This review and interview originally appeared in The Inventory 14 & 15. The Inventory is the Internet's only online, downloadable adventure magazine and is translated into seven different languages. You can download past issues of The Inventory from Just Adventure.
Rebecca Clements. Keep this name in mind. She is the developer of one of the best adventures made with the AGS engine. Our choice for review of the month will probably be a bit controversial, since this very same month we review Syberia 2 as well, but after having played both, Cirque De Zale (and actually many more fan-made adventures) are way much more entertaining than the dull sequel ofMicroids.
But what does this little Cirque De Zale adventure have so much to offer, coming out of nowhere to stealSyberia 2's position as review of the month? It is a point and click 3rd person adventure that has a funny story, unique characters and an entertaining gameplay. Let's see each part of the game under close scrutiny.
Story: You are Alexander Zale. Occupation: The circus poop boy. Never seen that before in a CV? Well you see it now in Cirque De Zale. One day when Alexander does his work and cleans the elephant pooh out of the circus, he decides that he's cleaned way too much crap in his life and he has had enough of being slapped around by his ringmaster, Astoundo. He therefore decides to pull a prank on his ringmaster and fills his magic hat with elephant crap. Astoundo gets humiliated in front of his audience and in return he sends Alexander to another dimension using magic.
Alexander now finds himself in the middle of a quite weird town, and decides to head for the palace where he finds the king of this land. The... double-headed king tells Alexander about how according to an old prophecy, he is the one person that has been chosen to save this land from the tyran who has kidnapped the king's daughter. Alexander of course doesn't give a rat's ass about prophecies and kingdoms. All this guy wants is to be the ringmaster of his own circus. Therefore he ignores the king's requests and starts looking for a circus ... to steal and circus employees to recruit. Fortunately for him this dimension is full of people who could work in a circus. On his unusual quest, Alexander, will meet a whole bunch of unique and funny characters. The humor of the game is its no 1 strength. It is quite mean-spirited, so if you have a problem with this sort of humor, it might not be your cup of tea. If you do not mind some strong language here and there however, then this game is going to keep you laughing until the very end. It also contains the best knock-knock joke. I've ever heard ... and which is also making its way around my university campus as we speak. But don't expect me to tell it to you over here, play the game and get to read it over there. Generally speaking, the dialogues of the game are top-notch.
Some of the unusual characters Alexander gets to meet, include some... hanging children, an impolite fisherman, some cricket players, a lousy comedian, a blind xylophone tuner, a giant bird and Welk among others. Who's Welk you ask? A gullible creature that you'll have to meet, trick and fool in order to complete your mission. Alexander himself is obnoxious, meanspirited, arrogant and cares only for himself but hey, if you worked as a poop boy I'd bet you wouldn't be much better yourself now, would you? The length of the game is also satisfactory. It took me roughly speaking 3 to 4 hours to finish it. I was disappointed when the game was finished, not because it was really short, but because it was really fun to play and I craved for more.
Graphics: Well if you've played Monkey Island 1 or 2, you get the idea. The characters look excellent and if you are a pixel-fan who longs for Sierra/Lucasarts kind of games like myself you'll feel right at home with this one. The backgrounds range from great looking to they could have been given a bit more detail here and there.
I think that Cirque De Zale is the closest any adventure made with AGS has reached to the original games of the former Lucasarts ... with the possible exception of Indiana Jones Fountain of Youth, but this one is not ready yet. Rebecca Clements also went the extra mile and designed a new image for the GUI of the game, based on the Lucasarts interface but adapted for the theme of Cirque De Zale.
Sound: Probably the only part where the game feels incomplete is its audio. The game has only a few music tracks here and there, and these of course are not the best you've ever heard, but taking into consideration that this whole game was made by one woman alone and that it is being distributed for free, it feels even unnecessary to complain. There is no speech throughout the game, but from the choices poor voice acting and no voice acting at all, the no voice acting at all is definitely the way to go.
Gameplay: The gameplay and the story is where Cirque De Zale (excuse our language) kicks ass. Especially after completing the move-these-levers-around-with-noclues-whatsoever-Syberia 2, Cirque De Zale felt like an oasis among the desert. It seems like all the money you are paying for when you buy a commercial adventure game, goes to the graphics artists and the musicians behind a game. But this little complaint of mine apart, let's go back to Cirque De Zale.
First of all the tasks of the game are logical (within the context of the story) and also very fun to complete. You always know what you have to do next since the goals of the main character are always clear from what he says himself.
The non playable characters will mostly need a favour from you in order to give you something back or join your circus and if you forget what each character wanted you can always go back and ask them again. Overall, the feedback that the player receives from the game is always adequate and the player usually does not have to resort to trial and error or guessing.
But even if you get stuck at some point there is so much different fun actions to try that you never get bored by playing it. The pace of gameplay becomes therefore very smooth and you won't find yourself stuck looking at a still picture. The interface of the game is the well-known and successful interface used in the older Lucasarts games. Rebecca Clements also made sure to use the right mouse button for default choice of command, something that sometimes AGS developers don't pay much attention to. Although it is a small detail, it makes the game much more comfortable to play. You can save and load games by pressing the F5 key from your keyboard. You are offered 99 save game slots which should be more than enough and this large save slot availability is definitely more than welcome, especially for those who like to replay certain parts of their favourite adventure games.
I encountered two minor bugs while playing the game. The first one is that if you try to press escape or F5 during the very beginning of the second part of the introduction (just when Alexander is transported to the other dimension) the game crushes. The second one occurs in a couple of locations when you try to enter a door, Alexander will walk to the center of the room instead - but he will still enter the next room, so in essence none of them is a big deal and none of them detract from the overall experience.
In a few words... Since the King's Quest 2 remake this is the most entertaining adventure (and I include both commercial and non-commercial adventures) I have played. It is a must play for Monkey Island fans and fans of Lucasarts adventures in general.
I hope and wish that Rebecca Clements plans to release more adventures in the near future, whether they are sequels to Cirque De Zale or totally new adventures. She has the knowledge and expertise of story-telling and game design that many developers lack nowadays.
The only advice we could give to Rebecca is maybe a bit more detail to the backgrounds and we hope that some people with music and voice acting talents could support this woman's fantastic talent in game development. Other than that, we hope that she will keep up the excellent work.
Final Grade: B+