"When Capcom released its first game for the Genesis, I wanted to spit at the company for turning traitor. Capcom was Nintendo's homey. Everyone knew that. Things got even worse when they ported The Magical Adventure to the Genesis. The title was one of my favorites for the Super Nintendo, and I selfishly wanted to keep that joy to myself, out of the hands of the poor saps stupid enough to support the Genesis instead of Nintendo's system. In the good old days, I was the worst sort of fanboy. Eventually, my disgust with Capcom caused me to disregard all their Genesis releases, and so it wasn't until just recently that I discovered they also released the follow-up to The Magical Quest. It's called The Great Circus Mystery, and it's one of the most recent additions to my collection. As it turns out, it's also not quite the fun that its predecessor was."
When Capcom released its first game for the Genesis, I wanted to spit at the company for turning traitor. Capcom was Nintendo's homie. Everyone knew that. Things got even worse when they ported The Magical Adventure to the Genesis. The title was one of my favorites for the Super Nintendo, and I selfishly wanted to keep that joy to myself, out of the hands of the poor saps stupid enough to support the Genesis instead of Nintendo's system. In the good old days, I was the worst sort of fanboy. Eventually, my disgust with Capcom caused me to disregard all their Genesis releases, and so it wasn't until just recently that I discovered they also released the follow-up to The Magical Quest. It's called The Great Circus Mystery, and it's one of the most recent additions to my collection. As it turns out, it's also not quite the fun that its predecessor was.
Now, before you all lambaste me and scream that I'm still a Nintendo fanboy at heart, I'll admit it: I am. But this title was released on the Super Nintendo, too. So I really have no reason to judge it as anything but what it is: the uninspired sequel to an original game that was far more magical.
Like the first game, the story here isn't all that remarkable. I can forgive Capcom for such transgressions because I'm one of those people that doesn't really care what the plot is so long as the game is fun to play. Basically, Mickey Mouse wakes up late, takes Minnie to the circus, and finds that the circus is in ruins, the victim of Baron Pete's scheming. The two plucky mice then vow to restore the circus to its former state, and so begins the game. The reason I summarize the plot for you is simple: it's tedious to watch the story unfold when playing the actual game. The whole affair is presented with simple art and text, and the text moves far too slowly. Since Capcom allows you to skip the inane prologue, I suggest that you do precisely that.
Fortunately, things heat up once you're actually playing the game. Mickey or Minnie (the game allows you to choose, though neither mouse plays differently from the other) will appear on a world map with six red dots spattered across a mostly lush landscape drifting above an ocean of clouds. Each of these dots delineates a level. Mickey and Minnie will charge through a circus setting, a jungle, a haunted house, a cavern, a snowscape and finally Pete's castle. If you don't have a lot of time, you can also play through a level, die on purpose in the next, abstain from continuing, and grab a password for later use. However, the password will start you in the level where you left off, without any of the heart extensions or coins you may have gathered. Although it may seem unfair that you don't continue with all your goodies, this game's predecessor was equally lengthy and didn't offer a password save feature. Even with only five hearts, it's not difficult to get back up to speed.
Speaking of heart extensions, you typically won't find any unless you know where to look. They are located in treasure chests in bonus rooms or well off the beaten path. Alternatively, collect two hundred coins (a more difficult task this time around than it was in the previous game) and you can buy one from the cow that runs the item shop. Depending on the difficulty level you choose, you'll start with either three or five hearts on your life meter, out of a possible total of ten.
Your life meter isn't the only thing affected by the chosen difficulty setting. If you go with 'Easy,' there will be far fewer enemies to encounter, their attacks will be less relentless. Choose one of the more difficult settings and the number of enemies will easily double or even triple, which will force your chosen mouse to dance all over the place in order to avoid damage.
Halfway through the first stage, no matter what difficulty level you've chosen, you'll wander into a circus cart, where Donald Duck presents you with a special outfit. In The Magical Quest, these special uniforms enabled Mickey Mouse to cast spells, climb mountains, and extinguish fires. This time around, he can use them to vacuum, hook rocks and logs, or ride a pogo stick of sorts. These powers strike me as rather stupid compared to the original game. Even worse, they aren't so fully integrated into the level. It seems stupid whenever you switch to the horse-riding suit (which is difficult to control and memorable only because you can shoot corks). The mountain climbing suit is actually the most useful of the lot, as you can use it to climb alternate routes in some levels. It's also completely necessary if you hope to finish the third stage, which has a difficult series of ledges and spiked ceilings that only that guise will enable you to pass. The vacuum suit, meanwhile, is fun if you want to suck in enemies, but it's only truly necessary in one of the later boss encounters. As a matter of fact, you'll spend most of your game alternating between the climbing gear and your default suit. I'm really disappointed that Capcom didn't work harder on the suits, but there you have it.
Another disappointment is the levels themselves. Though none of them are as lifeless and bland as you might imagine in a worst-case scenario, they do lack the spark that was evident in the first game. The jungle is like the first game's forest, only without the charm. The circus area is reminiscent of the duller parts of the first stage in The Magical Quest. The real problem is that many of the areas are just disposable. One really gets the sense when playing through them that Capcom just piled together all the ideas scrapped for the first title and slapped them together for this new venture.
But if the game's design is a disappointment, at least the visuals are not. The same basic art style from the first game has made a return here, which is to say that environments are drawn in bold, primary colors and shaded with darker tones that give a good sense of depth and vibrancy. There's never a moment where you wonder what the artists were trying to accomplish. The caves and haunted house are particularly impressive, dark and foreboding without ever really dropping to a level that will frighten the small children for which this game was no doubt primarily intended. Bosses tend to be quite largely drawn, with solid animation that allows you to guess which move they're about to execute. Though only the final boss encounter will likely impress you (and even it fails in comparison to the eagle boss from the previous game), there's never a moment where the events on-screen cause you to think Capcom's artists got lazy.
They also didn't slouch in the sound department. Every single composition on the game is cheerful and lively, to the point where you'll likely start humming along before you even realize what you're doing. Unfortunately, such delightful stuff soon wears out its welcome, and then you're left gritting your teeth until you mute the volume. Still, there's nothing here that feels out of place, either in the soundtrack or in the limited selection of rather generic sound effects. This sounds like a Disney game.
So if it looks great, sounds decent, and offers a fair bit of variety, where does The Great Circus Mystery stumble? Everywhere and nowhere. Nothing adds up to be a disappointment except for the sum of the parts, and even that is at a level well above the norm. It's easy to recommend this game to anyone who enjoyed its predecessor, and even newcomers will likely be delighted by what it offers. Just don't expect to be floored the second time around. Even Capcom couldn't accomplish that.
Staff review by Jason Venter (April 24, 2004)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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