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Balloon Fight (NES) artwork

Balloon Fight (NES) review

"You (and a competing friend, if you go this two-player) get to make a mad leap forward and hopefully keep a few of your opponents from even getting off the ground. The rest obviously will take to the air, and then it's a delicate matter of defeating them while avoiding the natural hazards."

Back in 1984, Nintendo was still trying to make a name for itself in the arcades. Besides Donkey Kong, it needed more of those games that tempted players to drop quarters. The solution? Balloon Fight. With a simple premise and fast, addictive action that somehow remains relevant even today, this title was one of the early entries in a string of hits from the big 'n'.

The whole idea driving this game is that you are a little guy floating around with a pair of balloons. You're not alone. Also populating the sky are a host of opponents, each of whom is gliding about on a single balloon. Your goal here is to pop their balloons without having the same done to yours. Each time you pop a balloon, the given opponent glides to the ground via parachute, where he will blow another balloon if given time. This means you have to not only rid him of his balloon, but then drop down and take him out before he finds the chance to generate a new one.

If this all sounds ridiculously simple, well, it is. And it isn't. For one thing, there's what in today's terms might be considered the arena, an open sky and a few platforms. There are also waters and clouds. These all affect your experience. A typical stage begins with you armed with your two balloons while your opponents stand on various hanging ledges, puffing up their balloons for the airborne assault. You (and a competing friend, if you go this two-player) get to make a mad leap forward and hopefully keep a few of your opponents from even getting off the ground. The rest obviously will take to the air, and then it's a delicate matter of defeating them while avoiding the natural hazards. A hit from a bolt of lightning and you're done for. Or if you hang over the low water too long--which isn't long enough at all to seem entirely fair--a huge fish will gobble you up. Instant death. On top of this, the game in later stages introduces spinning platforms you or your opponents can touch. These send you wild, the result being that you're likely to get a popped balloon as a result of the wild spinning. Your computer-driven opponents, meanwhile, are impervious to the lightning (though not the fish), so it's a matter of staying on your toes.

While you can glide through the screen from the right and emerge on the left as was typical of games at this time, the top of the screen represents a solid barrier. Often it comes down to competing with an opponent for the high ground and hoping your higher than him when the two of you finally connect. Pretty tricky stuff, and it'll definitely put your timing to the test.

When first you play, you might be ready to call it quits fairly quickly. But one more game never seems too much a stretch, and soon you find yourself adjusting to the quirky controls. The 'a' button does a small paddle, while if you hold down the 'b' button, you can do extended bursts of speed. Get going too fast and you're done for. Flying is high-maintenance but quite fun. The better you get, too, the tougher the game treats you. Quickly, it becomes a matter of garnering the highest possible score. Then there are the bonus stages, where you can really add things up.

But wait, there's more! If you get tired of the standard mode, there's a third option, the balloon trip. Here, you're moving along a path, avoiding lightning bolts as you collect balloons. To be honest, it's simply not half the fun of the main mode, but Nintendo was definitely wise to include it. Too bad it doesn't retain its enjoyability like the other portions of the title.

Some things that oddly enough do retain their enjoyability are graphics and sound. The whole time, your television is piping out a merry little tune that somehow fits the game perfectly. And the simplistic graphics have a charm all their own, most similar to what you might get if Bubble Bobble and the original Mario Bros. title produced a love child. Nothing looks overwhelmingly good, but even now, you can look at what the game presents and see it must have been a killer in the visual department back in the day.

Of course, the best news is that time hasn't entirely dulled this title's appeal. If you can find it for a good price, it's definitely recommended. Not all of Nintendo's early attempts at greatness remained enjoyable for more than a few years, but this one certainly did. And if you have a friend with a craving for some retro action, you really can't go wrong with Balloon Fight.

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Staff review by Jason Venter (September 11, 2002)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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