Reviewed by John Sweeney 


Issue 24

Nov/Dec 86

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When did you last have a good argument with your computer? No, it's not quite as bad as Hitchhiker - this one admits when it's been lying to you! But now, not only can you argue with the computer, you can even argue with some of the characters in the game! Try approaching the EGRESS (carefully!), or getting some straw, or asking the guard about the kidnapped girl - I haven't had so much fun in ages.

Excellent! Superb! Sublime! Magnificent! Intelligent! Mind-boggling! Hilarious! Challenging! Magical! Frustrating! (Need I say more? Why haven't you bought a copy yet? What? No disk drive? Go and buy one immediately!)

Within seconds of starting the game, as I balanced precariously on a tightrope, I was already chortling to myself at the text scrolling up the screen. It is so much fun to play an Infocom game. You type things in and it responds. The amount of text inside the game is amazing, and the tortuosity of the minds of the Infocom storytellers, who have thought of clever, amusing, and misleading responses to some of the most ridiculous and irrelevant things that you could possibly type in, is, quite incredible. (You may have guessed by now, probably just by counting the superlatives, that I think this is a rather good game!)

The game is classed by Infocom as being of their Standard Level, which does NOT mean it is easy! It is by a newcomer to their fold, by the name of Jeff O'Neill, who seems to have as devious a mind as the rest of them. Using their superb game systems and support teams he has produced an excellent adventure. Lots of interesting things to try, lots of puzzles and lots of very logical solutions - at least they are when you look back on them and wonder how on earth you couldn't have worked out what was going on sooner!

The game is set in a circus. The show is over. You are hanging around the lot when you overhear the circus owner telling a detective that his daughter has been kidnapped. You start investigating. Much later, when you find the detective unconscious (dead drunk, to be slightly more accurate) and you realise that you are completely on your own in a hostile world, surrounded by unfriendly performers and savage animals. But like all good Infocom games, clues are to be found all around you - if only you can recognise them! You will of course succeed in rescuing the young girl, providing that you can master several circus skills, but even then your troubles will not be over. Things go disastrously wrong at the last minute and you will find yourself forced to attempt one last death-defying feat. And just when you REALLY think it is all over... But I mustn't spoil your fun!

The packaging is as usual superb - you get your very own circus program, ticket, balloon (you have to provide the helium, unfortunately), and trade card advertising Dr. Nostrum's Prehydrated Genuine Preparation of Naturally Nitrated Compound Herbified Extract (gets rid of Pin Worms by paralyzing them, gets rid of detectives by making them dead drunk, and also useful for cleaning the trim on caravans! - if you manage to get hold of a bottle, then whatever you do, don't drink it!).

The only slightly disconcerting thing about Ballyhoo, apart from the fact that it doesn't understand the word JOIN - I suppose the Americans don't use it in the same way as we do? - is the way that the game moves forward. The laws of cause and effect appear to have been slightly bent! For instance, when I first found the detective lying dead drunk on the ground, I backtracked a bit (by RESTOREing) to discover how he got there. I eventually deduced that it was my success at befriending the gorilla (worth 10 points) which had caused him to appear there. But next time I played through the game from the start, doing various things in a different sequence, he didn't appear there! The previous three Infocom Mystery Adventures all have clocks ticking away in the corner of the screen - one minute for every move you make - and the events of the story are dictated by the passage of time. In Ballyhoo there is no clock to race against, you can spend as much time as you wish solving most problems. It is only when you gain certain points that time is deemed to have passed. And some events, like finding a drunken detective, are dependant upon your gaining multiple sets of points, regardless of sequence. Quite effective once you get used to it, and certainly a lot easier than racing against the clock all the time!

Expert or beginner, you are guaranteed to get a lot out of Ballyhoo. Infocom have proved yet again that a thousand words is worth far, far more than a picture.

P.S. Watch out for the shaggy lion - he's mean!