Its concept is a solid one, but its execution isn't the smoothest.
There are some concepts in video games that are just that ingenious that they make you question why we haven't seen them before. This is certainly the case with The Amazing American Circus, a card-based RPG where the goal within encounters is to entertain your audiences by performing tricks with your customisable party of circus performers. It certainly carries a unique theme and it also throws elements of strategy into the mix too, as you need to manage the performance money you've earned to purchase upgrades and new recruits.
Set within the American Wild West, the Amazing American Circus starts with you being left your father's old circus following his passing. You're a little reluctant to follow in his footsteps at first, but spying a poster for a $100,000 competition is all the convincing that you need. To prepare for this opportunity of a lifetime, you then set out across a tour of the country meeting many colourful characters along each step of your journey. The concept, as I said before, is novel and refreshing, but the presentation of the story is a little rough around the edges. Characters just talk over still images and the voice acting is admittedly pretty sub-par.
As I touched upon earlier, combat encounters are card-based and the aim is to entertain your audience and prevent them from throwing rotten tomatoes at you. Each turn you draw a hand of five new cards and these usually enable you to either ignore a certain amount of damage or impress your audience to whittle down their boredom meter. There are more than 200 cards that have their own different effects and there are 32 different audience members such as Bankers, Pastors, and Werewolves that all have their own specific manors of attack.
By using cards, you'll start to build up a blue meter at the top of the screen (each card has a specific amount it will fill it by) and when it has peaked you can unleash a powerful Finale! Move. Each circus performer has their own specific selection of cards allocated to them and you need to take this into consideration when setting up a show. When a performer's life bar hits zero, you'll be forced to discard a card from your deck belonging to that specific performer and they are forced to sit out completely if all cards are discarded. As you might expect, it's game over if all your artists have been forced to toss all of their cards away.
The Amazing American Circus additionally features management elements, as you need to spend the money earned from performances to upgrade and improve your operation. Money is often tight and you'll have to decide whether you want to recruit a new performer, level up your existing one to receive new or better cards, or upgrade your facilities overall. You can spend cash upgrading your recruitment wagon, for example, to house more performers or you can upgrade your cookhouse wagon to receive more recipes (more on that later).
Another main aspect that you'll need to manage is your tour of the country itself. On the map selection screen, you'll need to carefully consider where to go next and you'll be in for a rough time if you approach this with little thought. Some cities have broader audiences, so it makes sense to go to these last and ensure that your crew is properly prepared beforehand. You also need to manage your food supplies on the road and cook meals at different stops otherwise your crew's health, satisfaction, and nutrition will fall and this will have a negative impact on performances. Each meal you can cook here has different effects with warm milk, for example, improving satisfaction and health slightly but lowering nutrition.
There is plenty of depth here and the blend of strategy elements fits together really well, but I couldn't help but grow tired of battles. Whilst different audience members are thrown into the mix to help spice things up, you are largely repeating the same core actions again and again and selection of cards within your deck is so small that you'll keep receiving the same ones. When you're losing battles, it also takes far too long for things to conclude, as you just have to wait around until each individual member of your party has had their cards thrown away. An option to throw in the towel or admit defeat would have certainly helped remedy this, but instead there's just a lengthy struggle until things are eventually over.
The core concept surrounding The Amazing American Circus, as I have said before, is a delightful one, but sadly, the execution is less than desirable. The card-based battles here quickly feel repetitive, and I struggled to be engaged with its story due to its shaky voice acting. The management aspects do require you to apply thought and strategy though and there is certainly some fun to be had in its earlier moments when experimenting with different performers and card combinations.
5 / 10
The concept is fresh and unique, the management aspects require thought, there are many different cards and performers to choose between.
Battles feel repetitive and can drag on for too long when you're losing, the voice acting is admittedly weak.