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June 2021

The Amazing American Circus

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Klabater
Developer: Juggler Games
Release Date: May 20, 2021


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Switch/PS5/PS4/XSX/XOne/PC Preview - 'The Amazing American Circus'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on March 22, 2021 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

The Amazing American Circus is a unique blend of a card game, tycoon, and an adventure game.

Circuses are understandably not as popular these days. Folks aren't as interested in seeing animals that have been forced to do tricks. (Creepy clowns aren't a hot commodity, either.) There's still something engaging about the idea of a circus, a traveling band of skilled individuals venturing across the land to perform. The Amazing American Circus aims to capture that particular feeling, combined with some charmingly modern gameplay. We had some hands-on time with the demo, and what we saw was pretty interesting.

The premise is that you're the ringmaster of a circus, and your goal is to travel across America in the late 1800s. You venture from town to town, making money, hiring new talent, and most importantly, putting on shows. The full game promises to have a plotline involving famous people of the era, but our demo gave us a brief taste of the gameplay experience.

Actual performances play out in a collectible card game much like Slay the Spire and its ilk. You choose three performers from your stable, each with a set of cards, and you send them out to face hecklers who are trying to ruin the show. There are some notable differences from Slay the Spire in that your deck is made up of randomly drawn cards from each of the three characters. Some cards can work for any character, while others focus on a specific one. For example, the juggler can buff themselves with additional balls being thrown, which can later be spent on powerful attacks. The strongman is effectively the party tank and can buff his own or his friends' defenses against heckling.

Each performer's goal is to impress the audience before the audience causes them enough stress to give up. Stress functions as the performer's HP, while Impression is the audience members' HP, and most cards interact with each other. If a performer's stress gets too high, they end up having to Exile a card from their deck, reducing the number of potential actions you can take. In addition, each performer takes stress damage every time you shuffle the deck, so you need to be aggressive to succeed. You win if you can impress every audience member.

Cards have multiple effects. As mentioned, some cards can add Impression or buff characters, and most cards also have a "Star" number. Playing a card adds its star count to your special performance meter. When the meter is full, you can call out a powerful special performance. Difficult enemies pretty much require this, since your default damage isn't high enough. One heckler, the mine foreman, heals himself for 15 every few turns, so you need to plan a proper set of cards timed with a special performance to take him down. It isn't as simple as each card boosting your star power, though. Some cards are weak but give massive star boosts, some give no boost at all, and some of the strongest cards actually reduce your power, so you're trading short-term gain for a longer charge.

It's a neat system, and the preview build is interesting. There are different recruitable classes, and even within those classes, each character has a distinct set of cards. Furthermore, the characters can be upgraded to make them better at performances. The downside is that different areas have different preferences, and what people like in the Old West won't be so popular in a big city. We didn't get enough time to get a feel for how the long-term game will play out, but there's a lot of potential here.

The big show is only part of the whole. Your overall goal is to collect fame and money, and to do so, you'll need to engage in a neat little tycoon-style game outside of the performances. You'll be able to hire and train, set up advertising, and more. There are a lot of locked-down features in the demo build, but what we've seen looks awfully neat, including a mysterious voodoo shop and a "freak show." To succeed, you'll need to be good at the cards and managing your talent.

The Amazing American Circus looks like an interesting take on the deck-builder genre. The team-based card battles remind me of Steamworld: Quest, and the tycoon-building elements add a new layer that usually isn't present in Slay the Spire-type adventures. It's a combination of the addictive card-building gameplay and circus management. The Kickstarter campaign was successfully funded, so we're looking forward to seeing the full game when it launches on May 20, 2021.

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