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(c) 2000 James Burrows

  Review by
Steve Cooke
(The White Wizard)


Welcome to Game of the Week! Each week there will be a new featured game on this page. The game may be good, average or diabolically bad, it really doesn't matter! Just look at the pics, read the text and enjoy the nostalgia! :-) Game of the Week! is open to contributions so if you would like to contribute a game article for this page you're more than welcome to! Every article we receive will be considered!
1985 Infocom
By Jeff O'Neill
Most text of the present article comes from the review published in the fourteenth issue of the British C64 magazine ZZAP!64 (street date: May 8th, 1986).

Infocom, 25 plus VAT, disk only

he White Wizard sat at his trusty 64 in stunned silence as the world fell about his ears. Surely not . . . No, it couldn't be . . . You don't mean . . .

Yes, I'm afraid so. An era has passed, ladies and gentlemen. The Bearded One has finally come across an Infocom game that doesn't make the 90% league. But hold it right there! It's still in the eighties, and it costs a bit less than the other full-price Infocom gems at only 25 (excluding VAT). Will this be the first Infocom game you miss out on? Here's the news, so judge for yourself.

Ballyhoo is written by a relative newcomer to Infocom -- Jeff O' Neill, and it's his first Infocom offering. Perhaps we can therefore excuse him for not coming up with something of the standard we expect from, say, Steve Meretsky of Sorcerer fame. It's difficult to put ones finger on what exactly it is about Ballyhoo that doesn't quite engender the sparkle of earlier releases. The setting is ingenious -- a circus big-top, complete with surrounding out-houses, menageries, caravans, and a host of First of Mays, Joeys, roustabouts, and even a keister or two. Just in case that's got you foxed, I should explain that there's a crash course in authentic circus slang included with the game (along with your ticket, a balloon and an ad for Dr Nostrum's Extract).

Hanging around after the show, you just happen (you would, wouldn't you?) to hear the circus manager chewing the cud with a local private eye. The aforesaid cud is slightly muffled, but by hiding in the near vicinity of the gents in question you hear that Chelsea, the circus man's daughter, has gone missing. Fired with righteous indignation and an unhealthy desire to tickle the circus fat lady, you decide to look for the girl yourself.

There are some stunning locations. I don't recall when I last hung out inside a lions' cage, but I shan't be doing it again in a hurry. As to my visit (wearing a gorilla costume) to the gorilla cage -- well, the less said the better.

Puzzles range from the insignificant (dodging under the edge of tents to avoid paying admission) to the enormous (a fat lady so large, she takes up two whole locations). The difficulty is pitched just about right (Infocom call it 'standard' level), but there were one or two places where I felt that the Infocom magic was slipping slightly. Would you believe a spelling mistake (eek!)? And a case where the word 'bars' was interpreted as 'passage'? In any other game these would be par for the course -- and the course would be well run -- but in an Infocom game they stick out of the screen like an elephant in a pink tu-tu.

Apart from the teensy-weeniest little errors like these, there was something else about the game that didn't quite bowl me over. I don't know exactly what it was (perhaps I'm just not a circus fan), but somehow it seemed to lack some of that dreamy quality that gives other Infocom games their special quality and gripping atmosphere.

When I went back to the game after a pause for reflection, I found myself still harbouring faint blasphemous doubts. There's no doubt, however, that there's a lot of fun to be had nonetheless. I climbed up to the trapeze artists' nest, had my palm read by Rimshaw and toted the circus dwarf round a bit. All jolly good fun, but I didn't get very near to solving the mystery and there's obviously a good deal of gameplay here to give you your money's worth. Still, the doubts remain (though further play has alleviated them -- slightly).

No, really. I'm feeling quite embarrassed saying all this. By any normal standards the game is excellent -- but is it truly excellent by the standards that Infocom have set themselves? Of that I'm not convinced, but I'd be very interested to hear what other Ballyhooers have to say. In the meantime, I think I'd probably shell out the readies for this one -- but then for some of Infocom's other recent titles I'd shell out almost twice as much and still feel that I hadn't been ripped off.

Atmosphere 86%
Interaction 90%
Lasting Interest 91%

Value for Money




If you want a walkthrough, visit
Jacob Gunness
' Classic Adventures Solution Archive or
Martin Brunner's C64 Adventure Game Solutions Site

Htmlized by Dimitris Kiminas (5 Sep 2004)
There were no screenshots in the original review.

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