still has the most variety in any of the home conversion soundtracks, as well as the best instrumentation. You get the customary set: a bass line, a melody line, a snare drum track and all of it has been nicely shared with the scarce sound effects, of which I counted there to be three.
The MSX version brings no surprises either. Just like all the other aspects of its conversion, this is a cheap piece of work. The only version of the Tchaikovsky thing that is presented here, is single-channel beeping, to leave room for the single-channel sound effects, and one of the notes is slightly off-pitched. At least the short tunes between levels are dual-channeled, but they only resemble the original theme tune as far as getting the genre sort of right. The menu screen has no tune at all, so it feels like the game's main theme tune is actually the Tchaikovsky tune. The Cat's Polka has been altered so that it always plays to its end, which is not part of the original tune. For the other death, you only get a crash-like noise. It's not completely horrible, but is a mere whimper compared to the Nintendo soundtrack.
Once again, the Spectrum version gives a nice surprise. Even though the game is a 48k native, the single-channel beeper has been put to good use. The menu screen gives you a nice rocking dualtone representation of the in-game Tchaikovsky tune. Although you get no music while you play, it really isn't much of a loss, since you really only need to hear the hauntingly life-like yowl of the cat when you bump into him to realize this game has the most novelty value, sound-wise. Too bad the two in-game tunes aren't quite as well executed, and have that familiar farty droning Spectrum single-tone quality to them. At least they are melodically closer to the original than what the MSX version has, so I am inclined to consider this version better than that.
And so we come to the end of another comparison of another relatively obscure title, at least for us Europeans. It really is a pity that so many Japanese gems went unnoticed for the most part in our part of the world, but I reckon it had something to do with Nintendo's quest to gain the monopoly in the gaming markets. City Connection had its fair share of latter day variations, such as CarVup, but I always felt they came in too late to be of any use for its unique genre. This is how the scores count for the four versions available:
1. ARCADE: Playability 3, Graphics 4, Sounds 4 = TOTAL 11
2. NINTENDO: Playability 3, Graphics 3, Sounds 3 = TOTAL 9
3. SPECTRUM: Playability 2, Graphics 2, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 6
4. MSX: Playability 1, Graphics 1, Sounds 1 = TOTAL 3
|City Connection Reloaded (flash)|
However, I would mostly recommend you try out the Nintendo and Spectrum versions, because the Nintendo version is the most playable home conversion, and represents the arcade original close enough (although the Nintendo version is definitely quite a bit easier), and the Spectrum version has the brilliantly horrid cat's screech.
The only official sequel of the game, City Connection Rocket, was released only in Japan for mobile phones. There is also a remake of sorts at Newgrounds, which is almost a completely different experience for many reasons, but if you're already a fan of the original game, you might as well try it out.
UPDATE! May 14th, 2014:
Thanks to Alessandro Grussu's link in the comments, things became slightly clearer regarding the Spectrum conversion. The work was made apparently sometime in the latter half of the 1980's, but was never released commercially. The developer, Manuel Lemos, released it to public domain as a .sna snapshot file some time in the early 1990's, when the only possibility was to load up a game via a parallel port to the ZX Spectrum emulator (by Peter McGavin) on an Amiga, and save the data as a snapshot. There was a 128k version in existence with more and better sounds, along with an animated intro, but when a WoS'er contacted him about preserving the tape, he said he had lost the original. So far, there has been no luck in finding one and preserving the full .tzx file to the archives. However, you can take a look at the 128k version's intro and gameplay in this YouTube video, recorded in the 80's from a Portuguese television program.
Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed it!
Next time, something a bit more... troublesome, I suppose. Comments, etc. - you know the drill.