Ah, 1987 - a more innocent time, before the rise of international terrorism, when you could name a videogame City Bomber and have it not feel crashingly insensitive. All you freedom-loving patriots out there need not despair, this game doesn't actually include any bombings or even all that much in the way of cities, so you're definitely not playing as a suicide bomber or anything. No, you're just a common-or-garden casino robber.
That's you, the tiny lump of pixels next to the red car. I'm assuming you've just robbed the casino and you're about to make your high-speed getaway, but because the game itself offers you no kind of story beyond "man leaves casino and drives away really fast" you could equally claim that he's been caught counting cards and needs to make a hasty escape, or that The Apprentice is on in ten minutes and there's no way he's going to miss Alan Sugar shouting at people.
Some other cars give chase. These are either your accomplices, or the Mafia members who run the casino. Given that their cars appear to be from the Thirties, I'm going with the Mafia, and those cars are almost certainly filled with Italian-American waving tommy guns and calling each other goombas.
Oh yes, and the Old Bill are there too. Honestly, they don't really make much of an appearance. Casino heists are pretty low down on the list of police priorities: they've all seen Ocean's 11, they no there's no point trying to match wits with the kind of razor-honed intellect smart enough to fleece a casino. They'll only make a token effort to catch you, and leave you to experience your downfall at the hands of more qualified opponents, like trees and badly-maintained piers.
City Bomber is a checkpoint racing game. All you need to do is drive as quickly as possible from the start of the stage to the checkpoint at the end. Up and down on the joystick makes your little red car accelerate and slow down, left and right steer - easy enough, I'm sure you'll agree. Of course, there's a little more to it than that: our casino-burgling hero has improved his odds of escaping by kitting his vehicle out with a few helpful optional extras. One button lets you fire from the front of your car, which is useful for clearing other roads users and obstacles out of the way even if it does probably invalidate your MOT. The other button makes your car jump into the air - you know, for jumping over things. And jumping onto other cars, destroying them like an elephant seal mounting a chihuahua. It's a lot like Capcom's Mad Gear, but without all the wonkily-translated story about sentient Formula One cars.
And now my getaway car has sprouted wings! Ah, the power of, erm, power-ups. You can collect pick-ups as you destroy the differently-coloured cars, supplying you with a wide range (alright, four) of abilities that James Bond would be proud to strap to his Aston Martin. The wings makes your jumps last longer, there's a speed booster which I'm sure you can figure out, a "launcher" that increases the power of your shots and lets you shoot down the infuriating helicopters that chase you wherever you go, and best of all a pair of saw blades that let you simply drive through obstacles.
As you can see, you can collect all the power-ups at once, and you get to keep them until your car is destroyed. This casino bandit has really helped his chances of escape by selecting a getaway vehicle that can have wings and saw blades bolted on to it. He's already showed that he knows what he's doing, he's planned his criminal activities with precision and skill, so I'm sure City Bomber is going to be a breeze.
Indeed, the first stage is a breeze. I spent as long as possible avoiding the other cars, assuming that the collision system would work like Gradius and my car would explode if I so much as scratched the paintwork, but eventually I realised that you can take a hit from the other cars - instead of dying, you just lose some speed, or spin out and stop altogether for a moment. Even if you do manage to get yourself killed - either by colliding with one of the giant trucks, falling into the sea or (particularly embarrassing, this) driving into the pillars that mark the end-of-stage goal line at about three hundred miles an hour like I did - you just lose some time while your car respawns and all your power-ups disappear.
Yeah, those guard towers at the sides of the road there. Crashed right into them, so I did. I don't know exactly where I was escaping from and why it has a Berlin Wall-style barrier topped with barbed wire, but I'm sure the guards weren't expecting a winged, rocket-launching sports car to slam into their tower so fast that the driver's kidneys were embedded six inches into the solid concrete of the wall. Still, it was my only major cock-up, and I cleared the first stage.
Before we bid goodbye to the first stage, I'd like to mention the thing that piqued my interest in City Bomber in the first place, and that's the excellent soundtrack. Here's the first stage's theme:
I don't know who the composer is, so let me know in the comments if you have an idea, but whoever they are they've put together a first-stage theme that's up there with some of Konami's best, a real pounding, catchy number that's perfectly suited to the high-speed action of City Bomber. This is definitely the high-point of the soundtrack, but the rest of it is very good too.
It's a good job you don't die in every collision because once stage two starts, City Bomber decides that it's time to stop fucking about and ramps up the difficulty level. Most of the danger comes from the fact that the game is simply so fast: you can't see very far ahead, so corners and obstacles are sprung upon you with almost no warning as you barrel through the stages. Trees are the main source of horrible Marc Bolan-style death, because our hero has decide to try to lose the police by driving through a forest. You can shoot the trees out of the way, but you can't fire that fast and if there's more than one tree in front of you you'll never clear a path in time. Better hope you've picked up the saw power-up so you can just drive through them.
