Balloon Kid is the Game Boy sequel to the NES original Balloon Fight. That game is remembered by some as a stone-cold classic of addictive action, and by others as a pointless, repetitive chore. In our Balloon Fight review we fell somewhere in the middle. And so it's quite fitting that we also find ourselves there for the sequel.
Balloon Kid, for starters, has an actual story. One morning, Alice's little brother floats away on a bunch of balloons, so Alice grabs a few balloons herself and chases after him, battling wolves, electricity and bugs as she goes.
We didn't say it was a good story.
Balloon Kid takes great pains to expand the Balloon Fight experience, but this expansion causes at least as many problems as it solves. For example, while Balloon Fight was quite efficiently contained in single screens, Balloon Kid delivers stages so expansive that they scroll in all four directions. This is often problematic as it can obscure the presence of both bonus items and hazards, and that seems more like an unfortunate side effect of the Game Boy's limited screen size than a deliberate development choice. Often times choosing the correct path is due more to blind luck than skill, and that's disappointing.
Balloon Kid also wishes to expand upon the abilities present in the original Balloon Fight. This means that instead of just two "fly" buttons you also have the ability to blow up new balloons — an admittedly fun nod to the enemy behaviour of the original game — and also to release your balloons totally. This latter function is all too easily triggered by a stray thumb, and can often lead to instant death. Why it was included in the Balloon Trip mode (more on this later) is even more puzzling, as there's no solid ground to land on in the first place.
When you release your balloons you can run around and jump, just like in a normal platformer. Or, at least, like in a normal platformer with truly awful controls. The jumping uses some of the strangest physics we've ever encountered, and the inexplicable "bounciness" of Alice makes it difficult to ever really get a hold on it. In general, the controls are loose and slippery — much moreso than the already floaty Balloon Fight — but when on foot it's even worse.
The flying-right-to-left gameplay is spiced up somewhat by the inclusion of boss battles and bonus rounds. The bonus rounds are fun enough — and another great nod to the first game — but the boss battles are all rather trite, and the fact that you have to drop your balloons to fight them means they're more a frustration than anything to look forward to.
The game also suffers from the issue of being criminally dull for at least the first four stages. After that the experience picks up a bit, but any real challenge will be found by completionists only, who mean to grab every balloon in every stage.
There are also two other modes in the game: Vs. Play and Balloon Trip. Similar to the same mode in the first game, Balloon Trip is a score-attack round that finds you dodging hazards and collecting balloons. It's far more entertaining than the main game, but it still suffers from the unfortunate necessity of four-way scrolling and the sloppy controls. As far as Vs. Play goes, well, you've heard enough from us about our frustrations with Game Boy games being stripped of their two-player modes, so we'll just say this: yes, there was a two-player mode. Yes, it was fun. And no, you can't play it here.
All in all, Balloon Kid feels like an attempt to inflate the original game to impressive new proportions. Unfortunately they seemed to run out of breath halfway through, and we're left with a mediocre attempt at a game that really should pop.
Balloon Kid isn't without its charms, but those charms are pretty superficial: the graphics are nice and the music is fun, and the nods to Balloon Fight are all worth a smile. But the game itself is sloppy, aimless, and often rather dull. There are certainly worse offerings in the eShop, but we really do wish this one rose a great deal higher.