Although Circus Atari is quite similar to Breakout, the presentation is unique, and there are subtle differences in the way the game "feels". The objective is the same: knock out rows of objects (in this case it's balloons) and clear the screen. This is accomplished by jumping on the high end of a teeter-totter and launching a clown on the other end of the totter upwards to break the balloons at the top of the screen. Unlike in Breakout, the 3 rows of balloons actually scroll from side to side, and come back into the playfield from the other side once it has disappeared off the screen. You lose a life when you miss a see saw.
Circus Atari excels in some areas, but it's also inferior to Breakout as well. On the plus side, it's a bit more humorous, and the environment is certainly more entertaining than in Breakout. The death scene when you miss the see saw and crash to the ground is hilarious! The clown splats onto the pavement, head first, with limbs flailing in all directions. Circus Atari also lets you switch the direction of the teeter totter -- something that comes in very handy when making split second maneuvers to catch the descending clown. Additionally, you can earn extra lives via high point totals.. something that was almost foreign to Atari prior to this game.
The game plays slower than Breakout; it's more about coordination and timing than numbingly fast action. You can blast a clown through the row of balloons, but the resulting ping-pong-esque banks off multiple balloons isn't as rewarding as in Breakout. You don't quite get the same rush from seeing your clown bounce around behind the balloons as you do when the ball in Breakout bounces around at mind-numbing speeds while you watch your score hyperventilate almost beyond control.
Nevertheless, Circus Atari is a favorite of mine, and is a refreshing change from Breakout and not merely a slight rehash. There's enough here to satisfy any ball-and-paddle fanatic, and reason enough to get a real Atari to play it on (since an emulator can't exactly replicate the controllers, can they?)