I just can’t swing it

CarneyVale

HIGH Its stylish aesthetic is well-realized

LOW The frustrating latter half of the game

WTF Could those rockets be any more uncomfortable to control?


CarneyVale: Showtime is a port of a 2008 Xbox Live Arcade game about flinging a ragdoll circus performer through deadly airborne labyrinths while collecting balloons and rare stars. Slinky, the main character, propels himself by swinging between grapple points in the air and using centrifugal force to fling himself to the next point on his way.

The first thing that stood out about CarneyVale was its striking Cirque du Soleil-style carnival setting. It is celebratory, death-defying, and vaguely sinister in a way that this type of carnival is, and the music and visuals reinforce the fact that Slinky is constantly battling against gravity for daredevil appeal.

Each level has five challenges to complete: finishing the level, collecting all of the balloons, collecting the level’s hidden star, completing the level under the given time limit, and completing the level without taking a single hit. Though the first half of the game’s areas were easy enough for me to fully ace in one go, many of the later areas caused me to prioritize which challenges I intended to finish and make decisions on the fly.

The game is quite short, but I actually usually prefer a few well-designed levels that can be replayed in a variety of ways. The problem is, I don’t feel like the levels were always that well-designed in CarneyVale.

The first of my frustrations came from levels that introduced fire hazards to be avoided. I like that this reinforces the notion of being a death-defying carnival daredevil, but on more than one occasion the fire hazards were put juuuuust a bit too close to the grapple points. I’m not sure whether this was a miscalculation of how far the ragdoll limbs reach or just a cruel design decision, but it proved tiresome at least a handful of times throughout the game.

Worse, there was at least one instance of a rotating fire trap being off-screen from my previous grapple point, meaning that I had to time my fling based on … intuition? Dumb luck? The game gave me no way of knowing whether I was launching myself into safety or danger, which is vital information when one of the level’s five challenges is getting through the level unhurt.

To make it even more annoying, Slinky doesn’t just pass through the fire as one would expect. Slinky collides with the fire as if it were a physical object, killing his vital momentum and sometimes causing two or three hits while I scrambled for ways to get unstuck from the fire.

Later in the game Slinky will encounter rideable rockets, and their controls leave a lot to be desired. Though controlling the rockets’ trajectories with the iPhone’s gyroscope seems like a no-brainer, it is puzzlingly dysfunctional. There’s a sizable delay and a pretty massive dead zone when turning the phone, meaning that players have to make extreme movements in advance of when they want the rocket to actually turn, which usually means a lot of overcorrecting and smashing into walls.

What’s worse, there are no alternate control schemes for the rockets, meaning that players with limited mobility or those who require their play device to be mounted will be unable to progress any further in the game. Similarly, there’s no colorblind mode. The visual design is quite busy, and without seeing the vibrant colors, necessary details may not be obvious. It doesn’t seem like there was much thought put into making the game playable by differently-abled audiences.

My complaints aside, the game did have some rather brilliant touches. The critical path through each level is marked with sporadic arrows, making each one a reassuring encouragement that I was on the right track. Also, when a star is not visible from the critical path, there was often a hazy yellow mist that subtly pulls the player’s attention in the direction of the secret—a very intelligent design decision.

Overall, CarneyVale Showtime offers striking presentation and promising core gameplay which is let down by some questionable design decisions, sometimes-poor controls, and a lack of accessibility options. The balloon-hunting completionist in me enjoyed the first half of the game, swinging through the air and chasing down collectables, but even I grew a bit weary of the latter portion. A three-ring circus this ain’t. Rating: 5 out of 10

 

Disclosures: This game was developed by the Singapore MIT-GAMBIT Game Lab and published by Appxplore. Code was obtained via the publisher and reviewed on the iPhone. Approximately 2.5 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

 Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E and contains: comic mischief. I would not have any concerns over the appropriateness of this content for people of any age.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing: The audio is nonessential here—it plays just as well without audio.

Remappable controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable, and its controls may prove to be restrictive for players with disabilities.

Colorblind modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

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