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Balloon Fight (NES) artwork

Balloon Fight (NES) review

"Starbuck faces shortcomings in technology that donít hinder his enemy. When he manages to pop an enemyís singular balloon (to William J. Starbuckís advantage, he has two balloons!), they have parachutes that allow them to fall gently, often allowing them to float above nearby suspended rocky ledges, as opposed to the infested waters below, where Kazak the space mutant fish would surely like to devour them."

Witness our hero. Letís call him William J. Starbuck. Starbuck appears to be sporting a blue skin-tight rubber suit, under bright red overalls. He has a big honking nose, his peepers are as blood-red as his outer attire, and his cranium is comfortably confined in a sapphire colored bicycle helmet. There are two balloons hovering over his head, evidently tied to his waist.

Starbuck looks like he just got off the short-bus, narcotized.

In actuality, William J. Starbuck is an unseen hero of the night. After darkness engulfs the small communities of Earth, Starbuck takes to the skies, via his balloons. Starbuckís superhero power is his mild resistance to the gravitational pull that keeps common people on the ground. Although it does require a steady flapping of his arms, Starbuck can stay airborne for extended periods of time. So, on abundantly starry nights, William J. Starbuck can be expected to be prowling the high heavens. These are unexplored altitudes: there are chunks of rock suspended in air that he can safely land on should he need a rest. Below is a tiny river, serving as a home to an outrageously mutated, man-eating fish. He is affectionately named Kazak.

So, somewhere up there, is a helmet wearing, drugged up anti-gravity midget, balloons harnessed to him, floating around a sky that has suspended slabs of stone and a hovering river with a man-eater.

Of course, his midnight tomfooleries arenít without purpose. Polluting the upper reaches are invaders from foreign galaxies, properly outfitted with comically humungous noses and snorkels, probably so that they can breathe in Earthís atmosphere. They, too, find it easiest to traverse the night sky imposingly by way of balloons and arm-flappery. Hell-bent on unleashing havoc, it is the responsibility of William J. Starbuck, our hero, to see these evildoers vanquished.

And thus, the conflict Ė careful duels in the darkness between good and evil, each goofily suspended by only balloons. The sport? Balloon Fight.

William J. Starbuck is nobodyís fool. He knows that the most obvious, easily achieved way of eliminating these birdmen is to pop their balloons by stomping on them. Of course, he is equally susceptible to these tactics, and the birdmen know it. What ensues is a duty dance with death, as Starbuck tries to get leverage enough stomp on the enemy balloons, and they do the same. The boundaries of these contests are small, so controlled flying is important!

Starbuck faces shortcomings in technology that donít hinder his enemy. When he manages to pop an enemyís singular balloon (to William J. Starbuckís advantage, he has two balloons!), they have parachutes that allow them to fall gently, often allowing them to float above nearby suspended rocky ledges, as opposed to the infested waters below, where Kazak the space mutant fish would surely like to devour them. If they are lucky enough to find solid ground beneath their feet, and they are given enough time, they are capable of repairing their balloons, and refilling them with air! Stomping them once wonít end the terror for William J. Starbuck. They need to be kicked a second time as theyíre descending via parachute, or while theyíre idling on one of the ledges.

Starbuck has no such parachute technology. Once his balloons are gone, theyíre gone. Heíll turn towards the screen, stare at the player emotionlessly with his beady red eyes, and flap helplessly, plummeting off-screen. Goodbye, William J. Starbuck.

In fact, these armies of birdmen actually come in ranks, which are categorized based on the birdmanís intelligence. These ranks are denoted by their balloon color. Pink is the most moronic bunchóWilliam J. Starbuck will have little trouble dispatching these imbecilic fools. Then come the mint-green patrol, and then the creamy-yellow birdmen groups. The mint-green rank features enemies of slightly less idiotic tendencies. The creamy-yellow birdmen, the highly honored generals of this birdmen armada, soar with much more preciseness and speed. They often hover along the top of the screen, so itís very difficult for William J. Starbuck to get the upper leverage so that he can kick their balloons out.

Itís not that any of the birdmen are that intelligentócompared to the cunning Starbuck, they are merely half-witted. The problem for William J. Starbuck is that they attack in packs. Three to eight of these air-bound adversaries will attack at a time!

It should also be noted that, if an enemy is downed, manages to parachute to safety, and begins refilling his balloon with air, he automatically becomes a birdman of the next highest rank, obtaining a fresh colored balloon as the result of his courage. So it is best for William J. Starbuck to end the terror of the birdman before he grows too powerful!

No semi-hero goes unrewarded. Besides the satisfaction of downing birdmen (some of them serving as healthy meals to the space fish, Kazak, inhabiting the tiny lake below), Starbuck also takes fanciful interludes from the thankless work. Here, Starbuck floats above five pipes that spit out balloons randomly. Heíll try to collect them all before they float off-screen for a modest bonus! Of course, William J. Starbuck then returns to his work, because, make no mistake, evil never sleeps.

Frankly, William J. Starbuck, besides the occasional defeat at the hands of the birdmen -- which send him back to his short-bus fortress of solitude to take heart -- has few other problems. His superhero theme (which he plays as he fights the birdmen for motivation, with a clunky, worn cassette player strapped to his belt) could certainly use some modernization. These tinny-sounding bleeps certainly arenít the epic symphonic orchestrations that most heroes are honored with. And, of course, the arm-flapping and balloon combination vehicle for flying isnít the most conventional way of going about it -- Starbuck has to be extra careful, because his movements are based on the amount of momentum his wildly flapping arms are allowing him! He needs to flap slowly, carefully, and under control to achieve the desired precision that will be necessary to navigate the ledge-filled skies, while sparring with the birdmen!

Some men lead unappreciated, dull lives. Not William J. Starbuck. Though his mental capacity may be brought into question based on the uniform he dons, his duties are by no means ordinary. Conquer birdmen in the Balloon Fight; protect the world.

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Staff review by K T (June 10, 2005)

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