Bad Day on the Midway

Developer:  The Residents
Publisher:  Inscape
Year Released:  1995

Review by Steve Ramsey (May, 2002)
Scene 1: The Midway Amusement Park
Madam Mandrake the computerised fortune teller is in the foreground. Cue Timmy, a boy of about 10. His three-legged hamster is dead, and Charlie is at the doctor with a nail in his foot. Will Charlie's foot be amputated? And when is Timmy's violin lesson?

Shift scene to "Kill a Commie Shooting Gallery". The Coma Man is inside. Miss Dixie enters and tells Timmy a story about a truck driver, a dead baby, Ike and the carnival.

Scene 2: Outside the Shooting Gallery
Timmy meets Ted. Ted is on a mission to liberate ugliness by giving it death. Miss Dixie meets the man from the IRS. He wants the tax information or he will shut the place down.

Otto can't find Oscar, so the racing rat sideshow sits idle. Lottie the Human Log is making quilts and can't be disturbed.

Scene 3: Inside "The Sperm Whale Gives Birth to an Electric Eel"
This exhibit is in ruins. Oscar lies low. Dagmar the Dog Lady, the tattooed stripper, is explaining about the Chihuahua on her buttock called Daddy. Dixie can't find the papers, but has found surveillance tapes, and an acid bath.

Scene 4: ??
... is up to you. The stories you pull together from the fragmentary thoughts and tales of the characters you inhabit are what this multimedia experience is all about. That, and surviving to the end. There are numerous ways for the many characters to die, and you won't want to be in one of them when it happens.

As intimated, you can jump from character to character when the paths of two characters cross, and their thoughts then become your thoughts. They are displayed below the game screen, in fragments. A crystal ball indicates whom you are inhabiting. If you want to know all about the Midway, you will need to jump often. It is also a good survival technique.

The lives and loves of the carnival inhabitants are generally twisted and occasionally sordid. You would expect nothing less from a carnival run by a Nazi with attractions including "Torture's Top 10", and those mentioned above.

There seems to be a definite main (albeit convoluted) plot, but within the confines of that plot each of the characters has their own agenda. According to the manual, as a character gains information, that agenda can change. Time will also pass and the characters you aren't inhabiting will still be pursuing their agenda and interacting with each other. In addition, there is a randomiser in the programming which, again according to the manual, ensures the game never unfolds the same way twice.

This uncertainty, and the cause and effect of jumping to and fro, provides much of the interest. The tales of the carnival inhabitants, and the way in which they are told and uncovered, provide the rest. There is a lot of animation going on, many of the images as odd, or even as grotesque, as the words they are illustrating.

I liked the look of Bad Day on the Midway. The bright lights (and music) of the carnival provide a relevant counterpoint to the lumpiness of its inhabitants and laid an almost respectable veneer over what lies just below the surface. The telling of the tales is illustrated by an animated pastiche of still and moving images and pictures, accompanied by sounds and music (and in one case a song).

I have been able to inhabit 8 different characters on the occasions I have played, and certainly have found that things rarely happen the same way. I have made it safely to the end on two occasions, and died in different ways in different bodies on two more. I have seen numerous other characters die, killed (so far) by someone else, or by plague.

There are at least 3 characters I have yet to inhabit, and perhaps you can't. I have established that certain locations are only accessible to certain characters at certain times, so perhaps inhabiting these other 3 is the same - I need to interact with them at the right time with the right character.

Eye spy
The cursor will indicate where you can move, and where you can't go. The capacity to jump into another character is indicated by an open eye. It is an appropriate icon, given The Residents, the group of performance artists and musicians behind this production, generally appear in public with giant eyeballs for heads. Famous but still "unknown", they have performed for more than 30 years, and have put out several multimedia pieces.

Bad Day received several awards when it was released and was followed by a soundtrack album. A graphic novel was mooted, and David Lynch (appropriately) was even supposed to be developing a television series.

Assuming you don't die, it won't take much more than 40 minutes to get to the end, in the sense that you will leave the park. You won't however have "learnt" all there is to learn, or heard the tales of all the inhabitants (or died, which can be revealing in itself). To do so you will have to visit The Midway again (although you can hear the character's life stories through the credit screen).

Whether you will want to is another matter. If the descriptions above are suggestive of something darkly, perhaps morbidly, interesting, then you will probably re-visit a few times. If they are not, then you probably won't visit at all. rating:  

Copyright © Steve Ramsey 2002. All rights reserved.

System Requirements:
Windows 3.1 or higher, 486DX 33 MHz or faster, 2x CD ROM, 8 MB RAM, 16 bit sound card, 640 x 480, 256 colours.

Macintosh System 7 or higher, 68030 33 MHz or faster, 2x CD ROM, 8 MB RAM, 640 x 480, 256 colours.