Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus

Game review by
Christopher Healy, Common Sense Media
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus Game Poster Image
Decent circus game plagued by some difficult control issues.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this game.

Positive Messages

The main message of the game seems to be that circuses are fun. A secondary lesson that comes out of playing is that lots of practice is required before you're ready for the big time.

Positive Role Models & Representations

In one way of looking at it, you could say that these performers, who take part in very dangerous acts, are not the kind of people most parents want their children emulating. Beyond their careers, though, there's nothing worrisome about them.

Ease of Play

There's a huge disparity in difficulty level among the various mini-games. Some are quite easy to handle with simple controls, while others seem downright impossible on the first twenty-odd attempts. Most players are likely to score 5 out of 5 stars on several acts and 0 out of 5 on others. In a couple of cases, the problem lies in some bit of information being left out of the instructions.

Violence & Scariness

None unless you count pie-throwing or being shot from a cannon as violence.


The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey brand name and logo is all over the game, which seems intended to make kids not only want to see the circus, but to specifically see this circus.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this colorful collection of circus-themed mini-games offers kids a lot of variety and some really fun active-gaming experiences, but that there are a number of less interesting, harder to play segments as well. The inconsistency may be a source of frustration for some kids.

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What's it about?

In order to become a star of one of the Big Top shows in RINGLING BROS. AND BARNUM & BAILEY CIRCUS, you first need to spend a lot of time testing your skills at dozens of different acts on the back lot. Only after you've gained certification in enough different acts will a spot in the "Greatest Show on Earth" open up for you. Acts include all the classics you'd expect (tightrope walking, trapeze, clown pie fights, animal training, etc.), plus a few more surprising ones (a singing dog chorus and clown bowling, for example). Along the way, you'll earn Barnum Bucks, which you can use to purchase new costume pieces or random circus-related prizes (balloons, cotton candy, etc.) that don't seem to serve any purpose once bought.

Is it any good?

There's a really awesome big-top game hidden somewhere at the core of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, but a number of way-too-difficult mini-games with touchy controls hold it back from reaching anywhere near "Greatest Game on Earth" status. Successfully guiding a unicycle across a tightrope, for example, apparently requires the hands of a surgeon -- the movements needed to keep the unicycle upright are so minute, that a hairsbreadth in the wrong direction will send you plummeting off screen. And then, strangely, some of the other tightrope games (there are four) can be completed with far less difficulty. All of this is not to say that there isn't fun to be had with Circus. Many of the stunt, animal training, and clown games are a blast to play. And the way the acts you trained for appear in suped-up, more challenging forms when you reach the Big Show is done really nicely. Still, some of the control problems will leave you shaking your head.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the way backstage practice sessions are used to prepare players for Big Top shows. How does this mimic real life? Is there an important lesson about practice and preparation in the game?

Game details

  • Platforms: Nintendo Wii
  • Price: $29.99
  • Available online? Not available online
  • Developer: 2K Play
  • Release date: November 24, 2009
  • Genre: Mini-games
  • ESRB rating: E for Comic Mischief
  • Last updated: November 11, 2020

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