With the increasing number of puzzle games furiously leaping to Nintendo’s online stores, it makes for a pretty fascinating battle for supremacy. The latest to make the jump is Balloon Pop Festival, an interesting combination of Bejewled and Puyo Puyo with a family friendly presentation and enjoyable gameplay. The result is something refreshing, though it never gets past the obvious fact that it’s just another puzzle game — one that never strives to do anything new or unique, but has the qualities of a well built product.
Rather than bore you with the ins and outs of the game’s lacklustre narrative (or lack thereof), let’s just say that it works, even if it’s a little childish. But considering that it's mainly for kids, the match is perfect. The gameplay, however, is what should drive you to such a simple, cheap WiiWare game. And though your inner child may or may not want to admit it, Balloon Pop Festival can be a pretty fun romp if things go your way.
Booting the game up will give you some options like story, time trial, and other common puzzle modes. The single player function is a quest through a monthly calendar of the “balloon festival,” with each month having a unique theme. February, for example, has a Valentine’s style while March has an Easter look. Each win will take you to the next month. While this mode is satisfying, and above all else, fun, it's very challenging as it tests your quick movement skills, your ability to think in a short amount of time, and your patience.
Placing the cursor over a balloon and moving it to a specific spot to combine it with others of the same colour is the primary objective. It feels like Bejeweled because you can only move two at once, yet the large amount of them that you can combine suggests Puyo Puyo. Once you've connected a set, the slow downward motion of the stack stops and lets you quickly try to nab more combinations before your short timer runs out. If you want, you can press the A button to skip this.
With such a neat concept, it’s disappointing that the game completely lacks one principle element that most Wii games should feature: pointer controls. Rather than aim at the screen, picking and choosing which balloons to move, you play Balloon Pop Festival with the Wii Remote held sideways. The 2 button selects while the B trigger cancels — a very odd combination when you realise that you never use the 1 button. When all is said and done, it doesn’t make much sense, especially considering that other WiiWare puzzle games have come and gone with a generally good use of the pointer. Balloon Pop Festival would’ve been better for it, though it’s still enjoyable.
The primary gameplay works pretty well, even with the drawbacks of the unimaginative controls. The single player modes are quite addictive as they’re fast paced and very rewarding. Having to match balloons is easy to get a hold of while other critters and items can come into play as well, netting you more points. There’s lots of ways to play, including a two-player option, that are all pretty engaging. Puzzle mode is especially satisfying as it tests your skills at linking combos together in one or two small moves. It's a very fun mode that will have you striving to reach the next puzzle.
The visual style of Balloon Pop Festival is a real treat — it features some of the cutest and most colourful graphics on the Wii yet. While it doesn’t utilise many characters or animations, the visuals still portray bright and cheery backdrops and family-friendly themes. The music is joyful and features some pretty catchy beats, though the sound effects can get repetitive.
Balloon Pop Festival is a good puzzle game with some neat elements, though it comes together in a very generic, run of the mill way. Looking past the questionable control option and simplistic gameplay is easy, however, considering that there might not be another WiiWare game with such a great mixture of cute, colourful visuals and engaging gameplay fundamentals. Is it worth 800 points? If puzzle games float your boat, definitely.