In Circus Electrique, you have two main tasks. Exploring the streets of London through Darkest Dungeon style turn-based battles, and putting on entertaining big top shows featuring the best performers you can find. Both require a surprising amount of strategy and planning. Chaining together synergistic combat moves across different character classes in battle can lead to destructive turns that leave enemies unable to move. Meanwhile, finding great chemistry between performers in your circus shows à la FIFA Ultimate Team will lead to better crowd reactions and more resources to work with.
But I threw almost all of that out of the window and decided my circus would be entirely made up of clowns.
The press preview build dropped me in at the start of the game and after being introduced to the world of Circus Electrique, where an electrical event called "The Maddening" turned everyday Londoners into vicious killers, it's time to build your team of performers. Some will accompany you as you take to the streets trying to figure out just what happened to this strange steampunk world that doesn't take itself too seriously but has many mysteries, while others hold the fort and keep the shows going.
Your initial squad features a single clown alongside a strong man, fire-breather, and escape artist, all of whom can fill different combat roles based on their abilities and where they are positioned in your team of four. That is, unless you do what I did. As soon as I'd raised some money by putting on shows and winning fights, I dismissed all the fighters who weren't clowns and hired every new clown I could from the train that brings in new talent. Hell yes.
I put tanky clowns Emil and Timothy at the front of my questing team. Lodge backed them up with some useful ranged abilities such as Mock Throw where he smashes a ball with his mallet into the face of enemies dealing damage and possibly breaking any defensive stances. If needed he could also jump to the front with his Taunt ability and be my new tank. Finally, Pablo sat at the back, the least effective position for a clown, where only three of his six abilities would work. But his job was just to heal up whoever had taken the most damage and occasionally throw a small ball at enemies in what has to be the most pathetic-looking, but situationally effective, attack in any game ever.
As we reached the latter stages of the first London district, where you're free to choose your path and the battles you take but are always heading towards a final fight, it became clear that my team of clowns might not have been the best call. In combat, you either defeat your opponents by inflicting enough damage to kill them, or you drop their "devotion" to zero, causing them to flee the battle. This creates opportunities for clever plays that don't involve hitting people with a clown mallet until they die, and it works both ways. If one of your performers loses all their devotion to the circus they will run away, never to be seen again.
When I fielded a more varied team, I defeated enemies using both methods, and the fights were quick. But with clowns, who are tanks and healers, it became clear there was a lack of damage-dealing on my team, and only one ability that would reduce a small amount of devotion, the Ball Throw. It was hilarious to see a foe run away from battle after being gently struck with a small ball, but it wasn't exactly efficient. It took anywhere from three to 10 ball attacks to drop some foe’s devotion to zero, which is honestly impressive. If someone threw a ball at me more than three times in short succession I’d take the hint and move on pretty quickly...
Back home, the B-team of clowns, who might occasionally get a trip out onto the streets if another member needed healing up overnight, were consistently putting on average shows that got middle-of-the-road star ratings, giving me enough resources to continue my journey but not giving me the power spike that could have been possible had I varied the performers up to maximise chemistry. Philip, who was my main event clown, would have performed better if I had included a robot bear earlier on in the card, but would have been worse if there had been an acrobat before him.
Had the demo not ended just as it felt like the power of my clown posse was starting to fall off, it's likely my lack of resources would have further compounded this issue. Experiment result: a clown-only team is not recommended. There are 15 performer types planned for the full release, though. There's no date on it yet, but Circus Electrique is out September 6. You can find it on Steam.