These are the meandering word-puddles of the good ship VGJunk. Its mission: well, apparently it's to write about every entry in Konami's seemingly endless cavalcade of barely-remembered arcade games. Here's another one - it's 1988's drive-really-fast-em-up Hot Chase!
Okay, so that's not the most thrilling title screen I've ever seen. I didn't capture the part where four attack helicopters airlifted the title in, but it wasn't much more impressive than this road leading into eternal blackness. Konami obviously just want you to get on with the business at hand, so let's slam in some credits and get going.
There's a bomb in my car? I suppose I'd better get out of here, then. But not out of the car. I'll need the car. For driving, you see. I'll just have to drive fast enough to reach my destination before my car explodes with me inside it, condemning me to a fiery yet mercifully brief death.
I don't really want to leave, though. It looks nice here. The sea air, a beautiful sunset sky, the distant lights of the city twinkling across the harbour. It's got a sort of northern European feel, don't you think? The Netherlands or Denmark, somewhere like that. Maybe I'll just stay here forever.
Alright, fine, geez. I'll get moving. Just let me jump into my soon-to-explode Porsche and escape the recently-detonated part of northern Europe that I was enjoying so much. Looks like I'm going to be blowing up no matter what I do, so I might as well take out a bunch of fellow motorists when I do.
The central conceit of Hot Chase, then - you're a spy who has stolen the enemy country's armoured super-car, and this is important because in the Eighties a bulletproof car was a piece of military hardware so advanced it was worth risking outright war to obtain. Makes you wonder just how armoured this super car is: can it withstand a shell from a tank? Because tanks already exist, we have those, and armoured coupés aren't going to pose much of a threat to them. The only way an armoured car could outdo a tank would be if it had enough room in the back for the kids and the week's shopping, but the designers have negated even that advantage by making the supercar a two-door affair.
Not that it matters - I'm a government agent, and if they tell me to steal a car, I steal a car and then I drive it back towards my own country. The car with the bomb in it. There are flaws right the way through this plan, aren't there?
So, Hot Chase is a checkpoint racer. Obviously OutRun springs to mind, but then again this is me and OutRun is never far from my thoughts. You've got accelerate and brake, plus a gear shift for switching between high and low gears, and your goal is to reach each checkpoint before you run out of time and your car explodes. That does indeed sound a lot like OutRun, except the car blowing up part and the fact that there are enemy soldiers everywhere trying to kill you.
Right off the bat the helicopter gunships from the intro make a reappearance, trying to perforate your car with their huge guns. I guess the enemy country doesn't want their supercar back after all and they're just attacking me out of spite.
There are infantry men about, too. In a display of naivety that's almost sweet, they've put up some stop signs. They have about as much effect as you'd expect. They also have machineguns to shoot at you with, which seems a more reasonable solution to their problems, but you just drive between the lines of gunfire and the soldiers will leap aside as you pass.
The real challenge comes not from the enemy army but the obstacles in the road - the checkpoint times are tight, and you have to go full-tilt for the entire game or you're not going to make it. This is a problem when your escape route is littered with trams, pick-up trucks with poorly-secured cargoes of explosive oil drums that drop all over the street and railway crossings that have missed the fundamental concept of the railway crossing by having the locomotives just parked across the street. Fortunately, there's always a convenient car-carrier nearby to use as a ramp.
As you can see, I missed this particular ramp. Fair play to the supercar, it did survive the two hundred and seventy kilometre an hour collision with the train, and I flew through the air and landed on the other side anyway. Shame it's destined to explode, really.
With fifteen seconds to spare, I reached the first checkpoint and had my time refilled. To me this humanises the bomb - it wants to see something of the world, but it is very impatient and will explode if your don't satiate its lust for travel.
That's the first stage of Hot Chase completed, so what are my early impressions? Well, it's a mixed bag. At a basic level it's go all the ingredients of a game I should really enjoy - it's a pure arcade experience that offers only the promise of moving forward quickly, and that you most certainly do. It falls nicely into the range of nonsensical over-the-topness that I always like to see in an arcade game, and the soundtrack is pretty fantastic already. Here's the area one theme, a classically Konami-esque slice of Ebola-level catchiness with a demented bassline that could not be more suitable for a game about a man stealing an exploding car.
