When I was a little boy I always wanted to run away and join the circus. In retrospect I can’t imagine why. Clowns are scary, elephants smell, and don’t even get me started about the man-eating lions. But despite my grown-up dislike of the circus, Circus Marcus for the iPhone reminded me that there’s still some fun to be had under the big top.
Circus Marcus offers up a small collection of mini-games that make good use of the iPhone’s accelerometer (that’s a big word for tilt-thingy) and touch sensitive screen. There are five games in all, and each manages to feel unique and original despite their similar big top theme.
Of these five, the three that focus on the iPhone’s tilt function are handstand, tight rope walking, and a unique little catching game called Ele-Vator. Handstand has Marcus trying his best to keep his balance. As he starts to teeter to one side or the other, you’ll need to tilt the iPhone to straighten him out. Tight rope walking in somewhat similar, but in this game you’ll be trying to guide Marcus across a piece of rope at a death-defying height. Occasionally there will be obstacles on the rope, and you’ll need to quickly shake your iPhone in an upward motion to jump over them. You’ll also be able to control Marcus’ speed on the tight rope by tilting the device forward slightly.
Ele-Vator is the strangest inclusion, and it’s not terribly fun or a very good fit for a circus title. Of the five included mini-games this is the only one that didn’t seem to make sense. Objects like stuffed animals and beach balls will fall from the sky, and Marcus will need to stack them as they’re falling. To do this you’ll tilt the iPhone left and right to add items on top of the stack your building. Every now and then a bomb will fall, and if you catch it you’ll lose a big chunk of your progress. It’s not very fun, the tilting doesn’t move Marcus as quickly as it needs to, and it just doesn’t fit with the circus theme. I have a hard time believing they couldn’t think of a fifth circus event to include in lieu of Ele-Vator, but that seems to be the case.
The remaining two games use the iPhone’s touch capabilities instead of tilt – a smart choice, since it adds even more variety to the gameplay than what we’ve seen so far. The first event to use touch is easily the one I enjoyed the most in Circus Marcus; Human Cannon Bowling. Marcus climbs into a cannon, just waiting to be shot out at giant bowling pins. It’s up to you to aim the cannon with your finger and choose the power you think you’ll need to get a strike.
The other touch sensitive event is the flying trapeze, an old circus favourite (unless you’re one of the Flying Graysons). You’ll swipe a finger to jump, swipe it again to perform a trick, and pinch and release the screen to perform even more complicated skyjinks. The real challenge here is getting your timing right. If you’re in the middle of a trick when it’s time to catch, or if you try to jump before you reach the right height, you’re going to end your performance down in the net below – a shameful sight.
For the most part we really enjoyed the five mini-games that made up Circus Marcus – we just wish there could have been more. Circus Marcus is indeed a pretty slim offering. The story mode just cycles these five events over and over, and bonus modes simply let you play Ele-Vator and flying trapeze endlessly. Well, almost only. There’s also Pin-Sanity, which offers up 9 new (and fun) layouts for Human Cannon Bowling.
It’s a fun game, but it’s also too light on content to really be worth recommending. The mini-games, while enjoyable, get repetitive fairly quickly. We’re not saying you shouldn’t buy it – just don’t expect to sink more than an hour of your life into this app before wiping from your iPhone for good.