Circus Electrique review for Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation, Xbox

Platform: Nintendo Switch
Also on: PS4, PS5, Xbox Series X, Xbox One, PC
Publisher: Saber Interactive
Developer: Zen Studios
Medium: Digital
Players: 1
Online: No

There’s a lot to be said for keeping games simple. I know that developers and publishers often love cramming as much as they can into games, but simplicity can be (and often is) a virtue.

The idea of “less is more” was running through my head constantly as I was playing Circus Electrique. It’s a story-heavy RPG that’s also a circus management sim that also has a very heavy dose of tactical turn-based battles. Rather than doing anything really exceptionally well – and it’s not hard to imagine that the game would’ve been great if the developers had just toned down their ambitions a little – it does a lot of things to varying degrees of quality.

Let’s start with the turn-based battles. There are 15 playable characters to collect, and each of them has six moves they have to learn how to master. On top of that each character also has a couple of passive abilities. When you’re putting together a team you have to consider not just the skills of each individual character, but also how their passive abilities interact.

At the same time, however, you also need to consider how compatible the characters are in the circus itself – since, again, on top of fighting your way through this steampunk version of London, you’re also managing a circus. You need to set your line-up for each show, being careful to make sure that the various performers’ acts mesh well together, while also balancing the competing demands of the battles, since if a performer is in one, they can’t be in the other. To further complicate things, you need to periodically rest characters so they can recover your strength.

The good news is that the battles and the performances both matter. The bad news is…that the battles and the performances both matter, so if you give anything less than your full attention to one or the other, you’re kind of screwed. Team management is a huge part of this game. To that end, you also need to recruit new team members to make sure your fighters/circus performers don’t get worn out, since all the resting in the world still won’t keep your roster fresh, given all the grinding you have to do in order to earn XP (and all the other resources you need just as a matter of course).

Also, you need to earn enough money and resources from the battles and the circus to keep the circus and the performers running smoothly. Resource management is also an important part of this game.

And, since that’s not enough you also have a story tying it all together, about the ringmaster’s niece who doesn’t trust the ringmaster because he accidentally killed her mother. As if that wasn’t enough plot to mine, it takes place in a version of London where everyone has gone crazy with some kind of virus that turns the entire city violent. The niece, obviously, is trying to get to the bottom of that mystery.

As you can tell, Circus Electrique has a lot going on. While it’s pleasant to look at and to listen to, the game also overwhelms you with information, and it doesn’t help that most of it is conveyed via very small text boxes with menus that aren’t super easy to navigate around. There’s a codex that keeps track of it all, but even so, the sheer volume of information (and associated info-dumps) is simply crazy.

Which is why it’s hard not to wish that Circus Electrique had simply tried to whittle everything down to, say, half a dozen of its best ideas. If you’re after a dense game, this will deliver exactly that – but at a certain point, you kind of wonder whether it’s all worth it, and I don’t know that it is.

Saber Interactive provided us with a Circus Electrique Nintendo Switch code for review purposes.

Grade: B-