Sadly, not everything about Hot Chase lives up to the promise of the theme and the kickin' music. The gameplay is just about competent, but as super-scaler-style games go, this is not one of the finest examples. Your car feels rather floaty, drifting across the road only to flip over thanks to the woolly collision detection, and the deficiencies of the scaling graphics themselves make trying to predict what will happen ahead of you a bit of a pointless exercise. Worst of all is when you get shot. I understand that getting shot is a Bad Thing and should be avoided, but when you do get hit it makes your car slide off towards the side of the road in a very unsatisfying and unintuitive manner. I'd understand if you span out, or even lost control of the steering for a moment, but instead you get this weird effect like an invisible hand is sweeping you to the left.
So far, then, Hot Chase is in the balance, but we shall see how I feel after the rest of the game, starting with a trip to the countryside.
Right through the countryside, in fact, because if I was riding a car with a bomb inside I know I'd want to drive through a forest as fast as possible.
A feeling of deja vu hit me as I made my way through the second area, and I eventually figured out why: I'm playing a Konami arcade game where I'm in a sports car, being chased by people who want me dead. I started off in the city, and now I'm driving right through some woodland. Suddenly it becomes clear: Hot Chase is a sequel to Konami's own 1987 game City Bomber, but with the viewpoint shifted from top-down to behind the car. I wonder if that was the intention? I just hope I don't have to drive through a volcano again.
Not sure why there are so many cars in this forest, though. They don't try to interfere with you in any way, unless they're part of a plan to distract you into an accident by repeatedly slamming themselves into the nearby trees. Nice plan, fellas, but it won't work. I'm utterly hardened to human misery. Well, I have played N*Sync: Get to the Show, after all.
Section two isn't nearly as interesting as the first - Konami seem to have shot their proverbial bolt with all the fun and crazy hi-jinks going on in stage one, leaving nothing left over for stage two except trees and big ol' rocks.
Beyond the forest is the desert. Look at all those grey explosive barrels. It's like I'm trying to escape from an unimaginative Doom WAD.
The desert is more enjoyable to play than the forest, because the clearer playing area means that making progress is down more to your own skill than remembering exactly where and when a mighty oak is going to appear right in front of you, but it's still a bit... barren. I mean, of course it's barren, it's a desert, but that still doesn't make for a fun gameplay experience. Stick a camel or something in there, come on.
I also got shot a lot towards the end of the desert zone, which is unfortunate because it puts bullet holes in your screen that obscure your vision. They don't fade away, either, so if you get shot then you're going to know about it for the rest of the game. This is especially annoying if you go back to the opening scenes and check out the blueprint of the supercar. It clearly says the car has bulletproof glass, so why can't I see what I'm doing for all these bloody bullet holes? Unless that line on the blueprints means that the supercar only has bulletproof glass in the rear window. What, were they trying to save money or something? A misguided attempt to keep the racing weight down? The scientists - and by "scientists" I of course mean "mechanics" - who built this supercar must have been so confident of its blinding top speed that they never imagined anyone could get in front of it. Or, you know, be waiting for it, maybe as part of a roadside ambush. Honestly, I'm beginning to suspect this is just a normal car.
Yep, it even sinks like a normal car. I think the only aspect of this car that can be definitively stated to be "super" is the fuel efficiency, because I haven't had to fill her up since I set off, and even that factor is rather off-set by the fact there's a ruddy great bomb inside it.
Actually, credit where it's due, I suppose it does also get much better traction on sand than a normal car. That's useful, because there are a lot of cacti to dodge around here, and with Hot Chase's finicky hit detection they're a lot harder to avoid than perhaps they should be. It was a little frustrating, and I had a quiet little grumble to myself. Oh, if only I'd known what was coming up next. This cactus patch seems as soft and dreamlike as warm duvet by comparison. Shudder in terror as we enter... The Cave of Inestimable Bullshit!
