Continuing the theme of black box games on the Nintendo Entertainment System comes Balloon Fight, launched on the system in Europe in March 1987, the same month that bought us such Appetite for Destruction by Guns N Roses, and Michael Jackson released Bad, none of which I’m listening to whilst writing this.
Based on the 1982 arcade game Joust, this game as well was released in 1984 in arcades before being ported to the NES. The idea is that you are a balloon fighter, in your fancy Mario-esque coloured outfit with 2 balloons, hitting the enemies balloons in rounds or “phases”. So you cannot hit them straight on, but burst their balloon that is above them. Once this has been achieved, the enemy will float down gracefully, waiting for you to attack their dying carcass once more. Failing that, at the bottom of the screen in the middle is a lake where a fish, who for the purporses of this review we will call Gertrude, eats the enemy for you. Pretty sweet! However if you hover over Gertrude, she’ll rise from the water chomping on you, thus losing a life. Not sweet. Occasionaly lightning will strike from the clouds on screen, so be mindful of that as well. If the enemy falls into the lake, a bubble will rise, collect that for extra yummy points.
As per all good arcade games, the levels get harder and harder but provides a good challenge, like Urban Champion did once you reached level 15 onwards. More platforms, ergo more enemies appear, so you’ll need reflexes of a cat, or a toddler high on E-Numbers to progress. However every 3 rounds, just to take a break from popping balloons comes the bonus round, where you destroy clowns knocking them into man holes. If only, no, its collecting balloons – 20 will rise from the pipes and all you have to do is collect them all. Do that for a sweet-ass perfect bonus. A tip I can reccommend is when the level starts, you have approx 3 seconds before the enemies take to the skies, so try destroying them as quickly as possible as they take 1 hit to kill, whilst when in the air, you need to pop their balloon, then strike them a second time to finish them off. What makes this game great, like all games, is the co-op play. Grab a buddy and start popping those balloons, working together taking half the screen and sharing the rewards, or go for glory yourself reigning supreme and smugly over your chum, either way Ol’ Gertrude won’t mind double for lunch!
The graphics are your standard 8 bit fair, however has nice colours, nothing to bland and pastel, with nice touches with the stars twinkling and the splash when you or the enemy hurtle into the lake. The sounds are various, and music jaunty, especially in the bonus levels. The sounds are not bad enough where you want to mute the system, with certain sound effects very much from the Atari 2600, especially when you crash into the enemy’s balloon. But hey, we’re not here for GTA style radio stations playing 80’s cheese, we’re all about the gameplay right?
But for all the pacifists out there thinking why should I part good money for this delicious slice of retro goodness, there is a 3rd option accesible on the main menu entitled Balloon Trip. Reminiscnent of the Space Zone stage of Super Mario Land 2 on the Game Boy, your man rides from right to left, collecting what else but balloons, whilst avoiding the stars that will kill you in one hit. Starting off stationary, they start moving for your inconvinience. Hover around the lake enough and Gertrude makes a somewhat unwelcome appearance. Its a welcome distraction if popping enemies isn’t your bag, and tests your reflexes well.
So all in all, Balloon Fight is a worthy addition to any retro collection for the NES. The simplistic controls and well executed gameplay ensures that you’ll have hours of fun toppling your high score, or relaxing by collecting the balloons. Nowadays carts can be rare, with scarce appearances on eBay UK and on foreign sites the PAL-B versions going for at least 12 Euros. It was released on the Wii’s Virtual Console back in 2007, but as always its reccommended to play this on the system it was designed for. I’m not opposed ot the whole VC as its a great way for new gamers to experience those retro games from the past. But if the chance becomes available to own this exquisite title then I implore you to do so, and hey, when has this UKNESBoy steered you wrong before? Well…
Rating – 5 out of 5