Review by discoinferno84

"I was your clown..."

Whatever happened to the circus? Were the elephants shipped back overseas? Have all the clowns gotten sick of their goofy antics and called it quits? Did the tightrope walker suddenly become afraid of heights? Is the giant circus tent folded up in some neglected storage building, slowly rotting away as the world of entertainment moves on? Apparently, “The Greatest Show on Earth” has become a pale shadow of its former self, showing off to crowds who seem to lessen with each passing year. With the advent of movies, television, and video games, people lost interest in this unsung aspect of the American culture. This generation has grown up without the clowns, the animals, the stunts, and everything else that made going to the circus one of the most fun moments in any person's life. Thankfully, Circus Atari won't let us forget the old pastime so easily.

In the center ring of this video circus, two lonely clowns continue to do their routine, even though the rest of their troupe has moved on to presumably greater things. They don't have any tiny cars, big red noses or anything else that signifies their outdated occupation. Instead, all they have is a basic seesaw and enough athletic ability to put any Olympian to shame. However, these world-class performers recognize that they can't entertain the crowd by stunts alone. Thankfully, the roof of their circus tent is lined with hundreds of balloons. Hoping that these tiny pixels of contained helium will help gain some crowd fervor, the dynamic duo must jump up and down on their teeter-totter, eventually gaining enough force and momentum to send them skyward and nabbing some gifts for the fans. However, even the greatest show on the Atari can't happen without help. You'll have to assist the clowns in making their routine a success.

You'll start off the routine with one clown already on their makeshift catapult, while another waits for his cue to jump into action. As the stuntmen launch each other from their respective ends, they'll be thrown higher and higher into the circus tent, allowing for them to touch some of the coveted balloons and fall back down to Earth. And when they do come careening toward the bottom of the screen, you'll have to push the teeter-totter back and forth, hopefully catching the flying clown and sending the other into the heavens. They'll break through layer after layer of balloons, gaining fame and admiration from the crowd they work so hard to please. And as the heroes soar through the skies, they'll be able to snatch even more balloons and get you some well-deserved bonus points. When the top of the screen is finally free of any floating items, you'll start the game afresh, with even more portable helium to grab.

Despite risking life and limb for some balloons, the clowns have easiest role in the routine. While the duo are jumping around, you'll be working tirelessly making sure that the performance doesn't go awry. You won't have to do any announcing, show off with stunts, or anything else to make the crowd sit on the edge of their seats. Instead, you're in charge of positioning the teeter-totter, making sure that it's at the right place at the right time. When a clown falls down from his brief romp through the heavens, he'll have to land back on his respective end of the seesaw. How you move the seesaw will affect the outcome of the next jump, letting you angle the launches depending on where the clown lands. If he lands toward the center of the seesaw, his partner will only be thrown a limited distance. If he lands on the outer end, he'll send his friend flying high. However, this top class performance doesn't come with a safety net. If you happen to miss catching one of the clowns, he'll fall to a bloody, gory demise on the cold concrete of the circus floor.

Thankfully, the graphical limitations of the Atari 2600 don't let you see very much of the action. You'll get to miss out as the clown's poor body lies broken and bleeding, his bones sticking out of his flesh and his vital organs askew. Instead, you'll only observe a loud crunch, a tiny pool of blood and the shape of a mangled corpse. Considering that the clowns are only made up of a few colored pixels, this limited vision of a sad accident isn't such a bad thing. Their tent is comprised of two ledges on either side of the screen, allowing the places to jump and rebound in case you can't catch your clown in time. Three rows of balloons float overhead, their basic colors and blocky designs making them look more like bricks than child's playthings. And although the balloons are constantly on the move, their pretty colors do nothing to help the bland blue background of the tent walls. However, chances are you'll be spending too much time keeping your clowns alive to notice the boring setting.

I miss the circus. I miss walking into the tent, a bag of popcorn in one hand and soda in the other. I wish I could laugh at the clowns again, or watch in horror and fascination as the lion tamer sticks his head into a docile lion's mouth. Will we ever see the acrobats fly through the air again, or see the tightrope walker stroll casually along a wire suspended high in the air? Will “The Greatest Show on Earth” ever come back into the limelight, its star attractions centered in the American mainstream? Probably not. These days, we're all subject to countless forms of media, distracting us from some of the more traditional elements of entertainment. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, it prevents us from having experiences that previous generations have enjoyed the world over. However, Circus Atari stands proudly in the dated gaming library, a testament to both simplistic fun and a show that is nearly forgotten.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 02/28/05

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