Not your father’s Circus Atari
Circus Atari was released for the Atari 2600 in 1981. A port of the mid-70s arcade game Circus, it offered nothing more than slight graphical improvements. Atari recently released a game on iOS under the same name, leading myself and others to assume it was a remake of some sort. It’s not. It’s a different game that’s “based on” the original. Pretty weird, right?
Like its predecessor, Circus Atari is an incredibly simplistic game. Unlike its predecessor, well, just about everything else. Where the original game had you busting as many balloons as possible Breakout-style, this new version requires you to fly upwards as far as possible, with the aid of items like balloons (hey, that’s similar!) and cannons (hey, that’s not similar!).
In lieu of virtual buttons, Circus Atari is played by tilting your device. It’s incredibly sensitive, making the game difficult in all the wrong ways. Cannons, for example, are very finicky about how you land in them. There were several occasions where it looked like I fell directly into one, only to realize I was off by an extremely negligible amount. Things got easier the longer I spent with the game, but I ultimately felt like I was battling against a very touchy control scheme.
Upon missing a cannon or balloon, players have the option of launching a safety net. This is where in-app purchases come into play. The game provides you with five nets to start with, but you have to fork over coins to get more. Those very coins are scattered throughout the game, but the option to purchase them also exists. One net costs 500 coins, an amount I managed to collect every 4-5 turns.
Truthfully, players more adept than I should be able to collect them much quicker. And let’s hope they can, because there are additional characters like “Hippie Clown” and “Convict Clown” in need of purchasing. As if coulrophics (those with a fear of clowns) didn’t have enough to worry about, this game decided it would be a good idea to bring convicted ones into the mix. Thanks, Atari!
Somewhat to the game’s credit, it takes no more than a few seconds to understand how to play. Of course, that’s mostly due to the fact that there have been so many games like it in the past. The App Store is filled with endless ascension games of varying quality and ambition, and Circus Atari fails to go above and beyond (cannot even tell you how intended this pun was) what we’ve already seen. It tries to feel fresh, with the aid of power-ups like the coin magnet, but it doesn’t manage to pull it off.
This mediocrity extends beyond just gameplay. Circus Atari‘s graphics, though plenty fine from a technical standpoint, lack any sort of artistic direction. There’s the requisite circus background, and of course the clowns, but it all just looks kind of… dated. The game could have benefited quite a bit from any sort of visual hook, be it retro-influenced or otherwise.
All told, Circus Atari is an uninspired game that attempts to coast by on a name that holds a decent level of recognition with gamers from the 80s. The potential was there for Atari to take a chance and experiment a bit, but instead we have a game that suffers from being similar to too many other games. This is coming from the perspective of someone who’s played quite a few endless ascension titles, meaning the game may possess a certain level of charm to people a little less familiar with the genre.
Unless they suffer from coulrophobia. That could be kind of a problem.