Fancy a game where you fight balloons. And people. And fight balloons with people? Our Andy (UKNESBoy) has just the game for you, Balloon Fight! I don’t really need to say anything else other than enjoy Andy’s unique blend of structured critique, humorous anecdotes and AA-standard puns…
Going through the annals of history, to say specifically like March of 1987, there wasn’t anything big or important that happened that made it memorable. Sure, Andre the Giant and Hulk Hogan were slugging it out in Wrestlemania 3, a Vincent Van Gogh painting sold for a record amount and Les Miserables opened on Broadway. Nothing exciting. But what was exciting, well mildly exciting anyway was that in March 1987 Nintendo released Balloon Fight on the NES. Looking back at the game now, was it just a load of hot air or does it leave you drifting off into space with excitement?
Balloon Fight was released on the NES in Europe in 1987 and was a black box title under the Action series. The game was based on an arcade game from 1982 called Joust, which migrated to the arcades under the name of Balloon Fight in 1984 before coming to the home console three years later. The aim of the game is that you are a fighter of balloons (a valid career choice as any these days), dressed in fancy red-and-blue clothing and starting off with two balloons attached to you, hitting the enemies balloon that are floating above them, before hitting the enemy directly to kill them. After hitting the balloon you only have a certain amount of time to hit them before they balloon blows up again and you have to hit it again in order to finish them. If you don’t manage to hit them a second time, you may be in luck as on screen at the bottom there is a lake where a big fish will come and eat up whoever passes near. Should that happen then a bubble rises from the lake, which you can collect for points. However, not only enemies get eaten by the fish – it includes yourself as well, so be careful should you decide to be brave and hover above the lake. Occasionally, a force of nature comes into play – lightning will show and strike clouds, so be mindful of this when your defeating enemies.
As with most good arcade games from that era, the challenge of the game comes from the levels or phases getting harder the further you progress. This can be in the guise of more enemies on screen, more platforms and more rotating whirly springs that push you in a direction should you get close to it. What is good though, to take your mind off killing enemies and dodging big fish, is that every three rounds there is a bonus stage, where at the bottom four pipes will randomly pump out balloons for you to pop for extra points. Collecting all twenty balloons nets you a sweet bonus that any gameshow-host worth their salt would be proud to pass off on contestants. If the thought of destroying folk on balloons doesn’t appeal to you and are considering why to pick up this game, Nintendo had you covered.
What you find as well with Balloon Fight is the ability for a second player to join in on the fun under the most mysterious of options: “2-player game”. There were a number of games on the console that unfortunately had “multiplayer” when in fact it was one player on screen at a time, completing the level and/or dying before the second player can play. But not Balloon Fight – both characters on the screen same time destroying enemies and dodging lightning – wonderful!
On the main menu you will also notice there is a game mode called Balloon Trip – it looks and feels a bit like Space Zone from Super Mario Land 2 on the Game Boy with which your character moves from right to left, across space popping balloons but dodging stars that will burst your balloon. The stars start off still and twinkly however they move about in directions so you need good reflexes to dodge them whilst also not hovering low enough to get eaten by the fish in the lake. This mode does make a welcome change and is a good test of how good you are at the game, if killing enemies isn’t always up your street.
In terms of graphics, nothing too exciting happens with Balloon Fight however the colours are bold, the black background does make you feel like your fighting balloons in space and have nice touches such as stars twinkling or the way the lake looks and sounds when either you or an enemy takes an unfortunate dip into it. The music jaunty throughout and the sound effects suit the game well, so on this occasion no need to break out another compilation of “driving music” or “dad rock” whatever on earth that should be – just set your television up to midway and get pumped ready to burst balloons. The controls are straight forward enough – both A and B button makes your character rise, whilst left and right makes your character move in that direction. Your character will automatically pop the enemies balloon and finish them off without you having to press another button to do so, so your focus will be about positioning and reflexes.
The question you may ask yourself is, is this a game to have in your collection (should you be collecting the carts)? To that, the answer is absolutely unequivocally yes. The NES had some great arcade ports on the console especially during the black box period (the most obvious game that springs to mind is Popeye), and Balloon Fight is certainly one of those titles. The controls are simple enough but like a lot of things in life, it is easy to begin but takes a long time to master and become good at it. There is enough challenge in the first game mode alone that will keep you wanting to play and more, getting better at it, without even taking into consideration the second game mode of dodging stars, popping balloons and improving your reflexes and hand-eye co-ordination.
The fact the game has local multiplayer, which a fair number of titles didn’t have on the console, just adds to the fact you would have hours and hours of fun with this game. The game isn’t the most common to be found in retro gaming shops or your favourite auction websites therefore price is a little bit higher than your average black box title (Stack Up aside). Failing getting the cart of the game, the game is part of the Nintendo Switch Online service so if you have a Switch then it is definitely a game to check out if you also have the Online aspect too. So do yourself a favour, stop inhaling the helium from a balloon making your voice sound high-pitched and track down this game in all its resplendent 8-bit glory, you won’t regret it.