With the upcoming release of the Nintendo Entertainment System: NES Classic Edition (NA) / Nintendo Classic Mini: Nintendo Entertainment System (EU), we're going to provide short profiles of all 30 games included on the system. We start off with Balloon Fight.
It's an interesting turn of events that the addictive simplicity so readily associated with viral / successful mobile games was a key attraction of games in the early NES era. While the 8-bit machine was also host to ambitious and impressive games unlike anything played before on a home console, it also received ports of coin-guzzling arcade titles. Balloon Fight began life in the arcades (for the Nintendo VS. System) before becoming an iconic part of the NES landscape; nowadays it's still fondly remembered and often played, for various reasons.
First of all, some key facts around this game.
- First release was as an arcade in 1985.
- Famicom release date (Japan) - 22nd January 1985
- NES release date - August 1986 (NA) / March 1987 (EU)
The gameplay is extremely simple, yet also deceptively challenging - those one-more-go arcade roots are at the heart of the experience. There's a core mode in both single and two-player in which you manoeuvre around single screen stages, trying to pop the balloons of rivals before hitting them again to finish them off. Not an original idea in itself, even at the time, but the gameplay's compulsive hook arguably comes through the controls. You flap your character's arms with the A or B button, and each stage becomes a strategic battle for momentum and the high ground.
It's the necessity of being above your opponent to pop their balloons that's key, and considering the fact that going left or right off the edge of the screen brings you out on the other side, the increasingly complex and crowded stage designs call for careful control and space management. It's tricky, the sort of 'old school hard' that recalls the arcade origins of games like this. Every three stages gives some respite with a special challenge in which you collect balloons for even more points.
It's those extra stages that play host to the memorable and wonderful music track for which this game is so well known. That track is also heard in the Balloon Trip mode, a tricky but addictive side-scrolling stage full of obstacles and balloons to collect. The precision required is exacting, typical of the demands that NES titles of this ilk place on a gamer's abilities and speed of thought. As for the music, enjoy a listen of it below.
The concept and characters have been revived and referenced a number of times; there's even a Game & Watch edition, of sorts. Intriguingly, as the original came at arcades and also at a time when Nintendo was still cautious about the prospects of the Famicom / NES, it was actually ported to the Sharp X1 and NEC PC-8801. Hudson Soft handled these ports, with some footage of the X1 version below; sadly we couldn't find footage of the oddest version of all, for the Sharp Zaurus PDA in 2001...
Moving on to more solid ground, there was a sequel on Game Boy (not exactly critically acclaimed) called Balloon Kid, and the original has been referenced in multiple titles, including examples such as the Smash Bros. and WarioWare franchises. A relatively recent - and excellent - example can be found in Nintendo Land. Balloon Trip Breeze is a modern take on the similarly named mode in the original, this time with short stages represented as parts of the day. It adopts a craft-like aesthetic and utilises the GamePad touchscreen for controlling the breeze with swipes. You can also used the zoomed in view on the controller screen to tap on dangerous objects to destroy them.
The inclusion of this minigame in Nintendo Land is certainly welcome. It's a charming part of the package, especially for solo players, often luring gamers in for multiple attempts. It was perhaps pushed forward by former company President Satoru Iwata, who was the main programmer on the NES original - these were times when development teams were very small. The designer for the NES game was Yoshio Sakamoto, too, the man who many associate as the key creative force behind the Metroid series (albeit not the Prime series), and with credits on a host of other IPs.
The original title has also been released in its original form on multiple versions of the Virtual Console - on Wii, Wii U and 3DS. Notably, it was also one of 20 free games given to '3DS Ambassadors' following a major price cut to the portable in Fall 2011.
Whether looking for a quick solo challenge or a bit of 2-player gaming, this'll be a fun option on the Mini NES. Its simple but compulsive gameplay hook is representative not only of its arcade origins, but also has similarities to some of the quickfire experiences that are so easily found online or as affordable downloads on smart devices in the current day.
It's simple, it's timeless, and it'll also evoke memories of Iwata-san as we play it.