Sunday, February 17, 2013

Review: Balloon Fight - Wii U Virtual Console

Until July 2013 Nintendo is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Famicom by releasing "classic" titles for the new Wii U Virtual Console. As an added bonus, you can get these games for 30 cents during the first 30 days of each title's release. The first title is Balloon Fight. Is it worth two bits and a buffalo nickel? Find out after the jump.

Balloon Fight is certainly an odd choice to kick off Nintendo's 30th anniversary celebration on the Wii U Virtual Console. Having grown up in the NES era, I do not recall friends huddled around the arcade cabinet (much less even seeing the game in arcades) or inviting each other over for rounds of Balloon Fight after school. Matter of fact, I do not remember any of my friends even owning a copy of this game. I was only recently reunited with this lost relic when it became available on the ill-fated e-Reader accessory for the Gameboy Advance and again when it was a playable title in Animal Crossing.

Lion is to cat as Joust is to Balloon Fight 

I can think of a few reasons why Balloon Fight is not as renowned as other early Nintendo titles but I will simply state the obvious; the game is a Joust clone. Back in the day video games stood out because they were unique experiences. This individuality was achieved despite the fact that there were technical limitations (one screen with limited pixels, color, and sound) and good developers still managed to make each bit ooze with personality. Pac-Man was nothing like Donkey KongDefender was nothing like Elevator Action, Battlezone was nothing like Centipede, Frogger was nothing like Moon Patrol... you get the picture. It wasn't until later, near the 16-bit era, when we began to see multiple attempts to clone a successful game title on a massive scale. To use a more recent example; I will never forget the day the Sega Dreamcast launched and I brought it home, loaded up Soul Calibur, and heard my roommate say, "Dude, don't you already have this game?" Sadly, the question my roommate posed on 9/9/99 becomes all the more relevant with every port of Balloon Fight.

All things considered Balloon Fight stands out, for better or worse, as one of the early attempts to "cash in" on the success of another title. On a side note, the experience of  Joust and Balloon Fight has never really been successfully replicated outside the arcade. This is due in large part to the very nature of the gameplay as it seems mandatory that a standard arcade joystick be used for this "genre"... a D-pad or analog stick just does not feel right.

Watch this video to see one player gameplay in action.
Listen to hear one of the most annoying sound effects in video game history.

Balloon Fight is easy to pick up and play yet difficult to master. The game looks and plays like a primitive arcade title and no one will be surprised that Nintendo was also able to make a relatively accurate Game and Watch version of Balloon Fight. The main gameplay mode consists of a similar playfields in which your goal is to fell all the other balloon pilots on the screen. This is accomplished by steering your pilot to hit your opponent from above. Doing so will pop their balloons or destroy their parachute. You can also knock over your opponents as they attempt to pump up more balloons. Balloon Trip is a Scramble style mode in which you avoid obstacles to rack up high scores. There is a two player mode but keep in mind that you need two original Wii Remote controllers in order to play it. In other words, you can't just use the Wii U GamePad and one Wii Remote. I seriously hope upcoming SNES titles on the Wii U Virtual Console will not require two Classic Controllers.

When taken in context, people used to pay a quarter (around 58 cents in today's money) just to have a go at Balloon Fight in the arcade, and a copy of the NES cart or e-Reader cards will set you back around ten bucks today. So, the bottom line is that Balloon Fight is worth 30 cents. This is especially true if you want to collect all the games available during the 30th anniversary promotion. However, Balloon Fight will most definitely be forgotten as the better titles in the series are released over the next several months.

K.C. Munchkin will always be a poor man's Pac- Man and Balloon Fight will always be a poor man's Joust.

For a list of the upcoming 30th anniversary titles click here

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