Carnival (1980 Arcade Review)

Now that I’ve gotten deeply into exploring games from before my time, I’ve played a lot of games that existed only trying to ride the wake of whatever the flavor of the month was at any given time. The dozens of maze chases that followed Pac-Man. The dozens of platformers that followed Donkey Kong. The worst for me are those gallery shooters that rode Space Invaders’ coattails. First, there’s tons of actual clones that copied the game beat-for-beat, changing only the name. Those make searching through my MAME library such a delight. Not. But, even after those, there’s games like Galaxian, Galaga, Radar Scope, etc, where gaming has come so far that I just can’t get into them. But, there are two gallery shooters from 1980 that are actually pretty good, so much so they hold up to the test of time without several BUTs or IFs or other assorted asterisks. I’ll get to the next one tomorrow, but for today, let’s look at a gallery shooter themed like.. well.. a shooting gallery. And one that I think is the best in the entire genre for its era.

This is a tribute to the old-timey shooting galleries where you would shoot glass pipes and workers had to repaint the targets every day. I’ve always wondered if anyone was hurt from ricochets or shattered glass from the pipes or if anyone ever shot one of the attendants in the balls, Home Alone-style. We’re an awful species so it’d be right up our alley.

Carnival by Gremlin/Sega has not been re-released since 1982, when it was ported to the Atari 2600, Intellivision, and Colecovision. In a way, I get it: it wasn’t the biggest hit to begin with. Perhaps the lack of remakes or re-releases is why this might be the most timeless of its breed from this time period. In Carnival, there’s three rows of targets to shoot, with a sliding scoring-scale that goes from the top row to bottom row, and you have a limited amount of ammo. Shoot all the targets and you collect a 50 point bonus for every bullet you have left and move on to the next stage. If you allow too many targets to pass through all the rows, more targets will spawn. The game keeps going until you run out of ammo. It sounds simple, and it is, but for such a mundane-sounding game, it throws in more twists than any other gallery shooter would have for a couple YEARS. Like, seriously, this might be the most deceptively complicated game of the early 80s.

I *HOPE* it’s pipes and not some madman shooting people off a Ferris Wheel. Again: awful species.

First off, you have to shoot all the pipes that are above the playfield. This is the trickiest part of the game because there’s only a small space to the left and right where they’re open to be shot, and the cylinder holding them never stops rotating. Carnival is a high-score chasing game that makes you WANT to post a top-three score, and the key to that really is getting these pipes early. At the start of a stage, their value begins to shrink, so you need to quickly position yourself to pick these off. Of course, there’s going to be three rows of targets in the way as well. While it should be annoying, the difficulty in lining-up, the stuff in the way, and the duck problem make successfully shooting the pipes early-on in a round of Carnival perhaps the most satisfying targets to hit in the entire genre. That’s not hyperbole.

“Wait, what’s this about about a ‘duck problem’ Cathy?” Oh, did I forget to mention the ducks?

And you thought Adventure’s ducks were bad! Not until Adam Banks, Charlie Conway, Fulton Reed, Goldberg the Goalie, and Julie “The Cat” Gaffney would ducks be this deadly again.

All the targets in the three rows just scroll-on-by, including the ducks. But, the ducks will randomly come to life and sort of glide back and forth down towards the bottom. If they reach it, they eat some of your bullets. And it’s so spooky when they begin to glide down at you. Seriously, they’re one of the most unnerving Golden Age of Arcade enemies that nobody talks about. Well, nobody talks about them because nobody talks about Carnival. It’s one of the poster children for slipping through the cracks of history. And I haven’t even covered all the twists yet. There’s bonus points to be had if you shoot one of the B-O-N-U-S letters in the rows. In the upper-left side of the screen, there’s the bar-bonus, which can also be the bar-penalty. Sometimes it has extra bullets, but sometimes it subtracts bullets, so you have to shoot especially accurately on that side the screen. It might also be point based, and again, you could gain or lose points, depending on what it is. It’s also the biggest target in the game and whatever the bonus/penalty is shrinks as it lingers on the screen. I can’t tell you how many times I screamed in agony when I fired a wayward shot that went right through three full rows of targets and hit the damn whammy bar when nothing was there only to have a fully-charged bullet penalty spawn and cost me a good chunk of my remaining shot. At least my family found it funny, the jerks.

Between each stage, you have to shoot bears back and forth. Another bear is added after every round. Every shot is worth 50 points, and I think you can only do like ten shots before they move so fast you can’t possibly hope to get more points. By the way, this is the furthest I ever managed to make it: to stage four. Carnival is not an easy game at all. It’s got teeth.

It sucks that Carnival is apparently lost to history. Maybe there’s some kind of rights issue. I have friends at Sega who weren’t even aware this existed, let alone how good it is. While I admit that it’s kind of cool that I turned them onto it and heard back from almost all of them saying “seriously, where did you find this game? It’s so addictive!” it’s also painful that Carnival isn’t a bigger part of gaming history. It’s not perfect. I think the game tends to go a little overboard with respawning more targets, which is a reminder that this IS trying to make money $0.25 at a time. You’ll have one more target to shoot and then suddenly there’s like five more things that start scrolling onto the stage, which is hugely annoying. I think it’s tied to missing targets after so many passes on the playfield but I couldn’t tell with certainty. Granted, when you’ve reached the phase where the game goes nuts, you’ve been playing around 10 minutes, which means the game has gone ten minutes without being fed a quarter.

You’re not going to believe what this does.

Of course, you could be a jerk and just insert another quarter, which would restart the game to the title screen even if a person was in the middle of game. Oof. I wonder how many fist fights broke out over that? You know it happened at least once. Anyway, that’s hardly the only problem. I think the random spawning of bullet refills (which come in supplies of five and ten) factor too much into high scores. Oh, and this has the absolute weirdest design with its music I’ve ever seen. If you shoot a bullet on the far right of the screen, it disables the music. Wait.. what? They put the volume muter on the playfield as a target that interacts with your projectiles? In a game where you’ll be chasing targets towards the edge of the screen? WHO WOULD EVEN THINK TO DO THAT? It’s so random and weird. It’d be like if there was a plunger on Donkey Kong that muted the game if you grabbed the hammer and smashed it. Whatever. Carnival is still a lot of fun and long overdue to get the respect it deserves. Or else the ducks might seek revenge. Creepy, CREEPY ducks.

Carnival was designed by Gremlin
Published by Sega

Carnival is Chick-Approved

About Indie Gamer Chick
Indie game reviews and editorials.

3 Responses to Carnival (1980 Arcade Review)

  1. Pingback: King & Balloon (1980 Arcade Review) | Indie Gamer Chick

  2. Pingback: Arcade Archives: Kangaroo (Review) | Indie Gamer Chick

  3. Pingback: Atari 50: The Games They Couldn’t Include – The Definitive Review (Part Two) | Indie Gamer Chick

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