Atari User

By Infocom
Atari 400/800/600XL/800XL/130XE

Published in Atari User #16


What connection is there between a sucker, an Annie Oaklet and a First of May? All those who shouted, "Circus!" give yourself a cuddly toy. To put the rest of you in the picture, a sucker is a circus-goer, an Annie Oakley is a ticket and a First of May is a novice circus performer.

Now the only reason I happen to be knowledgeable about circus lingo is because I've been playing Ballyhoo, Infocom's latest standard level text adventure. In Ballyhoo, all the action takes place in a circus where the shabbiness of this particular big top is matched only by the seediness of the performers.

Loitering after the show was over, I managed to eavesdrop on a conversation between the circus owner, Munrab (try spelling it backwards), and a private detective. It seems that Chelsea, the owner's daughter, has been kidnapped and might have been stashed somewhere on the circus lot. Since the gumshoe appears to be about as competent as Clouseau, I decided upon a little sleuthing of my own.


The adventure is full of fun and originality and I got to meet many interesting characters. For instance, there is Tina, a lady so fat she occupies two locations at once! When I tried to get a little closer to her massive bulk, I was told, "The slope's too steep!"

There is more to Comrade Thumb, a diminutive russian, and the inaptly named Chuckles, a surly clown, then first meets the eye while a visit to Andrew Jenny (half man, half woman) proves a most confusing experience. And having my bumps felt, palm read and being placed in a hypnotic trance by Rimshaw the Incomparable are not things I shall forget in a hurry either.

Then there are the animals. Fancying my chances as a lion tamer, I stepped boldly into the lion's cage to put them through their paces. Exit stage right, ripped to pieces but somewhat wiser. Maybe there was better luck to be had with Mahler, the fearsome gorilla. The question was - should I enter his cage wearing that ridiculous gorilla costume I'd found lying about?

Drawing a veil over my experiences with Mahler, I turned to my exploits as a high-wire artist. Here I had the opportunity to excel - and would have done if some roustabout hadn't removed the safety net when I wasn't looking. Result - back again to being the human platypus in one of the sideshows.

The mystery and danger intrinsic to the plot of Ballyhoo is well-seasoned with wit and humour. I particularly enjoyed an encounter with the Egress - a rare but ferocious mammal - and, elsewhere, being able to vent my feelings during the moment between doing something painful and actually feeling the pain.

Yes, Infocom has done it again. Ballyhoo is a superb adventure, full of intrigue, originality and intelligent humour. Don't miss it.

Bob Chappell

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