Copyright: © 1986 Infocom
Genre: Adventure

One of Infocom's most underrated releases, Ballyhoo is a fun,
intermediate-level text adventure set in a premise not commonly found in
IF games: a circus. I'll let Joan Rouleau's 1986 review in now-defunct
Compute! magazine speak of how great the game is: "From up in the
bleachers, the circus is all glitter and daring, a magical kaleidoscope
of improbable images. But watching the circus I always want to sneak
backstage, to see the performers between acts and explore the shadowy
world lurking beneath all the glitz. At last I've found the opportunity
with Ballyhoo, Infocom's richly evocative, often exasperating, and very
clever text adventure. The game begins as the circus performance ends.
You are prowling around behind the big top, trying on stray masks and
peering into the prop tent, when you overhear a conversation between the
circus boss and a detective about the mysterious disappearance of the
circus boss's daughter. Neither the boss nor the detective sounds
terribly concerned or competent, so you valiantly resolve to find her on
your own. Thus begins your foray into the seamy underworld of the circus.
Once you become immersed in the game, though, you may discover that your
mission to find the abducted girl becomes secondary to exploring the
bizarre and chimerical world around you. Sympathetic as you are to the
girl's plight, you can hardly pass up the opportunity to walk a
tightrope, watch an impromptu clown act, play with the exotic animals, or
be hypnotized by Rimshaw the Incomparable. And often in pursuing these
seemingly pointless diversions you can pick up some clues to the mystery.
But Ballyhoo, true to the Infocom tradition, is not for the impatient.
Clues are hidden under layers of red herrings; some maneuvers have to be
repeated two or three times before they'll work, while others are
stubbornly refused; and each of the circus folk, from the tiny midget to
the 827-pound Tina, is evasive when not downright cantankerous. Even the
seasoned Infocom player is well-advised to draw a map, take copious
notes, and leave no gorilla suit unturned. While the game can frustrate -
don't expect to complete it in a day - it can also charm. Great care was
taken to evoke the atmosphere of the circus: You hear a calliope in the
distance, you smell the musty elephant tent nearby, you feel the rough
canvas of the tent as you sneak behind the big top. Many of the scenarios
and props are added solely for their humor. And often the responses to
your commands are whimsical or ironic. The parsing in Ballyhoo is
surprisingly flexible. You can, for instance, make commands such as "Take
the apple. Polish it. Put it in the box." or "Drop all except the mask
and the cheese morsel." You can also ask questions of specific
characters, or use invaluable Infocom commands such as VERBOSE (for a
thorough description of each location) and OOPS (which allows you to
retype only the word you typed incorrectly in the last sentence). As can
be expected from Infocom, the packaging of Ballyhoo is splendid. The game
comes with a circus ticket (or Annie Oakley, in circus lingo), a balloon,
and a superbly illustrated circus program (or bible). Included in the
booklet are a brief history of circuses, a colorful description of each
of the key Ballyhoo characters, and a glossary of circus jargon (so that
you too can toss around terms like Annie Oakley, bible, lotlice, etc.).
There are also several pages of clearly written instructions,
explanations, and tips. But don't be mislead: The mysteries of Ballyhoo
are not easily unraveled. Or, as the program has wryly told me more than
once, "You'll have to do that yourself.""

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