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Circus Charlie is a circus-themed collection of mini-games, most of which involving jumping or over things. The player controls the titular Circus Charlie, a clown, as he attempts to perform stunts such as leaping off trapeze swings and riding circus animals through hoops of fire in order to entertain the audience.
The acts Charlie must perform include:
- Lion Taming - Charlie rides a lion through rings of fire and over flaming pots. There are smaller rings of fire which can be avoided easily enough, but they also provide additional bonus points.
- Tightrope Walking - Charlie must keep his balance as he walks across a tightrope. He must avoid the monkeys by jumping over them - blue ones in particular move very quickly so the player must keep alert.
- Ball Balancing - Charlie must make his way across a series of large, striped balls that spin in place. Since Charlie jumps a specific distance that cannot be altered, the player must judge the correct distance between the ball they're on and the one they're aiming for and jump at the right moment.
- Trick Riding - Charlie is riding a pony and must hop off and jump on trampolines as they pass overhead. Keeping a rhythm will allow Charlie to land back on the pony once the trampolines have passed.
- Trapeze Swinging - Charlie must leap between each trapeze swing as they reach the end of their arc in order to reach the next one. He can also use the trampolines beneath to move from one swing to the next.
With each of these events the player can earn additional bonus points by performing risky or difficult actions and pulling them off, thus entertaining the crowd even more. These include the smaller fire rings during the Lion Taming act, jumping over multiple monkeys during the Tightrope or hopping across several trampolines in a row with the Trick Riding event. The player can earn extra lives by earning a lot of points on all these events. After completing any of the five acts, the player can opt to play a more difficult version of the same challenge for additional points.