Okay, I take back everything I said about this guy knowing what he's doing - I can see why maybe he might go off-road, try to shake off his pursuers in the dense undergrowth, but the fact that his escape route takes him over some of the most neglected piers I've ever seen (and I used to holiday at the British seaside as a child) show a truly shocking lack of foresight. It's a good job his car can jump into the air because otherwise the local sea life would be getting a brand new four-wheeled neighbour.
What a rebel. Look at him, totally ignoring that STOP sign. Also I'm fairly sure you're not allowed to just glue wings onto your car and drive it on public roads. Never mind that, though, because with some careful driving and good use of the front-mounted saws I've made it through stage two. And stage three...
...well, it's actually much more relaxing. Granted, that screenshot doesn't make it look particularly calm but there's much less to crash into than the previous stage and there're no vertiginous cliffs that drop straight into the sea. What you've got instead is some gargantuan, multi-laned highway that scrolls across to the left and right to form a nightmarish blanket of asphalt as far as the eye can see. Seriously, I'm hardly an environmentalist but this bleak vision of man's destructive tendencies is creeping me out a bit. You could use this as a recruitment video for Greenpeace. At least it's a short stage, about forty seconds long, and as long as you remember to jump over the craters caused by the helicopter's bombs you shouldn't have a problem. Stage four, please!
Oh good, this is more like it. A nice straight road, walls up the side so you can't fall off, minimal traffic - our hero's escape strategy is back on track!
Oh for fuck's sake. I'm not sure what the most baffling thing about this stage is: the fact that our hero thought his best chance of reaching safety was to drive through a volcano, or that the local council has paved roads inside said volcano. They can't even afford to fix the potholes where I live, never mind funding an ambitious program of road building amidst the lava-filled fury wrenched up by unimaginable forces from the very bowels of the Earth itself.
And we've got a rain of exploding boulders to deal with, too. Marvellous. Between the falling rocks and the way the narrow road twists and turns, this stage is so much harder than stage three that it's almost ridiculous. Difficulty curve? City Bomber doesn't have a difficulty curve, unless "Difficulty Curve" is the name of a large hooked stick that Konami periodically whacks into your groin.
In short: screw you, volcano and screw you Konami. Just because I don't have superhuman reflexes, there's no need to rub it in by making me drive into a lake of molten rock over and over again. I'm going to stage five and there's nothing you can do to stop me!
I'm driving through a farm now: those brown lumps around my car are cattle that moo and panic when you drive through them. Having seen what can happen when people crash into deer, people who aren't driving some kind of souped-up rocket car, I'm surprised a vehicle-cow interaction doesn't end in instant disintegration. It's a small mercy, but I'll take what I can get. Don’t let the wide open spaces in the screenshot above fool you, either - this stage is just as hard as the last one. These are some of the best-irrigated fields in the world, and every five seconds you have to hop over another small stream or wooden fence.
The farm's behind us and we've arrived at an airport car-park. Buildings and cars appear thick and fast, and frankly if you haven't played this level before and memorised the location of all the things that will kill you you're going to see your little car explode an awful lot. The controls aren't an issue - everything handles nice and sharply and reacts as you'd expect - but the speed of the game means there's not really much chance of you avoiding anything.
Especially not giant warehouse that appear out of nowhere. You'll notice that the warehouse is taking up almost the entire screen, because the stages scroll quite far to the left and right and you've got to negotiate your way through the narrow passageways between them. After many attempts, I managed to figure out a path between the buildings and I've broken free!
Oh great, now I'm going to crash into this aeroplane.
No, hang on, it's absorbing me into its metal womb.
Erm... see you later, then?
I guess not. City Bomber is over, ending as our hero flies off into the sunset with his ill-gotten haul and the kind of severe neck trauma that comes from driving a jumping car through a volcano at close to the speed of sound. I like that it just says "CONGRATULATION", because it looks like that's the placeholder text - someone at Konami was supposed to insert a proper congratulatory message but they just forgot / weren't arsed.
Yep, this game has all the longevity of a hide-and-seek game against Superman. You can probably complete the whole thing in about ten minutes if you know what you're doing and not much longer if you don't. I'm okay with that, though. If nothing else, writing for VGJunk has taught me to appreciate these small, unassuming games a little more. I've been playing Skyrim all week and ten minutes of City Bomber is a nice break from stabbing dragons in the face. That's probably because these days I'm always looking for the bright spots in games like this and City Bomber certainly has a few moments of charm, like the goofy honkahonkahonka noise triggered when you collect a power-up or the animation of your car driving on two wheels during heavy collisions.
Overall, it's a simple, fast-paced arcade title that would be extremely frustrating if you were putting real ten-pence coins into an arcade cabinet but turns out to be a faintly charming ten-minute diversion if you're playing it through other means. Plus there's the excellent soundtrack, reason enough for City Bomber to exist at all and easily the best thing about the game. In fact, that seems to be a good description of most of these semi-forgotten Konami arcade titles: interesting enough for a short while, but quickly, well, forgotten. Like I said at the start, not everything can be Castlevania or Gradius, and I'm okay with that.