Carnivals are fun. Karnival is not fun. While the real thing may be a joyous melange of cotton candy, strange carnies, and deep strategic decisions as you try to stretch your tokens as far as possible, Karnival is devoid of any such fun. That’s not to say that carnies and cotton candy are a must-have for every game based on the concept of carnivals, but it’s the spirit and atmosphere of these fun events that is missing from this game.
As a game that takes heavy inspiration from the Tycoon series of games (Roller Coaster Tycoon, Prison Tycoon, etc.) it would seem as if Karnival had a pretty clear road map to success. Unfortunately, they forgot to include most of what makes those games fun: a moderate level of difficulty, the need for strategic decisions that custom-tailor the experience, and most importantly, the feel and atmosphere of the original subject matter.
Show me to the deep-fried Snickers stand.
There is some fun to be had with Karnival, but it comes mostly from the simple fact that the idea of running a carnival is kind of amusing. The presentation reinforces this aspect of the game with an art style that fuses modern carnivals with the mystique of turn-of-the-century attractions like freak shows and magicians.
However, all of that fun counts for little once you realize none of the decisions made by the player actually count for anything. The peak of the difficulty is in making sure that you’re not holding your carnival in the same town more than three days in a row, or else the townspeople will get bored and stop coming.
You’re made to place all of your attractions manually on a grid piece by piece. This is fun at first as you try to design the best layout for the customers, but the layout doesn’t matter. If people can find everything quickly, and you’ve placed all of the food stands around each other to form a food court, your carnival will run just fine. The same number of people will show up, and they spend the same amount of money, even if all your shops and rides are scattered everywhere, with the front entrance facing away from the carnival and up against a fence.
The cards say, don’t ride the Tilt-A-Stab.
All you have to do is make sure all of your attractions are out, press a button, and then go do something else for five minutes while the carnival runs itself until closing time. The people will walk around from place to place, never actually doing anything besides walking up to attractions to symbolically spend money there. Sure, there are occasional repairs that need to be done on rides, but the only thing that denotes a breakdown is a light puff of smoke that’s almost impossible to notice. For the most part, you don’t really need to be present except to press a button or two occasionally, because this game practically plays itself.
Karnival had lots of promise, but unfortunately this game relies too much on its unique premise and forgot to implement compelling gameplay systems. If you can find this game on sale for as low as $.99, then it might be worth checking out, but at the current price, we don’t recommend buying Karnival.