Circus Electrique (CE) is heavily inspired by Darkest Dungeon, but the setting is a circus in Victorian London with Steampunk embellishments. Many of CE’s mechanics are straight out of Darkest Dungeon, however they are tweaked somewhat with effects, status, and state of mind working similar in some ways, but some with more complexity. The labels are all changed; for example, “Devotion” is the analog of Darkest Dungeon’s “Stress”. The circus setting adds an odd twist, as a portion of the player’s available characters will be required to put on a daily show, while four others are out exploring the streets of London. The idea behind this is that the shows bring in money and components, and the explorers go out on the street maze and fight.
The are some settings and options in CE, but none of them are very important (except the ability to turn down the music). CE was designed for a console so there are oddball options like limiting the frame rate to 30 FPS. There is a Controls menu item, however none of the controls can be changed other than “Invert Coin Flick Controls”. The hotkeys and control layouts can be viewed, but not changed. It doesn’t matter much because the game can be played with the mouse alone and the interface design is pretty solid in this regard. The game features a tutorial built into the start of a campaign that presents a bewildering amount of information in a fairly short period of time. Fortunately, there is a “Codex” that is easily accessible with detailed descriptions for all of the game’s mechanics, skills, status effects, consumables, crafting, activities, etc.
CE has a backstory that is voiced with static paper doll actors, it’s easy to skip past all of it. It doesn’t really add much to the game, but sort of gives a reason for the craziness occurring on the London streets. There are two main activities in CE, setting up the daily circus shows and sending a party out on the streets to explore and fight. Yes, this is a somewhat surreal scenario; a circus is putting on daily shows with patrons paying to see acts to finance the performers going out and clearing the streets of London of bad guys. As strange as it is, it does add a way for four performers to gain experience fighting, while three or four others gain experience putting on shows. Choosing who is going to fight vs work a show becomes a complex problem, and perfect balance is hard to achieve. Often, creating a good show will leave the party without the ideal mix or worse, positioning problems.
The same kinds of cutthroat RNG fighting mechanics and cheesy tactics that exist in Darkest Dungeon are found in CE. For example, frequently at the end of a fight, the player will need to make passing moves on the last enemy over and over so that a healer can heal the whole party. This is due to the fact that health is persistent. Back at the circus, there is a healing area called the “sleeping cart”, but as with Darkest Dungeon, a character in healing is unavailable for the next day and limited spots are available. The biggest difference between Darkest Dungeon and CE is that the party only does one fight, and then goes back to the circus instead of clearing a whole maze at once. The “dungeons” in this case are street districts and they are part of a progressive campaign that are unlocked one by one.
Each of the circus performer types come with a randomized skill set and there are synergies between characters. There are even non-combat synergies for the shows. Leveling a character allows the upgrade of skills and the circus act capability as separate items. Characters lost to combat are easily replaced, via a daily train, however sometimes upgraded characters are painful to lose. There are crafted items for party consumable use and gadget items for individuals as well. CE has some bugs, it occasionally crashed with an Unreal Engine 4 message, and a few damage mechanics involving enemy position changes feel like an exploit. Overall, Circus Electrique is a competent and perhaps more forgiving Darkest Dungeon clone, but with a light-hearted atmosphere and a bit of added complexity. Circus Electrique is recommended, especially for players looking for an easier time with party management than Darkest Dungeon.