Published on July 10th, 2012 | by Nichomaxwell0
F-1 G.U.S. # 8: Super F-1 Circus: Did they…mean to say Circuit???
Year: 1992 // System: Super Famicom // Publisher & Developer: Nichibutsu // Genre: Racer
>>> It is the final stretch of the 1992 Formula One Titles and the last competitor has emerged as the victor at the very last second. The first in a series of five separate titles, the unfortunately named Super F-1 Circus only saw release in Japan, but I doubt that the local fans were complaining. More copies for them! It’s the only F-1 racing series on the Super Famicom to include five games–one more than the second largest SFC series, F-1 Pole Position (or Human Grand Prix). It is not hard to see why there are five. Circus consisted of perhaps the deepest simulation with the most realistic settings and conveyance of car control. It also stood out as the only racer of that year where the player custom-built his or her own series schedule in the championship mode, and it rivaled Satoru’s racing title with a turbo feature of its own that was far more balanced in its utilization.
However, although Super F-1 Circus held its own as the best Formula One racing game of 1992, it faced its fair share of issues that kept it from becoming a truly memorable title. Why, you ask? Two words: look below!
Super F-1 Circus plays in the top-down perspective that I have come to despise with a passion, but ultimately manages this perspective through a slowed-down frame rate that allows the player to anticipate all dangers and sharp corners up ahead. It flows rather smoothly and warns drivers aptly through a series of turn indication arrows that flash overhead. Although the arrows are another thing I am not a fan of, they’re necessary in this top-down racer, and work just as well as the track map on your display.
The biggest strength in Circus stems from its lifelike management of the car and the representation of the different teams. Each team differs in speed, with teams like Ferrari traveling the fastest and some of the lesser operations pumping out vehicles that average 20 kilometers per hour slower than the elite.
Any vehicle you manage through the corners demands a balancing act. Yes, if you can get away with not braking, then ease off the throttle and coast your roadster through the curve, but if you over-steer, then the rear wing will indeed loop around and propel you into a 360. Mistakes in this game are very costly and devastate your speed and acceleration while sometimes inflict damage. However, because turns do not necessarily pop out at you like they do in Redline–nor do they take forever to navigate through like in Nigel Mansell’s World Championship Racing–the considerable warning you have to prepare yourself for the upcoming hairpin justifies the penalties. It certainly is a little much, however, that three or four cars will bull rush you if you drive two to three perfect laps but ricochet off the wall just once.
I also notice that how you enter certain corners reminds me of how the NASCAR games did an excellent job in recreating courses. Here, just like in the NASCAR series, you come across a sharp bend in an oval (or square, as they represent Indianapolis Motor Speedway to be in this game) and get the best entry by swinging to the outside, and then dropping low through the corner without over-braking. I also observed a considerable change in the avatar vehicle and AI drivers’ behavior when the sun went behind the clouds and the rain came out to play. Suddenly you needed to mash the brake and not turn as fiercely just to keep your car moving forwards. The AI, however, wrecked more often and dropped back considerably. They dropped so far back, in fact, that the second place driver behind me took twenty seconds to cross the start-finish, and in this game, you cannot move to the next screen until the top 6 have crossed the line. But the game glitched out to the rainy conditions, so I never managed to reach that one race’s epilogue.
You have your three traditional F-1 gaming modes: Time Attack, the single race mode, and Championship. Time Attack allows you to practice the courses and figure out all of their trickiest sections without the pressure of competition. The single race selection gives you free range of any course you would like to take on, and simulates the exhibition event from free runs to qualifying to the actual race itself, complete with a challenging and unpredictable field of drivers. Championship brings everything together, but at your own pace. Unlike the other games where you have to race a preselected schedule, Circus places the organization of the series directly in your hands! You get to race the courses in whatever order you choose, and guess what? Don’t like a couple of the tracks on there? That’s okay! With twenty events to pick from, the schedule maxes out at seventeen, so you can kick your three least favorite venues to the curb!
Setup options are definitely plentiful, but I was not given any clear descriptions of how each change affected my vehicle’s overall performance. For example, I had tires B, C, D, and Q with no indicators to point out which type of tire gave me more speed and which supplied stronger grip. For engines and chassis, I had engine spec 1,2, and 3 and chassis type 920-923! COME ON! I’m not a hardcore fan! I don’t know this stuff! That is why an overall assessment of how each adjustment changes the car would have been greatly appreciated! Otherwise, I am just guessing as to how much faster I am traveling. On the plus side steering, braking, and gear ratio and their variations were easy to understand, and changes in those areas did indeed correlate with on-track performance.
Although I have mentioned the fairly unclear setups and the glitch with races concluding under rainy conditions, they do not hold a candle to my biggest pet peeve of all:
Driver selection in Championship.
