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
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
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
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.
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.
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).
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.