Review by Psycho Penguin

"It's a caper in a circus!"

For Christmas one year, I wanted my mom to get me either Super Mario Brothers 2 or Double Dragon 2. You know, a simple decision, they both have 2 after them, etc.

She got me Circus Capers.

Despite this major goof on her part, I soon realized she got me a terrific game anyways. Despite the fact it really has a lot in common with other NES platformers (as you will soon see), the game feels unique enough to be fun and interesting. The game features 6 unique and action packed stages, good graphics, a kicking soundtrack, and a unique weapons system that made the game seem more unique than it actually was. Oh, and the game also has one of the most entertaining and distracting mini games ever. This truly is a unappreciated gem.

However, the gem could have used some polishing when it comes to storyline. The game has one of those ''save the sister/daughter/queen/princess/female elephant'' storylines that 99.9 percent of NES platformers featured. Your name is Timmy, and you decide to take your sister on a trip to the circus. It starts off pleasant, until you get there. Then, the SLEDGEHAMMER OF PLOT comes into play. The ticket master says the circus is sold out. Dejected, Timmy and Judy go to leave when a clown tells them they can earn their way into the circus. All they have to do is roll dice, and they roll this dice correctly, so the clown lets them in. But shockingly, only Judy is allowed. Timmy decides to let her go, and soon his worst fears are realized. He waits for Judy after the show, and she's nowhere to be seen. Enter the evil Mr. Magic, who has his kidnapped Judy, and now you must save her!

You have to complete six dangerous and action packed stages in order to rescue Judy. Each stage is unique and filled with enemies and unique challenges to overcome, but there's one major flaw. The stages seem too out of place for a circus game, in one stage you are in a circus, then a few stages later you're in a backstage like area with flowery hats which turns out to be a maze. It really made no sense whatsoever. Plus, once you think about it, the stages aren't terribly unique, as they all require you to do the same thing. Sometimes platformers don't have to be too innovative, though, and Circus Capers is just a fun game to play through. That's what pushes it over the top in my mind, and the fact the game doesn't have a variety of objectives is not a devastating thing.

Enemies will also be featured in these stages, as well, although not to the point that they became overbearingly challenging. Some of the enemies are smart (they actually use weapons in this one, so watch out), but some of them are kind of stupid. I especially did not get the design of the clowns early on in the first stage - they're standing upside down. Why would clowns who are trying to kill a six year old boy want to stand upside down? For challenge? That always struck me as kind of odd.

The game doesn't rely on enemies for the stage designs, though. Timmy gets to use a wide variety of weapons in this one, ranging from a soccer ball to a brick block, and he gets to switch around them at will in an attempt to complete the stages. Until he gets weapons, he can kill enemies by slowly punching, or kicking them. When he gets weapons, he can use them to kill the enemies, but he only gets a certain amount of uses of certain ones. Some weapons are included in the game just to help you to complete a stage - early on in stage 1, you have to place a brick or two in order to jump up to the next part of the level, for instance. This made the game feel pretty unique, fun, and fresh.

The thing that really pushed the game over the top for me, though, was the mini game featured early in stage one. You get to control Timmy and a bear, and you have to make jumps over fire that scroll from left to right. You get timed, and you have to survive the full 80 seconds to win. You also get a counter to keep track of how much jumps you make. This is also an extremely challenging aspect of the game, as the fire likes to move faster and faster as you get the timer lower and lower, and actually completing the mini game is something I rarely did as a child. It sure was addicting, though.

Of course, the mini game would have sucked if Timmy didn't control well, and he actually controls pretty well.. in the mini game. Once he gets into the actual game, he suddenly becomes slow, and cannot grasp the concept of punching or jumping in a speed that is faster than a snail. He punches really slowly and can only extend a certain amount. Plus, making some tight jumps can prove to be difficult. However, in the game's fairness, the kid is only six, so asking him to jump like he's a track and field superstar might have been overpushing it a tad. Of course, the game does have enemies that stand upside down, so who knows?

Accompanying the decent controls are a decent array of graphics that won't amaze you, but they certainly get the job done. The backgrounds are certainly well varied and very unique. Each stage has its own unique look to it, and you get several different areas in each stage that manage to blend together quite well. The enemy designs are somewhat subpar, especially early in the game, but they pick up late in the game. The major problem here is that Timmy animates quite poorly, and combining that with the controls is a recipe for disaster, which thankfully the game managed to avoid.

The music is actually a lot better than the graphics, though. I really enjoyed the kiddy sound of the first few stages, and felt they got the emotion of a circus game down perfectly. The mini-game song is addicting and will be stuck in your head for the rest of your life (or maybe I'm a freak for actually remembering the song to this day, who knows?), and the stage music is pretty varied. The last stage's song is a tad off, as I didn't like the beat to it, but it was still an okay attempt. The sound effects are not spectacular, and you won't hear them much throughout the game, so at least they never have a chance to annoy you.

Nothing will really annoy you about Circus Capers, and that's why it's a pretty replayable game. Sure, the game itself is kind of replayable, due to the fact it's so fun, and you'll love the weapon-based aspects of it. The stage designs are fun and varied, but the lack of secrets and short length of the game definitely hurt. So, why was I so addicted to this game as a kid? Simple, the damn fire jumping mini game. It is seriously one of the most addicting things I have ever played, and the challenge level of it really helped to increase the replay value of not only the mini game itself, but the entire game.

The fire jumping mini game is really the only challenging part of this otherwise easy game, however. I'm sure you weren't actually expecting a game called Circus Capers that has a kiddy cover to actually be a serious challenge, and it's not. However, some of the later stages could be tough at first, due to not only the frequency of enemies, but due to the fact they become mazes. It's very easy to get lost, and will take skill to get out of them. So, the game is easy, but it takes some time to figure out how to complete the last few stages. You won't see Game Over a whole lot, though.

You will see a lot of things in this game, though. Like how much fun it happens to be, or how addicting a mini game is, or how unique the game feels. Circus Capers tries somewhat hard to be a bad game at times, as the controls are mediocre and the stages are weird. But, the game just manages to be a whole lot of fun. Those expecting an epic quest through a land of castles can seek another game. This game is solely for those who want a pleasant hour or two-long experience through a surprisingly enjoyable game. It may prove to be forgettable, but for me, I'll always remember Circus Capers.

I was pissed off at my mom for getting me this game. All I can say now is... thanks mom.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 11/01/99, Updated 06/29/03

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