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Circus Atari - The Atari Times

Circus Atari

"Splat" goes the world (or the clown, when you miss him)
by Darryl Brundage

April 5, 2005
Here's a review of Atari 2600 Breakout-Type Game #27! Yep, there were a lot of Breakout games for the 2600: Breakout, Super Breakout, Off the Wall, Fireball, Canyon Bomber (which goes under the Breakout category, in my opinion), Warlords (sort of), etc., and who knows how many others I'm forgetting as I write this.

It's strange that, with how much of an impact video games have had on my life, that one thing I never knew until only a couple of years ago is that, rather than Home Video Game Company A paying a fortune (usually) to make a home version of a hit arcade game (Defender, Asteroids, Reactor, Donkey Kong, etc.), some companies creating the home games would pay Arcade Company B a smaller amount of money (rather than a straight up, much more expensive official game license) for Home Company A to make a *similar* product, but not so much for an exact version of an arcade game so that Arcade Company B would sue them for it. This explains a lot, if you ask me, like King Kong being a crappy (in my opinion) version of Donkey Kong, possibly Apollo giving Activision some money for their even funnier version of Kaboom! with Lost Luggage, etc.

I think this also explains the hypocritical Atari from their early days, who would sue companies left and right (temper temper) for supposedly infringing on their home versions of games -- Imagic for their Intellivision version of Demon Attack, which Atari alleged that they got pooped on with their exclusive version of Phoenix, Magnavox for their Odyssey2 game K. C. Munchkin being like Pac-Man, etc. -- yet Atari also created the 2600 games of Dodge 'em, which was pretty much exactly like the old arcade game Head On, and there was an arcade game called Circus, where you controlled a moving platform to enable two circus acrobats to bounce around the screen and pop balloons (sound familiar?), and they even had the gall to name that version Circus *Atari*. Yep, I'll bet that money changed hands from Atari to Circus creator Exidy for their lawyers to look the other way when Circus Atari came out (hmmm, maybe in *this* version you're not actually going after balloons, but maybe dollar bills that float on the screen, since they ARE square anyway, which comes somewhat closer to resembling the shape of a dollar bill, rather than a balloon as it is, since balloons aren't square!).

Anyway, like I mentioned earlier, you control a movable seesaw (heh, and with our litigious society here in America nowadays, could you imagine the warning labels on those?! CAUTION: MOVING SEESAW WHILE UNDER NORMAL USAGE COULD RESULT IN SERIOUS INJURY OR DEATH. Have a nice day!) with a clown on it. Pressing the button on your paddle controller will launch another clown, and you must guide the seesaw underneath him so he'll land on the empty end of the seesaw so the other clown will bounce up towards the three rows of balloons that are scrolling throughout the entire width of the screen (which makes the game a bit more interactive than most of the other Breakout games that are out there for the 2600, since pressing the button during gameplay will cause your seesaw to change it's position, instantly relocating the clown to the other end).

On some game variations, once you destroy all of the balloons in a row, a new row will instantly appear, which makes it more difficult to completely destroy all three rows, especially those times where you're trying to nail that one last blasted balloon on the top row (which will earn you an extra clown on those variations), but then you accidentally hit the last balloon in the middle row, so an entirely new row of middle balloons appears, damn it.

So, you just constantly pop pop pop balloons throughout the game...unless a clown that is airborne lands on the end of the seesaw where the other clown is occupying, or the gravity-bound clown just flat-out misses the seesaw entirely, which he will then go splat on the ground, resembling a puddle that flails his arms around for a couple of seconds before disappearing...kind of like the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz. Oh well, it saves on funeral expenses, I suppose -- but not insurance claims, I'll bet -- plus the helium bill must be pretty huge at this particularly strange circus as well. (But, could you imagine what this death sequence would look like if this game were made TODAY?!  Eeyew, the mind boggles...and throws up: Circus Atrocity, it would be called...)

Circus Atari has eight minor variations, which toggle between an airborne clown (who I hope took Dramamine before he started doing this act, and I feel sorry for his partner below) who will either bounce back once he pops a balloon to games where he can pass through several rows of balloons, having moving barriers in between you and the balloons (annoying) and screens that do not "restore" a line of balloons once you pop them: you must pop EVERY single balloon on the screen before the screen will refresh. (These variations should be avoided [in my opinion] unless you have a LOT of patience and/or want a challenge.)

This is a fun game, with a pause before you must launch a new clown, and Circus Atari can be potentially long-playing if you're good at games of this genre, but it has HORRIBLE sound: supposedly popping the balloons results in a sound effect that sounds like a cross between some kind of grinding machine and someone who was recorded eating a crunchy salad with a microphone about an inch away from his cheek, and then having the soundbite (pardon the pun) run through a harmonizer; I've never heard of balloons "popping" sounding like this in my entire life, it seems more likely that they're being devoured whole. However, the short musical piece whenever you earn a new clown is pretty decent.

I'm not rating this game really high, though, since there's nothing that speeds up the action or ramps up the difficulty levels, but it's basically a pretty solid game, even with it's simple, fairly bland graphics, but the game also possesses decent controls, at least.

What the hey, sometimes simple is good, especially if you still play games on a modern gaming console, getting the best of both worlds: a decent, complex, huge game with amazing graphics and long-term replayability (we hope!) that is light years beyond anything the 2600 could come anywhere close of producing... but that's after taking possibly weeks of going through it's 500 page instruction book first. However, Circus Atari is sheer simplicity and takes no time to learn, and isn't hard to find nowadays due to it's popularity.

Plus it never gets old watching a clown bite the dust. This has got to be THE only game that I can think of on any platform where I don't get mad whenever I lose a life. :)

Circus Atari

(c) Atari

Gee, with a name like 'Circus Atari' could anyone else hold the copyright?
Atari was always the innovator. Check out the SQUARE balloons!
Circus Atari
System: 2600
Publisher: Atari
Genre: Action
Graphics Score: 45%
Sound & Music Score: 30%
Gameplay Score: 88%
Control Score: 100%

Final Score: 75%

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