Although the concept of "dreaming" of joining the circus is a bit antiquated, Ring Run Circus [$4.99] sells it like it's still commonplace. The thrills, chills, and spills of the particularly dangerous profession are all here, in an extremely short yet enjoyable puzzle-action romp format.
Ring Run starts out with a rather simple formula -- circle around some tracks shaped like rings, collect tokens to raise your score, and nab the key to unlock the exit. The art style looks even better in motion than it does in screenshots, and the character designs feel decidedly unique to the game itself, lending a large amount of charm to the package.
Your first performer and playable character is named Nina, who has the ability to jump over obstacles and enemies. To get around, all you have to do is tap the left side of the screen to run on the outside of the ring (and thus, attach to connecting tracks), or tap the right side to jump. It's a very simple control scheme that works on perfectly on command. As you lean into different rings and hit junctions your speed will increase, adding a momentum mechanic to the game that's pretty difficult to master.
After scoring a certain amount of stars throughout the campaign you'll unlock new characters in the form of Ned (who slaps enemies) and Nelson (who uses his hook to switch tracks around). They each have a new set of levels to complete built around their own mechanics, which introduce tricky new ways to test your puzzle skills. Ned is probably my personal favorite, as slapping enemies around never gets old, and he has some of the best levels in the game at his disposal.
While the formula is relatively easy to follow in the beginning, the setup quickly changes into something a bit more taxing, throwing new concepts at you at a rapid pace. For instance, one level forces you to track down and slap an enemy who has stolen a key with Ned, with one major caveat -- he's immune to fire, and you aren't. Another stage requires you to go all the way to the end of the level to grab a key, then return all the way back without getting hit. These levels can get infuriating sometimes, but in a good way.
Part of the reason you won't be throwing your device across is the room is because there's no timer or pesky checkpoints involved -- you simply complete the level as best you can, and you're scored at the end based on how many tokens you collect. Like Sonic the Hedgehog, every hit you take from either enemies or hazards will return tokens to their original location and you'll drop any keys you're holding, so there is a sense of risk involved.
I didn't expect much from Ring Run Circus, but came away satisfied. It has a perfect mix of relaxation and challenge that many games can't pull off, even if the overall experience is pretty short. The fact that there are no IAPs to speak of as well is the icing on the top of his uniquely baked cake.
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