Review by Retro
"A game that doesn't go splat.........unlike its characters"
Ahhh Circus Atari, one of my absolute favorite Atari 2600 games. Circus Atari features clowns who are dying to get some major hang time and pop some balloons for a living. The idea of the game is to move a seesaw back and forth in order to propel frantic stick-figured clowns up to the three sets of horizontally scrolling balloons overhead. When these goofy clowns are propelled to the unbelievable heights of your television screen, they flail their arms in a hyper fashion, which in turn pops the square balloons.
I guess you could say that Circus Atari is somewhat like Breakout, but not entirely. I've always liked the games for the Atari 2600 that require using the paddle controllers, and Circus Atari is one of them. The best thing about using the paddles, in my opinion, is the fact that the games are usually extremely simple to control, but then again, what Atari game isn't a cinch to control?
Before you start, you'll notice that there is already a clown standing on one side of the seesaw, teeter-totter, or whatever it is, at the bottom of the screen. What you have to do is make a separate clown jump on the other side of the seesaw, which will in turn propel the standing clown up into the air. Then, catch the gravity-tortured clown on the vacant side of the seesaw, and just keep repeating that process.
To get the helium craze on the run, all you have to do is press the button on your paddle controller. A clown will first bounce on one of two trampolines on either side of the screen, and then it's all up to you to control the clowns' destinies after that. There are three sets of balloons, red ones being at the top, blues in the middle, and yellows on the bottom. The higher the balloon, the more points you get for popping it. If you haven't solved the mystery yet, then I'll let you in on a little secret that's not really a secret. Once you pop all the balloons of a color, you will earn some bonus points and that row of balloons will immediately regenerate, creating a new batch of balloons that are eagerly waiting to be deflated.
Don't think that Circus Atari is overly easy, because it's not. It's not really hard or easy, it's somewhere in the middle of the two extremes. Getting the clowns up to the balloons on a regular basis takes a lot of practice and great hand-eye coordination. Just catching the falling goofballs on your seesaw isn't enough. In order to make the clowns fly at least as high as the balloons are residing, you must make them bounce on the edge of the seesaw; otherwise, they won't bounce high enough.
If you happen to miss catching a clown altogether, you'll get to see something that's hilarious and even more classic. The clownish clown will literally go SPLAT head-first into the unforgiving ground. It's a hilarious sight because the clown falls halfway into the ground and all you can see when one goes splat is his legs moving frantically back and forth. It's as if he's telling you to quit laughing and to get over there and help him out of the ground before he gets eat up by earthworms.
Circus Atari is one of the funnest and most addictive games that requires usage of the paddles and it's also two-player, like most of the games for the system. Not many people know this, but since it was made in 1980 (I'm honored that it was made the same year I was born), Circus Atari was one of the first video games to ever utilize the ability to earn 1-ups, or extra lives (you get one for popping all the red balloons).
I doubt you will if you're a big fan of the Atari 2600-style games, but if you ever happen to get tired of playing the basic jump-and-pop game (the first kind of game in Circus Atari), there are other variations that are waiting to be played. My favorite of these extra variations is having blocks right under the balloons. This variation makes Circus Atari more challenging since you must get the clown past these ''solid as a rock'' blocks in order to reach the balloons. This will take better 'aiming' and skill on your part.
There are also other variations, such as having those sturdy blocks scroll across the screen. There's not an ending to Circus Atari. There is just the everlasting challenge of seeing how high of a score you can rack up, which is more than enough of a reason to play.
The graphics that Circus Atari possesses are colorful and well done for an early Atari 2600 title. The background just consists of a shade of blue (which happens to be my favorite color by the way), the balloons are colorful and very, um, square, and the rest of the graphics (the numbers that represent your score, the trampolines, the seesaw, and the clowns) are fairly basic. But that's not to say that they look bad, cause they really don't. I especially like the clowns. They are just stick figures, but they're lively and they provide some classic laughs no matter how many times you see them.
The sounds aren't bad either. There are not that many sounds included other than the bursting of balloons, the clowns bouncing on the trampolines and seesaws, and the sound of going SPLAT! However, even though there's not much of a variety in the sound department, I've always liked the sounds that are included. My favorites are the ones it makes when you earn an extra life, and of course, the going splat sound.
To make a long story full of great memories short, Circus Atari is a must have for major fans of Atari 2600 games. It's one of the most enjoyable titles available, and the fun never runs out of it. Trust me, I know because I've been playing it as long as I can remember; it was one of the first games I ever played, and it's still just as fun to play now as it was the very first time. It's especially fun to play head to head against somebody else in a two-player game in any of the variations. So if you're in the process of building your Atari 2600 collection, don't forget to pick up Circus Atari!
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 04/03/01, Updated 03/22/03
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