Balloon Fight
  • Genre:
    • Platformer
  • Developer:
    • Nintendo
  • Publishers:
    • Nintendo (Arcade/NES)
    • Hudson (PC88/X1)
  • Released:
    Arcade
    • JP November 1984
    • US 1984
    NES
    • JP 01/22/1985
    • US August 1986
    • UK 03/12/1987
    PC88
    • JP October 1985
    X1
    • JP November 1985
Score: 70%

This review was published on 02/12/2015.

Balloon Fight is an arcade styled video game developed and published by Nintendo. It was originally released as an arcade title in 1984 on the Nintendo Vs. System as Vs. Balloon Fight, but later got a home console release on the Nintendo Entertainment System. The NES version was released in Japan on January 22, 1985, North America in August 1986, and Europe on March 12, 1987. Additionally, the NES version got ported to a couple of Japanese computers, namely the NEC PC-8801 in October 1985 and the Sharp X1 in November 1985. The game is very similar to another, much older classic arcade game called Joust, which was developed by Williams Electronics. Balloon Fight is very classic Nintendo, although vintage might be the better word to use here. It harkens back to a simpler time when games were defined by a singular concept. While it's not the absolute best thing ever, Balloon Fight is still fun to play in small doses.

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As the title implies, this game involves balloons and fighting. It's a pretty descriptive title. Anyway, in the single player game, you control an unnamed individual known simply as a Balloon Fighter. The Balloon Fighter has two balloons attached to his helmet and he can fly by frantically flapping his dangly arms. You can rapidly tap the A button to do this, but it's much easier to simply hold down the B button, which achieves the same effect with less effort. Once you have liftoff, it won't take too long to figure out that your objective is to defeat all the other opposing Balloon Fighters. To do this, you must first touch their balloons to pop them, then as the enemies slowly parachute down, you touch them one more time to defeat them for good. Fallen foes will actually begin to fill new balloons with air, so you have to beat them quickly before they become airborne again. Enemies can also pop your balloons, though, and if both of your balloons are popped, you lose. Having only a single balloon is also bad, as it makes it harder to float. You get your balloons fully replenished every three stages in a bonus round. That's the basics of Balloon Fighting. It's a pretty neat, well thought out system, though it is derivative of Joust.

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In addition to getting your balloons popped by jerks, there are other hazards that can result in your untimely demise. The most obvious one is the body of water at the bottom center of the screen. Nobody can swim in this world, aside from the fish, so anyone that falls into that drink will drown. If that wasn't bad enough, there's a giant fish that will sometimes leap out of the pond and swallow you whole if you fly too close to the surface of the water for far too long. Another less obvious thing that can kill you is the thunderclouds. Occasionally, one of the clouds in the background will shoot a bolt of lightning that will casually bounce around the screen. Obviously, colliding with the lightning is a bad idea, as it instantly vaporizes you. There are also flippers, which don't kill you, but do knock you away if you touch them while they're spinning. Pretty much all of the environmental hazards except the flippers instantly kill you. Just about the only things that won't kill you instantly are the enemy Balloon Fighters, making them less threatening than the environment. It's a tough world out there.

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This game can be played with two players if you have another human handy. The multiplayer is almost exactly the same as the single player, except you have an ally to help you out with your balloon combat. That's right; this game technically has co-op! Not only that, but unlike many NES games of the time, this multiplayer mode isn't turn-based! That means both players can work together to defeat all enemies at the same time. There is a bit of a problem, though. This is one of those strange co-op modes that try to combine some competitive elements, so it's possible to ruin your friend's day. For example, both players can bounce into each other, potentially pushing the other player into harmful hazards. Even worse, one player can pop the balloons of another in the same manner as the enemies. This means the game can either be competitive or cooperative depending on the players. Unfortunately, even if the players agree to cooperate, it's far too easy to unintentionally cause problems for each other, which can destroy friendships. Multiplayer in Balloon Fight is fun when you aren't accidentally killing your friend, though.

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Balloon Trip is a mode that wasn't available in the original game's arcade release, but was added in later versions, such as the NES one. This mode can only be played by a single person and is about survival instead of hurting others. After launching into the air from a tiny platform, you fly over a seemingly endless ocean while dodging spark balls and popping balloons. Popping balloons adds to your score, but simply staying alive does that, too. The higher your score gets, the better your rank; your rank starts at 50 and can go up to 1. You only get a single life in this mode, so the slightest misstep will result in your game ending. This mode never ends, so the goal is merely to see how high you can get your score before biting the dust. It's a nice change of pace from the regular mode, but far too difficult for most people to make much progress in.

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While the arcade and NES versions of Balloon Fight are extremely similar, there are some significant differences. Because the arcade game lacks Balloon Trip mode, it might seem like the inferior version, but it actually has some features that were removed in the home console release. The original arcade release of Balloon Fight had a vertically scrolling screen, but the regular mode of play in the NES version takes place on a single screen that doesn't scroll horizontally or vertically. The stage layouts were modified to accommodate this change. Another big feature the arcade release had is two screens for use with multiplayer. The arcade version comes in a cabinet with two screens, one for each player, whereas the NES version confines all multiplayer action to a single screen. Aside from those differences, the NES and arcade versions of the game are pretty similar. Unsurprisingly, the arcade version is still better despite the absence of Balloon Trip, but the NES version isn't at all bad.

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Balloon Fight is a delightful little game of delightfulness. The core mechanics are quite simple, yet interesting enough to keep players invested. Playing with two players cooperatively is also enjoyable, provided neither player is a jerk. Balloon Trip is a cool mode, albeit a little too hard. The music is also superb, though sadly, you don't get to hear much of it during the normal modes. Even though the arcade version is arguably the best, the NES one is more accessible and a good enough substitute. Balloon Fight is a good time if you just want to have a good time.

Word Count: 1,217

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