To mark the arrival of the Virtual Console on the Wii U, Nintendo has launched a very generous promotion to mark the 30th anniversary of the Famicom (the Japanese version of the NES, in case you were wondering). What this promotion entails is the release of seven classic Nintendo games on the Wii U over a period of seven months for the absurdly low price of $0.30/€0.30/£0.30 for 30 days after they drop. The first game to appear is the ever-popular Balloon Fight, an arcade title that has been released time and time again in several different iterations on various gaming platforms, most recently including Balloon Trip Breeze from the Nintendo Land suite of games. Suffice it to say, it’d be an impressive feat if you’ve managed to not play some form of Balloon Fight by now.
Before you play, there are two different game modes to choose from: the main game, and a secondary quest titled Balloon Trip. The main game, which actually fits the titular description of “balloon fight,” has you floating around the screen with balloons attached to your back while trying to pop the balloons attached to enemy characters, sending them plummeting to the ground. Knock out all of the on-screen enemies before they take you out and you get to move on to the next stage. This game mode can be surprisingly difficult, but it also allows for a second player to join in the fray, either helping or hindering your progress. It’s an incredibly simple concept that has been reproduced countless times, and like many of the early NES releases, Balloon Fight is reflective of arcade games in that your goal is focused on achieving the highest score possible rather than advancing through any sort of linear objective.
Though the game is simple and your goal never changes, the challenge stems from the number of enemies on screen and the obstacles that stand in your way. As you advance and continue moving towards increasingly difficult stages, more enemies will appear and more platforms will block your path of flight. There are also a number of different hazards that will vie to take your life, including clouds that project lightning your way and bodies of water full of very hungry fish that must be avoided.
Balloon Trip, the second game mode, has you floating from right to left on a continuous course dodging obstacles and collecting balloons for bonus points. Much like the main game, it’s all about earning a high score rather than working toward a tangible end goal. While this mode does add a bit of variety from trying to climb level after level, it still lacks the inherent diversity in gameplay that makes most games so engaging. The simple gameplay in both modes, while enticing for folks looking for a game with an arcade feel, is also the double-edged sword that will draw some players in while simultaneously pushing others away.
Both modes, while different in execution but very similar in style, are played simply by guiding your character around the screen with the D-Pad and either mashing A or holding B to propel yourself forward. Owners of the Pro Controller also have the option of using that as their primary device, and adding a second player, as is the case with most Wii U games, requires the addition of a Wii Remote. While the controls are not the tightest in gaming history, they do well to reflect the sluggish experience of trying to pilot yourself if balloons were carrying your weight. Though tighter controls are always a positive, the poor design here can easily be attributed to the developers wanting to make for a more genuine experience regarding movement, but that’s a generous assumption to make.
Whatever control scheme you choose to use, tapping the GamePad’s touchscreen will open up the Virtual Console menu where you can create a restore point in your game, a favorite feature of many modern gamers. Another feature of the Wii U that tends to be standard with many releases thus far is the inclusion of off-screen play, which here allows Balloon Fight to be played entirely on the GamePad’s small screen. You can also access Miiverse from the GamePad while playing, making it easy to brag and show off your high scores. There are no online leaderboards integrated directly into the game, as this is a simple port, but being able to share screenshots of your score on Miiverse –as many players have already done — proves to be a worthy substitute.
It’s also worth noting that, even for an NES game, the graphics are not on par with some of the more fleshed-out titles, and look a bit bland. The character sprites are detailed enough to differentiate yourself from your enemies, but everything looks very simple and plain, and the environments aren’t even the least bit impressive. Much the same can be said about the soundtrack which is a classic at this point, but that doesn’t make it any less repetitive.
Balloon Trip is an old game, and its age is starting to show. While it's an entertaining game that showcases the simplicity of many classic arcade titles that found their way onto the NES home console, it also has the kind of repetitive gameplay that can become tiresome sooner rather than later. While this Wii U re-release is a suitable port of the original with the much-appreciated additions of off-screen play, Virtual Console restore points, and Miiverse integration, it’s a difficult recommendation for new audiences who weren’t around to enjoy it when it was originally released. Balloon Fight attempts to fly high, but you can't help feeling that it's just full of hot air.