Oh come on, really? A playthrough of a Game Boy game? This is outlandish! Ahem. The Game Boy is an interesting beast to do a playthrough for. For the actual 'playing' bit, my idiot lackwit writer elected to play on his Game Boy Advance SP- sadly the classic 'toaster' GB is just too blurry for his eyes these days. The poor baby. For the screenshots bit, to make up for playing it on hardware that has a screen that human eyes can see without bursting into flames, we'll be using the ol' four-shades-of-green style. We're also not increasing the size or adding Super Game Boy borders or any of that nonsense. So get your glasses on, or fetch your magnifying glass, old timers!
A company we don't talk about a lot on Gaming Hell- Nintendo.
Why? Ehh, I could never really find a game of theirs that would suit here, unless you wanna hear me warble about Sky Skipper.
So let's change that today! Let's talk about one of my pet favourite Nintendo games, Balloon Fight.
(I'm going somewhere with this, honest)
Released in 1984 at almost the same time for the arcades and Famicom/NES, Balloon Fight is, in a nutshell, Nintendo's take on the mighty Joust, designed by Yoshio Sakamoto and programmed by the late, great Satoru Iwata. Instead of brave knights riding on ostriches stabbing villainous knights on buzzards while avoiding lava hands and pterodactyls, it's about... Balloon Fighters. Fighters. With balloons. Your own Balloon Fighter has two balloons per life- when they're popped, they're not coming back- whereas the gnome-like rivals only have one- pop their balloon, then kick 'em into the water either by bumping into them as they descend via parachute, or just knock them off the platform while they're making a new balloon. Other wrinkles in the gameplay include clouds that shoot instant-kill lightning sparks at you and the sinister Floppy Fish (no, really, that's its name) that lurks in the water below, waiting to eat you. Oh, and the second player if you try co-op, as you can mercilessly dick them over, just as it should be. It's a fun little game, with the balloon physics feeling sufficiently 'floaty', and it even has an endless mode to test your control over the balloons in the form of Balloon Trip. It's an unusual one, though, in that it's hardly long-forgotten (more than a few nods to it in Smash Bros. and Wario Ware), but definitely not a 'core' Nintendo franchise.
Wait- franchise? Wouldn't it need a sequel for that?
And now we reach my point. An arcade-style game's mechanics, transplanted into a more traditional platformer... That's Balloon Kid.
Probably the closest Balloon Fight will get to a sequel (beyond Tingle's Balloon Fight, and Balloon Trip Breeze in Nintendo Land, and, er, that Balloon Trip game in Wario Ware: Smooth Moves), Balloon Kid was released for the Game Boy in 1990 (US)/1991 (EU) and was a joint effort between Team Shikamaru (a part of Nintendo R&D1) and a little company called Pax Softnica (later just Softnica, no longer in the games industry), a company whose back-catalogue includes Famicom text adventures Time Twist and Shin Onigamshima, classic Game Boy mole-em-up Mole Mania, and they also assisted Nintendo with development in games like Mother/Earthbound and Wrecking Crew '98. They did a lot of good work for Nintendo, and barring the Earthbound games and Donkey Kong '94 (which they helped with but weren't solely responsible for), Balloon Kid is my favourite game with their name attached... But curiously, this little Game Boy gem was never initially released in Japan! According to The Cutting Room Floor, a release was planned under the title Balloon Kids, but it never happened, and Alice would take a lot longer to reach Japan... But we'll get to that later.
As is tradition on this site now, here's the game's story straight from the manual:
In the little town of Pencilvania, there lived a brother and sister who loved to play with balloons. Alice and her younger brother Jim, would spend endless days filling the skies with their balloons.
One day, Jim filled all his balloons and tied them together to make a beautiful balloon rainbow across the sky. "What a great idea this was Jim", said Alice, "but please be careful!". Just then, a strong wind blew and Jim was carried away into the sky. "Oh no! This is terrible, I must save Jim!", though Alice. Meanwhile, Jim who was a very clever boy, thought, "I wonder how Alice will find me.......... Wait! I've got an idea, I'll leave a trail of balloons for Alice to follow!".
Help our Balloon Kid Heroine Alice find her brother Jim, by collecting the balloons he has left behind. But watch out! Mean animals and dangerous obstacles will try to prevent Alice from completing her search.
Now to the game itself! As mentioned, Balloon Kid is essentially an expansion of Balloon Fight, taking its basic physics and adding other bits and bobs to turn it into an auto-scrolling platformer. Alice must make her way across eight stages to find her brother, and she uses her balloons to do it. She starts each life with two balloons in tow (that's the maximum she can carry) and by tapping or hlding the A button, she can use them to fly. In a change from Balloon Fight, when Alice loses her balloons- whether it be by birds, bees or spikes- she doesn't die straight away, she'll just drop to the ground instead. She can walk around and jump on the ground, you see, but in this state she's more likely to bump into completely fatal obstacles like fires or fall into the sea, which cost a life. It's essential to forgo balloons in some areas that are too cramped for her to carry them, but when she needs to take off again, she can pump up two more balloons by tapping Down on the D-Pad eight times (four per balloon). She can also let go of her balloons voluntarily by pressing B, and this is useful for dive-bombing the bosses you'll meet every two stages.
As for items, there's four. Technically three, I suppose:
Balloons left behind by Jim as a trail for Alice to follow. They're worth 100 points each, but if you grab 20 of them in a row without missing, they'll turn into Double Balloons that add 2 balloons to your total. Grab every single balloon on a stage for a Perfect bonus (in the form of an extra life).
This item will appear after collecting a specific balloon in a stage, and will float up from the bottom of the screen- grab it before it floats away and Alice will become invincibile for a short time. The scrolling also speeds up during this time, so be careful not to miss any balloons!
It's a 1-Up! These appear in a few different ways- they can float up from the bottom of the screen, spawn from the pipes in the Bonus Stage if you get all the balloons, or they can just be sitting there for you to take.
Often hidden in plain sight, walk up to it and you'll go to the Bonus Stage where you can win an extra life if you collect all the balloons. But be careful, these get harder the further into the game you get.
The game offers a medium challenge, albeit one that's a case of six of one, half a dozen of another. Although you can earn a boatload of lives when you know what you're doing, there are certain 'trouble spots' that can take a few lives away from you if you're new to it (or rusty), and you have limited continues (so limited, in fact, that the manual never mentions them- you start with none and earn them at 50000 and 100000 points). You'll probably have to try a few times before you can finish it, although beating it on the first try isn't outside the realm of possibility.
... Anyway, it's time to get to work and save your little brother- let's play Balloon Kid!
Alice's adventure begins in Pencilvania on the next page. No, really, that's what it's called.