Oh boy, here we go.
Behold the unhealthy love my writer harbours for City Connection, and despair.
City Connection is (probably) my favourite 'pure' arcade game.
You know the kind of game I'm talking about. Pac-Man, Defender, Donkey Kong- those old arcade games where there is no end in sight. Your only goal is to beat the high score and get as far as you can. I don't get to talk about this kind of game too often, mostly because I am awful at the vast majority of them- you should watch me try and struggle through a few rounds of Satan's Hollow for a cheap laugh. That's not to say I'm very good at City Connection either, but whenever I start to play it, an hour of my life's gone because I just have to play the damn thing at least three times. Usually more.
Developed at least in part by a company called Hect as they take credit for software and sound development on their website (the company was renamed Axes Art Amuse in 1992- their GDRI rap sheet is enlightening) and distributed by Jaleco in arcades in 1985, City Connection is an extremely silly tour of the globe. As Clarice, you have to drive your Honda City (no, honest, that's the type of car you drive here) across the world, with your objective being to drive every inch of the stage. Each city, from New York to London to Tienanmen Gate, comes in the form of a four-tier highway (three tiers suspended in mid-air, and one serving as the base) that loop horizontally and, as you drive over the road, it gets painted. Paint all of the highway and you move on to the next stage. For a Honda City, Clarice's car is pretty manoeuvrable- it can jump (a short jump or a higher one by holding the stick up), turn on a dime (but after turning it pops a wheelie, during which time you can't jump or turn again) and speed up its fall rate (hold the stick down when descending) and driving speed (hold the direction you're facing). Mastering Clarice's car is very important, as there's some vital tricks- like combining a high-jump and a turn (press jump + up + the opposite direction at once) and turning mid-air- that you need to learn to get anywhere. As you clear each stage, the designs slowly become more fiendish, mostly in the form of highway tiers that are too far apart to jump between, so you'll be doing a lot of to-in and fro-ing, eventually becoming a puzzle to the tune of 'how the flip am I gonna get there?'.
Clarice's painting spree wouldn't be too bothersome if not for three main obstacles- the police, the cats, and the road spikes. Touch any of them and you'll lose a life, lose all your lives and it's game over. The police are on her tail at every turn (yes, even on Easter Island) and while they're not exactly smart- they'll never jump up or aggressively chase Clarice- they will get in the way. They can be dispatched by throwing oil cans at them (you have a limited supply, and can grab more along the way) to stun them, then running into them. You can also chain 'em by stunning multiple cars at once for big bonus points! The cats and road spikes can't be killed, so you have to avoid them or scroll them off-screen- cats spawn randomly, and road spikes start appearing if you spend too long on one tier (it usually happens on the bottom tier as it's always the biggest, and their appearance might be connected to the mileage meter) and your best recourse is to turn tail and get on another tier. The only other wrinkle in the game mechanics are the balloons- they appear every now and then, and collecting three of them warps you to a random stage further in the game. Eventually, the level designs and backdrops will start to loop, and, well, that's your lot.
Now here's the tricky part- I've just explained what you need to know about City Connection. It's a very simple game.
So why do I like it so much?
It's essentially a take on maze-em-ups like Pac-Man and, most obviously, Miner 2049 (which is very similar but with no scrolling/auto-movement) which normally aren't my thing (Ladybug being the exception) but what grabs me about City Connection is that it flows nicely. Your little car never stops until it's dead (you can't even rest against a wall like in Pac-Man) and because the screen scrolls, there's never a 'set' amount of police cars on patrol that you wait on to respawn- there's always a constant stream, and this keeps you on your toes, as does the cat. Fortunately, these obstacles rarely feel unfair, as you can scroll them off-screen in most cases (the scrolling is odd in a way, as it 'freezes' enemies in place when you turn) and the collision detection is fairly lenient. Hell, even if you're jumping into a mob of cars, you can lob oil cans below you, and this is often enough to get you past them unscathed. There's also a constant supply of oil cans, so unless you're really going to town on the cops, you're rarely out of ammo. These elements, along with the warp-around nature of each round, mean the game lacks the claustrophobic feeling of other maze games... In this particular instance, though, that's a plus point. It feels more free, more open, almost like a Sunday drive rather than being gridlocked in traffic. It makes it quite therapeutic to paint the highways, in fact!
There are odd moments of frustration, but some of those just come from playing for the first time when you're not used to how things work. For a start, you might struggle to get used to being unable to turn/jump when popping a wheelie, so you'll be flummoxed trying to get back up to the top on certain stages. With practice, you learn how to get around it though (and really, you should coat the top first so you don't have to work your way back up) and, once you've mastered it, you'll know the easiest way to traverse through the tiers and it'll feel like it flows naturally. Also, if you're not exact with your painting you can sometimes lose where little edges/slivers of highway need to be painted, although this is rare (mostly on the pyramids stage where the tiers are difficult to see). Some bits don't get easier with practice, though- there are moments where you feel you lose a life unfairly- mostly doing a high-jump, missing, then crashing into a car because you can't change direction mid-jump... Really, though, one of the things the game wants you to do is to time your jumps correctly, so you don't whiff it. The cat, on the other hand, can be a pain at times, but he can easily be scrolled off-screen, and you're most likely to crash into him when you're not paying attention (only on rare occasions have I crashed into him with absolutely no way to save myself).
That's just me nitpicking as I am known to do, though. They can irritate a little, but not enough to phase me. With that out the way, the other thing about the game- maybe a personal preference, but at this point I don't care- is that it's charming as hell. 'Charm' isn't something that's easy to explain, especially with regards to this game, but the nearest I can come up with is 'it's just a goofy little game with goofy little details'. Example- the tiny Honda City has to be the most adorable video game car of all time. It's a dinky little thing, with some nice animation (like the light reflecting off the windows and the way it heaves its weight from one side to the other while turning) and it makes for a cute little motor. The backgrounds are a nice touch too, with recognisable monuments and landmarks on your world tour, but more important for the charm is that each stage has a different version of Allegro non troppo e molto maestoso, from Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1. Although none of them are really as great as the one for the first stage (New York, which I swear has a bit of Johnny B. Goode in it) the other remixes not only get around the old problem of driving players insane with just one song throughout an arcade game, but helps give each area a bit of extra character- they're mixed in a way that they try to evoke the country in the background. However, you'll be going insane trying to figure out what other songs they've mixed in with Allegro (one is a Beach Boys song, I swear! Either that or the 60s Batman theme). All these elements combine to make a game that just exudes an odd charm for me, so I can't help but like it, like an idiot.
I'd better wrap this love-in up, then. Whenever I want to play a relatively stress-free game that's not about getting to the end, but getting as far as I can for the highest score, then I fire up City Connection. It's a charming little paint-em-up, one of those 'pure' arcade games that I've really clicked with (see also: Dig Dug and Zoo Keeper) and I'm really doing my best to not turn this review into typing the words Hell yeah City Connection, punks! over and over again. Really, though, I keep coming back to this one because it feels nice to drive and leap across those gravity-defying highways... For such a simple game to keep pulling me back in like that means I must give it a full five stars. There's also the fact that it's a bit of an underdog game. It's a terrible habit, yes, but I always root for the little guy, and City Connection seems to get a bad rap- not many people talk about it, and those that do have mostly played the NES version which isn't the best port (we'll see about that in a moment). So, for the underdog arcade game that could, here's the final verdict: play City Connection, and know the joy of painting all of the highway.
For being one of my favourite arcade games, City Connection is awarded...
In a sentence, City Connection...
Has just been reviewed in a very unbiased way, and I don't care.