2K Play's Carnival Games is a kid-friendly collection of themed minigames that goes for quantity over quality. It does offer one truly addictive attraction, but the rest of its sideshows aren't worth this game's very high price. As a carny might say, only a "mark" (sucker) would pay for it, but even a "sharpie" (skilled player) could have some fun.
To begin, you create an avatar out of a small assortment of customizable features, with many more to choose from once you've won the tokens to pay for them. Then you enter the carnival, which looks like a poor man's Animal Crossing. You use the stylus to guide your little guy or gal about the grounds, and a map on the top screen shows you where all the games are. The whole experience consists of wandering from game to game, winning tickets and then cashing them in for weird accessories, such as angel wings or a monkey mouth.
The games themselves can be grouped into three categories: trash, junk food, and pure sugar. Only Frog Leap qualifies for the last group. In this hopelessly addictive game, lily pads, birds' nests, and boats travel down two top-screen canals in opposite directions. The bottom screen features a little wood catapult with either a frog, a duck, or a cannonball in it. The idea is to pull back on the catapult and launch frogs at lily pads, ducks at nests, and cannonballs at boats. At first, you'll have trouble hitting anything, but after a few hours of compulsive play, you'll develop a deft touch and an incurable addiction.
The junk food games include Going Nuts (Pachinko with squirrels), Wild West Showdown (a carnival-style shooting gallery), Clown Splash (build pressure, then shoot water into a clown's mouth), Hoops (tap three buttons then a target), Clown Bonk (Whack-A-Mole), RC Raceway (race a car around three tracks), and Bubble Gum Battle (Red Light, Green Light, but with blowing). Most of these are dumb but vaguely playable, if just to beat your high score. Others, like RC Raceway, are fun but frustrating. Finally, Hoops and Wild West Showdown are borderline habit-forming; both are fun tests of your stylus speed and accuracy.
The last group is garbage, or what carnies might call "flats". These include Alley Ball (broken Skee Ball), Test of Strength (way too weak), Nerves of Steel (guide a ring along a wire), Buckets of Fun (throw a ball into a bucket), Balloon Darts (ugh), Dunk Tank (trace a path within a time limit), Spilled Milk (click on the milk), Meter-O-Love (click on hearts), Loud Mouth (aka screaming in public), The Great Swami (pay tickets to ask a "yes" or "no" question), and Bumper Boats (arguably the worst of all). Not all of these games are equally bad. Some are fun but too easily beatable. Others, like The Great Swami, aren't even games. And a few are truly loathsome, like Bumper Boats, in which you can spend most of a match completely unable to move.
The good news is that there are so many games, you'll be ready to take another crack at the first ones by the time you've finished the last. In this way, Carnival Games can really help you kill the hours. And if you have bored friends with you, you can entertain them, too. With just one copy of Carnival Games, you can give them a proper "bally" (or in plain English, a sample performance). You can share Dunk Tank, Buckets of Fun, and Frog Leap. The first two are flats, but Frog Leap is the best game of the bunch.
Now, this review isn't full of old carny talk just to be fancy. The point is, carny culture has an ever-changing slang dialect and all sorts of other cool customs. But none of this is in Carnival Games, which is just one mark of many against its lackluster and unimaginative presentation. From the bland graphics, to the obnoxious voice work, to the random words that pop up whenever you finish a game ("Frog Legs!," "Steady Hands!"), it's clear that developer Cat Daddy Games didn't go to any extra effort here.
Yet Carnival Games currently retails at the full price of a normal Nintendo DS title. This is way too much money for a mediocre collection of mindless minigames. If you can find an inexpensive copy, Carnival Games is an OK way to burn a couple of hours. But if you're simply dying to spend way too much money throwing baseballs at bottles or shooting water in a clown's mouth, go to a real carnival. Who knows, you might even win an ashtray and pick up some colorful lingo.