I hope you all said "duhn duhn duuuhn!" in your heads when you read that.
That's right, it's a cave. A very large cave, granted - large enough to have its own lake - but still a cave. The cave is absolutely packed with columns of rock and whatever you call groups of stalagmites. A ball-ache of stalagmites, in this case. You're supposed to be driving through the cave as quickly as possible, but that's a bit difficult when every piece of rock sends you car flipping through the air, even if you drive into it as slowly as possible. That was the second technique I tried, after attempting to blast though at full speed. I slowed right down, but even at speeds that most tortoises would consider a bit sedate the slightest contact sends you hurtling into the air, costing you precious seconds as well as being really goddamn annoying.
I thought about giving up, because I was starting to get agitated and making wild threats about how I'd destroy all the Earth's rocks and that's not healthy.
Then I saw how close I was to the end, so I figured I'd give it another shot. Ninety-seven kilometres is not a long way to travel for the golden chalice of freedom, after all.
Eventually I made it through, and on the other side of the cave was a winter wonderland where the air is crisp, there are boulders in the road and men on snowmobiles tried to ram into me. This "enemy country" does not breed the most quick-witted of soldiers, but their commitment to stopping me - be it via erecting a strident and forceful STOP sign or flinging their squishy bodies against my supercar - is to be admired. Or pitied. Yeah, that one. Pitied.
This is the last stretch of the game, and there's even a final boss of sorts. A bomber lives up to its name and spends the final section dropping bombs onto the road ahead of you, which you must swerve around because they'll make your car blow up real good. It's hard, because as mentioned the scaling graphics are just a little bit off and it can be difficult to judge what'll count as a hit and what won't, but after that bloody cave it's like a heavenly chorus of angels come to gently sweep you toward the finish line.
There's the end now, just one barrier keeping me from delivering this highly-advanced supercar to my political masters.
A mission well done by our top agent. Maybe we should get him a shirt that fits properly as a reward. We'll definitely never be able to pin a medal to that thing. Right, hand us the keys, then.
Erm, what are you doing, top agent? Because it looks like you're spraying that car you just risked your life to steal with a hail of submachine gun fire.
Fantastic. Well, I'm glad that all my hard work was worth it. My contribution feels very valued. You do know that car had a bomb in it, right? You could have just waited sixteen seconds and had the same result without wasting all that ammunition.
Here's the ending text scroll, in case you can't read it in the screenshot.
You have succeeded in stealing the enemy armoured car and have crossed the border to freedom
After a few days the enemy surrendered to our country.
You will be forever remembered for your brave deeds.
Thanks a million!!"
I have bolded the most interesting part. This incident - the theft and subsequent explosion of one car - caused the enemy to surrender. It must have been a Citroen. Ha ha, the French army, am I right? Honestly, though, the concept behind Hot Chase is blowing my mind. The enemy build a supercar. Our hero steals the car and drives it back to his own country, while the enemy try to blow the car up. Then our hero reaches his own country and blows the car up. This results in the unconditional surrender of the enemy forces. Don't try to make any sense of it - just enjoy it for the sheer nonsense of it all.
Finally on the subject, I'd like to think that all military commendations and battle reports end with the commanding officer giving a hearty "thanks a million!" to his assembled troops. You did a great job, what a swell bunch of guys! Now hit those showers!
I'm still not sure what I think of Hot Chase. It's got so many of the elements that I love about arcade games like this - it's simple, manic, fast-paced, it has a story so daft it makes Twilight look like a lost Nabokov novel and the soundtrack is great (and here's a reminder with the second stage theme).
Sadly, like an elderly relative who keeps calling you by the wrong name, Hot Chase is not quite all there. That section in the cave stands out as being particularly grating, but none of the game ever quite clicks and the slightly subpar graphical effects and unpredictable collisions kinds of drain the fun from the experience, and Konami seemed to have used up all their creative ideas in the first stage. A compromise, then: play through the first area, stop and listen to the soundtrack. Alternatively, go and play OutRun. If you're ever in doubt as to what the Official VGJunk Advice for any situation is, you won't go far wrong with "play some OutRun."