I am a sucker for a good deck builder. Grab an intriguing combat system, plenty of tacticality, and a charming aesthetic to top that off and you’ll have me there on day one. The Amazing American Circus promises to walk that tightrope to glory but did its demo slip?
No, it did not. In fact, of the limited amount I could play, it got so many little facets right. In its basest form, you control a circus and your top goal is to satisfy members of a crowd that come in to watch your performers every night. You have to pick your characters and customize your loadout for the best possible outcome.
Its combat system balances this dilemma rather well. Instead of taking and dealing damage, it’s all about putting on the best show you possibly can. If you can fill up someone’s satisfaction bar, that gets rid of them from “combat”, essentially making the rest of the round easier. You do this in a few main ways. Before going into combat, you add your performers - of which there are three in the demo - to a lineup that creates a poster for that night’s event. It will tell you how hard the crowd is and give you some small details on what happens.
Each character type has a unique way of entertaining the crowd. The clown plays a bit more of a support role with funny moves, buffs, and adding defense to characters. The strongman is all about distracting the crowd and defending. The juggler does little bits of damage whilst storing its main buff, balls. You can then use those balls to impress a crowd for a huge amount. Each combat is all about taking minimal damage from the crowd whilst picking them off one by one.
This being said, you can’t do this too slowly either. Each character has five cards initially and you draw 5 each turn. This means after 3 turns, you have to reshuffle your deck which makes all characters you control take 5 damage. This might seem harsh on the limited health pool but raising that damage doesn’t kill your performers, it takes away one more move from their arsenal, both lowering your potential and meaning you’ll have to reshuffle even quicker this time.
This system works really well to ramp up the tension as the longer fights get even longer. You are slowly whittling down your potential moves to make the crowd happy and this represents the act of performance surprisingly well. As you tire out and use your best moves, you’re sat there searching the bottom of the barrel with the hopes that it blows over well. After you’ve played enough cards, you can summon a tightrope walker to do a chunk of impression damage to a random crowd member, making that fight just a little easier.
Fights are accentuated with a really whacky aesthetic. It blends this cartoony art style with a slight gritty undertone. There’s a certain “old-timey” tinge to everything that makes characters look just a little raw. It combines this with goofy circus sound effects and character reactions to make it feel a bit expressive. Characters and actions are limited but relatively articulate with fitting moves.
The entire demo was fairly limited in scope but the game promises lots of areas and harder challenges to overcome. There didn’t seem to be a sense of urgency to the day to day and you could just grind the first area to earn enough to keep your character skilled. Each character has their own exp system that allows one of a few upgrade paths in the “training ground”. After a character levels up, you load up three columns with the chance to upgrade a card, upgrade your stats or pick a new one. Then the results of that decision are shown and you pick one of the three columns to keep. This means you can diversify with one of each to pick the best or sink it all into one new card for the best chance of a great addition to your lineup. This is a great little system that you might play differently for each character. One character might be a pack mule for cards allowing a little bit more before each shuffle where another might focus on tanking as much damage as possible.
If you mess up the character, you can simply hire a new one and work on a new build. The build The Amazing American Circus is running off has really impressed me in my time with the demo. There are so many little intricate systems to The Amazing American Circus that make me really quite excited for what it’ll do later in the year but all we see right now is that proof of concept. We know there are upgrade systems and ways of affecting your circus but we can’t see them quite yet. We understand there are more characters to use but we can’t quite use them yet. This demo has me intrigued and excited for the future but, like all demos, a little weary about what it could become. If it expands on this vision, you can expect me to be there on day one.
TechRaptor previewed The Amazing American Circus on PC using a copy provided by the developers. The game is set to release in 2021 and can be backed on Kickstarter now