P.T. Barnum’s Acrobats!

P.T. Barnum's Acrobats!The Game: You control an acrobat on a moving see-saw, launching your fellow acrobat into the air to pop balloons and defy gravity in an act that would’ve done old Barnum proud! But what goes up must come down, and your See the videoairborne acrobat, if he doesn’t bounce upward upon impact with more balloons, will plummet at alarming speed. You have to catch him with the empty end of the see-saw, thus catapulting the other acrobat into a fresh round of inflatible destruction. (North American Philips, 1982)

Memories: Another variation on the timeless Breakout formula, this game represented one of the Odyssey2’s first ventures into an area which most other home video game systems had already entered: licensing.

P.T. Barnum's Acrobats!With games such as UFO, K.C. Munchkin and Pick Axe Pete, Magnavox and North American Philips had thus far brought Odyssey2 owners offbeat renditions of numerous favorite games, but for simplicity and for financial reasons, they had stayed well clear of actually licensing the original games. Atari, Coleco, Mattel, Parker Brothers and Milton-Bradley had already snatched up most of the rights. And at least one other video game manufacturer at the time – Activision, with its Frogger-like Atari cartridge Freeway – had proven that great success could be achieved with games which weren’t copies per se, but variations on popular formulas.

So, for its first tentative step into the licensing marketplace, the Odyssey didn’t license the program from an existing arcade game (though the basic game play dates back to the B&W 70s Exidy coin-op Circus, which Atari itself later virtually copied for the 2600 as Circus Atari). It simply licensed a name from Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus, and the already simple game – previously titled Acrobat! – gained an identity.

One of the goofiest parts of P.T. Barnum’s Acrobats! was the Voice’s oddly soothing directives, many of which had already been heard in K.C.’s Crazy Chase! and Smithereens! – but in this game, there were some truly surreal touches, such as 3 quarterswhen your acrobat slams into the ground at 200mph and the Voice utters a throat-lozenge-commercial “Aaaaaaahhhh.”

I could’ve thought of other things to say under those circumstances.