When you start a campaign, your choice of race team gets knocked down to one of two options, and they are both painfully inept! It does not matter HOW you adjust your car or perform in Practice! You are most likely to notch tenth or twelfth on average, and then after reaching the seventh or eighth place driver in the actual race, not be able to crack the top 6. I do not know if you unlock more teams after finishing a certain spot in the Championship mode, but it certainly did not leave a good impression on me to struggle unnecessarily no matter how well I memorized the track layout. I found I could take on those same races with the higher teams and dominate the circuit, but here your overtake button is absolutely necessary for you to succeed and, even so, it can be used but very sparingly. I think that if a player learns the track and knows how to maneuver around the competition without hitting a snag or getting turned around, then he or she deserves a fair shot at the championship mode from the get-go.
Still, even if Championship is a tad broken, that does not mean you can’t enjoy Super F-1 Circus as the Single Race events provide the best overall challenge, specifically with the overtake feature. Similar to turbo, overtake lets you fly across a short-shoot or straightaway at supreme velocity to overtake one or two drivers more than you normally would at a ho-hum pace! HOWEVER, more speed means more care and precision for handling the follow-up corner. In the case where you would normally let off the accelerator, you would find yourself having to slam on the brakes to keep the nose pointed in the right direction.
So there were definitely issues. As a retro gamer, I would look elsewhere for better racing games. But as a Formula One fan AND a retro gamer, I would not be so quick to brush this one aside. Circus may entertain a few irritating flaws, but out of the ’92 racers surveyed on the Super Famicom, this game took home the winner’s trophy.
Challenge: 7/10: The Championship mode was rather unfair in the beginning, but the Single Race and Time Attack modes made up for the tedious campaign with their lifelike simulations of the Formula One experience. The single race mode particularly entertained a high-octane thrill ride on each and every race course with aggressive AI, strategic methods for overtaking the leaders for the win, and unpredictable track changes such as rain washing the track clean of hot-heads and causing a higher frequency of spin-outs and pit stops.
Handling: 9/10: Although I tend not to like the top-down racers very much, I do think that Circus did an excellent job in keeping the perspective balanced so that you were comfortable in your blindness to the corner up ahead. Turn signals were quick to warn, and the track map provided enough back-up. You had four commands–acceleration, brake, gear shifting, and overtake–and the higher variety of commands combined with the realistic handling of a race car give you an emulation of the Formula One series that was far more powerful than any other similar attempts in 1992.
Innovation: 8/10: Circus featured a balanced turbo command and the option to customize the race schedule in Championship, along with providing all of the appropriate modes and features that made for a complete experience that kept up with the rest. You had more than enough drivers, tracks, and setups to keep you happy, although…
Core Experience: 6/10: …it sure was a bummer that you could only pick between two drivers in Championship at the start, and they just so happened to be the worst teams out there. Although I have a feeling you could play to unlock more teams, starting with the worst teams did not really seem fair to have players begin the Championship. Additionally, some setup options were unclear in what they did (did Tire B provide more speed or handling than Tire C? I don’t know, guess I better test them both out on the racetrack and therefore waste my time!). Also, there were annoying bugs such as the diminished frame rate whenever a high count of cars appeared on the screen, as well as the sun-to-rain glitch that dropped the field so far behind that the top 6 would never finish the darn race in the case that you won. But hey, for the most part, this game felt good and looked good!
OVERALL: 7.5/Solid: Do not spend your money on it unless you’re into collecting every F-1 game out there or playing the old games from a nostalgic fan’s standpoint. I must also use this space as an aside to mention that 1992 was the first recorded year in which Formula One games were released for the SNES and Super Famicom. The eight titles that came out in Japan (of which five were shipped to the States) set the bar for how one went about making a Formula One simulator for the console.
I do not know if eight F1 titles on one system in a given year is a record written down somewhere out there, but I am going to say here and now how monumental that mark truly is. Let us take a look at the following subsets of the Racing genre for the Super Famicom, shall we?
Futuristic Racing: 5 total
Kart: 3 total
Kyotei: 3 total
Monster Truck: 2 total
Motorcycle Racing: 8 total (1 counted exclusively as Motorcross, so true total is 7)
NASCAR: 2 total
Rally: 7 total
Sports Car: 13 ( 2 in ’92, 2 in ’93, 3 in ’94, 3 in ’95, 1 in ’96, 2 unknown)
Multiple Styles: 5 total
Vehicular Combat: 15 (1 in ’91, 2 in ’92, 6 in ’93, 3 in ’94, 2 in ’95, 1 in ’96)
FORMULA ONE: 27 (8 in ’92, 6 in ’93, 5 in ’94, 3 in ’95, 5 unknown)
Although more exact figures are to come in a future article, the number of F1 titles that came out in the first year–that anyone tried their hand at that type of racing game–EXCEEDS the total number of games in all other racing sub-genres save for two: Vehicular Combat. This just goes to prove how easy an F1 game was for companies to make, yet how truly fanatical that people were about experiencing the Formula One Series from the comfort of their living rooms in the early to mid nineties.