Balloon Fight arrived for the NES in 1984. It must be firmly shunted into the genre marked other, because you don’t see this kind of sheer balls-out weirdness often. The core gameplay is reminiscent of uber-geeky arcade title Joust, with an attempt at family-friendly presentation. (Which failed miserably.) It seems primary coloured and pleasant at first glance, but there are deeply questionable undertones. Balloon Fight, then, is the murderous clown from IT, friendly until you approach the sewer it’s lurking in. Then the benevolent veneer vanishes, and it gleefully eats your face off.
In terms of plot, the game takes a pissed soap opera writer approach. To wit, anything resembling a storyline is viciously purged. You’re a little dude with two balloons, wearing something that looks like Mario’s dungarees and a matching swimming cap. In the primary mode, you and your balloons/alluring ensemble pass through a series of stages. These are populated by other amateur aeronauts. You pass to the next area by mercilessly destroying the other guys. One button will send you soaring skywards, while the other needs some relentless mashing or precision presses depending on the situation. Aiming for one of the opponent’s balloons from above will burst one, with the second hit sending them plummeting into the sea below. These bastards can do the same to you, so float carefully. It’s also worth mentioning that they are either hideous mutant weevils from some unholy subterranean lair, or other little kids wearing masks of some sort. Abysmal blocky graphics make it impossible to tell. But whether innocent children or terrifying monstrous midgets, your goal is unchanged: mangle them all.
I haven’t tried the multiplayer, but I don’t doubt that it sucks just as hard (ie the combined strength of a Dyson showroom). Beyond this, your other option is balloon trip mode. Here, there are none of the aforementioned weevil-children to oppose you. Instead, you leave the small arenas behind and are unleashed upon an endless stretch of sky. You try to reach the furthest distance possible, all the while avoiding death by clouds and shiny things. I can’t fathom what the shiny things are, (stars? UFOs? Top secret military technology, like those rumoured stealth planes?) but suffice it to say that they’re positively innumerable and kill you horribly on contact. Also, falling too close to the sea below will summon the giant fish of instantaneous death. This bastard is like the Grim Reaper himself, but slightly less cheery. No pleas, no bargaining, just a quick devouring. Terrifying stuff indeed.
Balloon Fight is an interesting little curiosity. The wacky premise alone makes it worthy of notice, but that doesn’t mean you won’t conclude this is utterly, thoroughly shit after a few minutes. You’d derive more entertainment value from sitting scratching your balls, unless you’re a highscore-hunting maniac with unlimited patience. I will concede, though, that evading a sparkly demise in balloon trip kept me playing for a few goes. That’s all the praise this title will get from me.
Article by Chris Littlechild