Circus Games

Author: Dave E
Publisher: Tynesoft
Machine: BBC/Electron

Published in EGG #013: Acorn Electron

Circus Games

Towards the end of the Eighties, publisher Tynesoft started to become synonymous with multi-load compendiums linked by a common theme. After the two "Olympiads" (Winter and Summer), a circus-themed compilation probably seemed a logical move, especially with the "similarly themed" Fiendish Freddy's Big Top O' Fun gaining high praise on other 8-bit computers. However, whilst that game of circus events boasted an abundance of animation, humour and gameplay, Circus Games is in comparison very weak.

The compendium contains four individual "big top" themed events. These are Tiger Training, Trapeze, Tightrope and Trick Horse Riding, and you can choose to tackle them in isolation or as part of an International Competition which runs through them in order.

The first thing you notice about Circus Games is the very unusual style of its graphics. Unlike most other Electron games, they do not appear hand-drawn; instead they look partly digitised, almost as if Circus Games was written for a more powerful computer and then had its graphics hastily converted to less colourful and detailed equivalents. And, as if to confirm the case, the next thing that happens after the loading screen is displayed is that your Electron starts to whine and squeal like a faulty kettle, which is actually meant to be the traditional circus music theme. However, you'll need a good ear to enjoy it in the highly compressed, digitised form Circus Games belches out.

Circus Games

All of the events are at least very different from each other, and it's probably easiest to deal with each of them in the same order as they appear in the competition.

Tiger Training is first and the game screen shows a sort of tiger obstacle course and a miniature tiger's head which you can move around. The mission is to get the tiger to do as he's told, i.e. to stand on chairs, jump through a hoop and walk through a tube. The least intuitive of the events by a long way, the cassette's inlay informs you that you should use the Fire key (Return) in combination with the four directional controls, taking care not to accidentally whip the skin of the big cat. The trouble is that the tiger doesn't seem to react at all whenever you whip the air around him. The total lack of sound doesn't help matters and, even after reading and re-reading the instructions, I believe most players will struggle with exactly how this event should be played.

When the tiger does do something, it almost seems to happen at random. When you lose a life, it seems to happen with no prior warning and you're left wondering what exactly you did wrong. The graphics of the whole event seem to suffer from a strange unnatural pixelation effect too.

Circus Games

At least the aim seems to be a little clearer in Trapeze. Here, you are put in charge of a "real person" in the form of a slim acrobat who you jump from one overhead swinging rope to another. The idea is to swing back and forth, pressing Return to let go of your current trapeze when you have enough momentum to fly far enough to grab the next one. Again you have extremely peculiar graphics, with the trapeze artiste looking mostly like a black shadow overlaid on top of the complicated background picture. But this isn't the worst part of this event. The real problem here is the shortcuts taken with the artiste herself. She starts on the extreme left of the screen, and jumps to the first of two ropes. Then, hopefully, you'll deliver her safely from rope one to rope two.

Unfortunately there's no safe area for her to swing on to from rope two and it's not in any way clear what the player should actually do once he gets her there. Letting go of the rope will lose a life and, actually, what the player must do is retrace his steps to the extreme left again.

Doing this is, however, a bizarre experience because the woman's sprite is not reversed! I know trapeze artistry is a dangerous profession but swinging backwards whilst facing in the opposite direction...?! Introducing this completely unrealistic game mechanic in an otherwise realistic-looking environment looks amateur to say the least. There's the possibility to perform rolls and turns in the air between ropes and these are also not reversed, making the whole experience look like rewinding a video cassette of the game previously being played in the right order!

Circus Games

The next event, Tightrope, is essentially a balancing game and shows a highwire above the circus ring. You take control of a man in a stripy T-shirt and must walk over the tightrope without losing your balance, signified by the changing position of the sprite itself. If he begins leaning to his right, you must compensate with the X key; if leaning left, with Z. You can also perform handstands and twirls for bonus points. This is the easiest of the events but, once again, the dodgy-looking half-digitised graphics and a bizarre sequence where the man walks backwards across the tripwire fair ruin it. There's a variant of the back-and-forth 'action' with a unicycle but it plays in the exact same way.

And finally there's Trick Riding, which is actually the exact same balancing idea as Tightrope, but replaces the man with a woman, the steadier (and unicycle) with a horse and the highwire with the circus ring. The idea is to ride the horse around the perimeter whilst standing on the horse's back and performing the odd forward somersault before landing in its saddle. As in Tightrope, you have to balance the rider throughout by deft use of the Z and X keys. It's actually a bit tougher to play than Tightrope because each manoeuvre she performs tends to randomly overbalance her by a different amount when she lands; you need swift reactions to ensure she doesn't fall off and lose a life.

And, well, that's it. If you play all four events back-to-back and you forget about the multi-load, the entire game can be 'completed' in less than ten minutes. On release, Electron User's Steve Brook somehow missed all of the shortcuts and graphical anomalies and opined that Circus Games was "a superb compilation of unusual and interesting games". All I can say is that my opinion drastically differs from his. Given the ambition that Tynesoft clearly had for this product, I think it's one of the biggest damp squibs in the Electron's library.

Circus Games

The mini-games range from the hard to understand (Tiger) to the laughably unimpressive (Tightrope). You can play them, sure, but without exception they're lifeless, dull and boring. And I know I've already laboured the point about the dodgy digitised graphics but the lacklustre events, when *combined* with these, just make everything very hard on the eyes. It's almost like you're playing a very dull Amiga game on a TV with the brightness at maximum and the contrast at minimum.

I'd say something about the sound if there were any, but the less said about that appalling, unskippable dirge that starts the game, the better!

If you're looking for your own physical cassette copy of Circus Games, then expect to pay around £2.

Dave E

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