CarneyVale: Showtime is a vertical ragdoll platform game. In the game, you play as Slinky, a circus acrobat trying to rise up the ranks by performing acrobatic tricks and death-defying stunts through increasingly complex arenas.
CarneyVale: Showtime is the story of a puppet named Slinky and his dream to become the best acrobat in the world. Granted, players will only know this thanks to the opening bit of narrated text framing the game as the plot is never elaborated upon during the course of the game. All anyone needs to know is that Slinky is a ragdoll to be flung upward throughout a level to pass through a giant hoop at the end, achieving certain goals along the way to help Slinky rise from an unknown to a legendary acrobat. Despite the presentation and brief background information, CarneyVale: Showtime doesn't have anything in the way of acrobatic gameplay or actual platforming but instead is more of a vertical obstacle course.
Scattered about each level are hooks which will extend and grab Slinky when he draws near with a press of the A button and will release him when the button is let go. The path through a level is generally predetermined due to the reliance on these hooks, and the challenge comes in getting Slinky from one to the next without falling and while avoiding obstacles. The player initially only can exert some slight control over Slinky's movements, but as the levels progress, new abilities will unlock for Slinky to take on the challenges ahead including air dashing for covering longer distances. Should Slinky make contact with an electrified wall or fire, he'll lose one of his lives, but he can bounce off walls or smash into bumpers at will. All in all CarneyVale: Showtime begins itself as a rather manageable and perhaps somewhat easy game in which death is a rare occurrence, at least for the opening 18 levels. However, once the player has amassed enough stars, bonus levels will unlock which will truly test the merits of Slinky's new found abilities via huge, sprawling courses chock full of harmful elements and ever narrowing gaps.
If CarneyVale has a fault, then I suppose it may be how close the camera is focused on Slinky and how little of the route is typically visible at any time. While the camera will occasionally pan out around Slinky, sometimes the player is put in a position of having to guess where the next hook will be found. It's hardly a longterm detraction, though, as a number of helpful background arrows will show the general path to be taken, and it takes little more than a first run to show the path to the exit. Likewise, I suppose a more scaled out vantage point would make the hidden stars easier to locate and capture. Each level has five separate goals for the player to chase: Ring of Fire (complete the board), Balloons (grab all of the balloons), Time (complete the game under the time limit), Secret Star (find the hidden star), and Perfect Run (complete the course without injuring Slinky). Attaining these goals grants stars used to unlock bonus items and secret levels. Chasing after these goals greatly adds depth to the game and expands upon the challenge and enjoyment offered.
I like the little touch of the newspaper review quote describing Slinky's performance based on the number of goals he reaches and the amount of tricks performed and fans he draws ("A show so good, you're a failure if you miss it"). CarneyVale: Showtime has showstopping presentation thanks to its cleanly designed and imaginative menus and displays along with a constant array of excellent, circus-themed graphics. Much effort went into designing Slinky's world as evident from the unlockable concept art folios, and it's almost sad to see the excellent secondary characters who populate the CarneyVale circus only used for loading imagery. While nothing about CarveyVale impresses on a technical level, the stylish artwork make for some nice looking environments, even if the game itself isn't dripping in parallax scrolling and tons of animation. The ragdoll physics make Slinky fun to watch as he cavorts through a level, and the steady stream of popped balloons, electrified walls, and rotating flaming pillars give the circus a lively look. The circus theme continues with a soundtrack featuring a bevy of excellent, appropriate original songs, and the trick announcer.
CarneyVale: Showtime is the winner of the Dream-Play-Build 2008 competition, and it truly is the standout from that initial good crop of candidates. Beyond the main adventure, players can also entertain themselves by building their own custom CarneyVale courses with the built-in editor (no uploading or sharing unfortunately) or chasing after the game's awards (achievements) and reaching for that legendary title. The gameplay is original and rewarding, and there's more than enough action here to justify a purchase.