Flying Circus


Review by Greg Wilcox



Graphics: 7

Sound: 6

Gameplay: 10

Overall: 8

It's bad enough that US gamers don't get enough flying games of any sort on home consoles, but when a cool title like Syscom's Flying Circus gets passed over for release here, it just twists my tail (ouch!). A small publisher, Xicat, showed it last year at E3, but I was told that it didn't meet up to SCEA's standards. I was disappointed, but had enough fun during the few minutes I spent with the game to want to track down the Japanese version, subtitled "RC Copter Adventure Championship".

Yes, it's another RC helicopter game, and just like Shiny's classic R.C. Stunt Copter, and the budget RC helicopter game released last year for the PS One, FC is a game that demands and rewards patience and pinpoint accuracy in order to succeed. The main thing this game has that the other two don't is a cool special controller that looks just like a real RC remote. You can use a standard Dual Shock 2 to play the game, but it's not as much fun (although it's just as accurate).

With four modes of play, the ability to upgrade your copter with better parts, and some amazingly challenging gameplay, FC will appeal to RC flying and hardcore sim fans alike. There are no shooting sequences or scantily clad babes to rescue (probably a reason why it was passed on)- the closest US release you could compare this to is Sky Odyssey, another niche title that ended up being the best pure flying game on the PS2 to date. And just like that game, FC will win you over with gameplay over graphics. There are two clumsy things about the game that keep it from perfection, but you'll have to read on for that info...

In Flying Circus, there's no instant gratification for those looking for a simple pick up and play gaming experience. Once the game hooks you, you'll be glued to your TV for hours, and after a while you just may want to drop a few thousand dollars on your own real RC copter to try out the skills you've learned. If you've never played a RC copter game before, it's best to dip your toe into FC's Free flight mode before tackling anything else in the game. Here, you can get used to the somewhat sensitive controls, and work on maneuvering in a variety of tight and wide open environments. There's a Tutorial Mode, but it's entirely in loads of Japanese text (with some screenshots), if you feel the need to brush up on your language skills. All of the gameplay screens have English text, and the majority of the goals are pretty clear, so the game isn't impossible to play at all.

You can earn points for new parts in Adventure and Challenge modes, which both have similar goals set within a generous time limit, but it's best to tackle the License mode, and see if you can at least get the copter off the ground, fly it in a straight line and land safely without taking too much damage. In the two main gameplay modes, you have two bars at the bottom of the screen, one for energy and the other for health. Landing on the proper areas will recharge either of these, but they're spaced far enough apart in some areas that it becomes a matter of priorities, especially in the final stretches of a stage.

During the missions, you can also pull off stunts like loops, rolls, and inverted flight. These earn big points, as does navigating cleanly through obstacles placed throughout the stages. It's even possible to chain points together if you're a really good pilot. As you earn points, you can upgrade your copter with real Kyosho parts- this becomes a bit obsessive, as there are so many ways to change the look and performance of your bird. The cool thing is each part affects the way the copter handles somewhat, so sometimes it's good to go with a heavy kit for some areas, while others demand a light and fast one.

Visually, while the game was programmed with Renderware and has some really nicely designed and massive stages, it's pretty plain-looking overall. As I said earlier, FC recalls Sky Odyssey's similarly simple look, sacrificing loads of tiny details for solid gameplay. Still, there are elements here and there that will bring a smile to your face, like a herd of stampeding cattle in the distance in one stage, some nice lighting effects, and the occasional cloud of dust when your copter hits the ground too fast. The energy bars, maps, and such can be scaled back or made to vanish completely, but only an overconfident maniac would turn off the map on the first go round in the Adventure or Challenge modes. Like the visuals, the music and sound are good, and get the job done without excess frills, which is perfect for a game that demands so much patience.

Unfortunately, two things almost make the game crash and burn before it leaves the ground. Number one is the game camera, specifically the default viewpoint. There are 10 different camera angles to select from (with the shoulder buttons), and you can even program which of them you want to use on the options screen, but there's no manual control. During the game, if you get too close to a wall, bunch of trees, or other huge obstacle, the camera swings around so that the offending object blocks your view completely. A much better response would have been for the obstacle to go transparent so you could adjust and compensate right away. Instead, you're forced to toggle through the camera views until you find a viewpoint that will help you move away from whatever is blocking your view. Yes, it's annoying and frustrating, especially since Syscom went to the trouble of adding a lot of viewpoints that don't help gameplay at all and are simply there to show off how good the copter looks. If anything, it absolutely forces you to get damn good at the game so that you don't encounter the problem as much, but it'll still happen anyway.

Number two is the loading time, or to be more exact, the number of times the game loads before you get to actually play it. There are at least 3-5 menu screens to navigate between stages, and more if you start up a saved game and decide to do some tweaking. Each time you pick and confirm an option, there's about 15 seconds or more of loading. Multiply that by 3 and it's 45 seconds, by 5 and it's a minute and 15 seconds. I'm guessing that the game is building everything you pick during those pauses, but I'd rather have one long loading screen than a bunch of shorter ones. After a while you sort of get used to it, but I can see some impatient players slapping the disc back into the case and popping in something that won't have them twiddling their thumbs so much while they're waiting to play.

Maybe the above two reasons coupled with the games' lack of visual oomph spelled a big fat NO to Flying Circus last year when Sony passed on it. But it has more than enough positive qualities to recommend to any RC fan or anyone looking for a truly challenging game, and that's something we definitely need more of.


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Last updated: Wednesday, December 10, 2003 02:24 PM