Review: Circus Atari Is Hardly the Greatest Show On Earth (iPad/iOS)

It’s fun in a certain way, but nowhere near as charming as the 1970’s original.

Atari has been digging into its classic catalog as of late for a new generation of games.  A few months back, it brought out the entertaining Asteroids Gunner, a twist on its rock-shooting classic from the 80’s.  And just recently, it broke out the old ball-and-paddle for Breakout Boost, complete with new modes and features.  Now another classic gets a remake, and this time it’s Circus Atari.  A game that originally started out on the Atari 2600 as a humorous collaborative effort, where you had to balance two people on a bouncing see-saw as they collected balloons, it has since been turned into a variation of Doodle Jump for the iPad.  While that’s bound to entertain a few folks, I can’t help but think what might’ve been had Atari taken the development in a different direction.

In the new version of Circus Atari, you’re guiding a heroic clown as he shoots out of a cannon and continuously works his way upward in a level, using launching pads and other surfaces to push himself upward, collecting coins and avoiding obstacles while he does it.  As a safety measure, you’re given a number of nets that you can activate, should you miss an object, which bounces you back into play.  In pure microtransaction fashion, you can buy additional nets using real money.  (Considering the game is free to begin with, it’s not that big a deal.)

I do like how Atari was able to take a classic theme like Circus Atari and make it work on the Doodle Jump-style front, but the controls aren’t quite perfect.  Rather than guiding the on-screen character with the touch screen, you have to tilt your device in order to get them to sway left and right.  That wouldn’t be so bad if the controls weren’t so touchy, as sometimes you can drift a little too much, even if you’re just slightly tilting your device.  An alternative control option would’ve been good here.

There really isn’t much to the game outside of that, other than seeing how your score fared and trying to get a better one.  For some people, that will be enough, but I’m disappointed at how Atari didn’t even bother to touch on the original game.  It’s not included here at all – not as a mini-game, not as an unlockable extra, nothing.  And it’s ridiculously fun, especially if you’re got a friend who’s in one of those unpredictable moods.  Will he save you, will he not save you…that sort of thing.  That fun is completely missing from this reconfigured version, and it makes me a sad clown.

The presentation is okay, but hardly worth writing home about.  The visuals show a decent amount of circus splendor in the backdrops and design, and the on-screen clown is charming in his own little way.  However, the music repeats way too often, or sometimes drops out completely.  Either way, it’s off.

Circus Atari, for a free app, could’ve been a lot worse, given the state of most sloppy apps that make their way to Apple’s store these days.  But considering the roots of where the game came from to begin with, it also could’ve been a lot more inspired.  Maybe the next Atari revamp will see that.  Maybe.


Original game....

Actually, it originally started out as an arcade game by Exidy called Circus. The 2600 game was a direct copy.