The CarneyVale Showtime Must Go On!

Review of CarneyVale Showtime on XBLIG: Buy
A game that defies description as it does gravity, CarneyVale Showtime is one act you don’t want to miss!

CarneyVale Showtime is a… well I’m not quite sure what it is.  I have never played nor seen a game like it before.  The developers describe it as a “vertical ragdoll platform” game, which probably doesn’t clear anything up. 

The game starts with a simple idea and builds as the levels progress.  Slinky is a circus acrobat just getting his big tent start.  Each performance he is launched from a cannon and tries to work his way up to the ring of fire at the top.  Instead of controlling Slinky directly, I control spinning grapple hooks that reach out and grab Slinky when he is near.  Once grappled, the hook spin Slinky faster and faster, until I release the hook and send Slinky flying through the air (with the greatest of ease).

Each performance acts as a level, and has five goals.  Reach the ring of fire, collect all the balloons, beat the time goal, find the secret star, and make a perfect run.  Balloons are generally along the path to the ring of fire and not hard to collect.  The time goal is pretty relaxed and easy to beat.  The secret star can take some exploration to find, but there are generally clues in the form of sparkly clouds to tell you the direction to look.  Making a perfect run is challenging on the later levels, but there is no requirement to meet all goals in a single pass and missed goals can be achieved in a second or third attempt.

As goals are met, Slinky earns stars.  Stars are used to unlock titles, and also use to unlock concept art from the game’s development.  In addition to stars there are other trophies and awards granted for select accomplishments such as getting all stars in levels 1 – 9.  These awards mimic Xbox Live Achievements and give reason to playing previous levels a second time.

The graphics in CarneyVale Showtime have a cartoonish touch to them and work well with the circus theme.  The music is pretty and melodic, and doesn’t become annoying or repetitive.  During a performance, an announcer makes comments anytime Slinky completes a special trick.  Superlatives are proclaimed such as “High Flyer” for tossing Slinkly really high, “Balloon Basher” for popping several balloons in a single toss, and “Terminal Velocity” for… well, falling really fast.

As Slinky works his way to bigger and bigger performances he unlocks new abilities.  These include being able to reverse the grapple hooks direction, boost himself mid air to a side or straight up, and bounce of special walls.  The levels themselves also get more interesting, with electrified blocks, flaming bars, and walls you can knock down.  Slinky can use all his learned abilities on previous levels, so going back late in the game makes it easy to pick up missed stars.

CarneyVale Showtime provides a lot of playtime: this is one game that will require multiple sessions to complete even if skipping the extras.  The high levels require thinking of new ways to use existing abilities, and I found every level to present a good challenge.  I was able to complete all of the normal levels, but find myself stuck on the first bonus level.  This level requires mastery of wall jumping and that is the one ability I can not perform consistently.  I’m sure however after a break I will come back and complete the final bonus levels.

I give CarneyVale Showtime a must Buy.  This is a game that blurs the line between Xbox Live Indie Games and Xbox Live Arcade.  As if the game itself wasn’t enough, CarneyVale Showtime includes a level builder for creating your own performances for Slinky.  CarneyVale Showtime has gone on to make appearances Games for Windows and Windows Phone 7, but I recommend playing it where it all started on the Xbox 360.

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