Halloween is finally upon us. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been taking a tour through creepy, old video games, and I saved the most terrifying for last.

For those who are unaware, coulrophobia is described as the “morbid fear of clowns.” Psychologists have looked at a lot of causes for the condition, and one of the most common explanations is that it touches on the uncanny valley: an inner revulsion to something that almost seems human, but not quite. Add to that cultural factors like Stephen King’s Pennywise and real life serial killer and birthday clown John Wayne Gacy and it’s frankly amazing that clowns can work anywhere.  Still not convinced?

I present this clown from the old cereal Sugar Krinkles…

…and Lon Chaney from the 1928 film Laugh, Clown, Laugh.

So, with all that said, what could possibly be more terrifying than a video game completely devoted to clowns? Quite a bit as it turns out. Despite having a nightmare inducing cover, the video game Clowns (originally released as an arcade in 1978, and then appearing on the VIC-20 and Commodore 64) is an incredibly unassuming game. It’s not even original. Produced by Bally Midway, the game is a direct copy of the 1977 Exidy game Circus.

Gameplay is incredibly simple. You control a springboard with two clowns at either end. A group of balloons hovers high overhead. You launch the clowns from the springboard into the balloons, gaining points for each balloon you collect (every jump gained you 10 points, yellow balloons earned 20 points, green balloon earned 50 points and blue balloons earned 100 points. In addition, if you cleared all yellow balloons you received 200 bonus points, an additional 500 bonus points for clearing all green balloons, and 1000 points and an extra life for clearing all of the blue balloons.) To make things a bit more challenging, you have to catch the clowns on their way back down. If they hits the ground three times, the game is over. For all intents and purposes, Clowns (and Circus) are just a variation on Atari’s 1976 game Breakout.   

So maybe it’s not the most terrifying game ever created, but seriously who thought that cover was a good idea?

Shaun Jex Shaun Jex (51 Posts)

Shaun Jex is a lifelong gamer, a journalist, and pop culture historian.His love of video games began with a Commodore 64 he played growing up, late night sessions on his NES, Game Boy and Sega Genesis, and frequent trips to the local Tilt arcade. He edits the Citizens' Advocate newspaper in Coppell, Texas and writes about Disney and Walt Disney World history for Celebrations Magazine and the Celebrations Magazine blog. He runs a weekly vlog called "The MCP" dedicated to retro video games, and a channel with his wife Kara called "The Marceline Depot," dedicated to Disney, amusement parks, and travel.