Starting the game in Single Play mode gives you this brief intro.

Press Start and we're ready to go! Stage 1 is Pencilvania, Alice's home town.

This is where our journey begins, and it's quite an easy stage to ease you into the spirit of things. There's plenty of space for you to move about in, there's no spikes on the ground, and the only enemies that pose anything even remotely resembling a threat are the walking fires (and if you're using your balloons properly, you won't even go near them). So, in the interests of keeping things sporting, we're going to play this opening stage a little differently- no balloons. Yep, Alice is gonna be taking Shanks' pony for this one, only walking and jumping allowed. That may seem a bit cruel, but this is actually suggested in the game's manual:

See? That's a challenge, sir/madam, and we're gonna take it!

Starting from Alice's house, ditch the balloons and let's learn about Alice's walking / jumping physics! To put it mildly, you'd better forget how other platform games work, because when she's on foot, Alice is kind-of awkward to control. She walks at a frighteningly fast pace, her jump has weird movement (let go of the jump button then tap it again to see her weird pseudo-double jump) and if she grazes against a wall she'll bounce off it like a pinball. You're gonna have to get used to these foibles, as while balloons are a viable option here, later stages have sections where you have to hoof it as your balloons won't fit. Get some practice in here, buddy! Anyway, this first section isn't too bad on foot. Importantly, you can hop onto the birds here and ride them like platforms- if you've got balloons, you bounce off them instead. The tricky part of this first section is the jump pictured above to the right- you'll need to get a running start and make your jump onto the platform before the bonfire has scrolled on-screen, otherwise there's a good chance you'll run straight into it without enough time to get out the way.

Once you're back on land, there's just a walking fire to avoid, and then we find our first Game Boy! Walk in for the bonus stage.

... OK, we're going back on our word just for this bit- the bonus stage really must be completed with balloons in-tow.

This works in much the same way as the bonus stages from Balloon Fight- balloons will appear from one of the four pipes, and you have to grab them. This mini-stage scrolls vertically, but has a block ceiling, and if any of the balloons should float past it, you've failed and the bonus stage ends. Collect all 20 of the balloons that spawn, though, and a heart will appear, giving you an extra life and ending the bonus stage. As you progress through the game, these bonus stages get tougher as the balloons steadily increase in speed, so it's best to play as many of these bonus stages as possible early on in the game, as you might not succeed later on, and having a stockpile of extra lives is a nice recovery net to fall back on.

Once we're out of there, the first balloon you collect here will spawn the game's first Power Balloon. Normally, I'd tell you to grab it and go to town on the incoming barrage of enemies for points... However, we're walking, and we need those birds alive otherwise we can't beat the stage. Don't grab it! What follos is pretty much a long stretch of nowt- mostly birds above you, and some walking fires below that should be easy enough to avoid- but once the floor disappears, we've got some fun jumps ahead. You'll see a bird move on-screen from the left across the sea- you need to hop on it, then wait for the next bird along and hop to that, and then one more. The third bird won't show up until the very last second, so you need to just hold on! The jumps are pretty tricky, with my only advice being to tap the opposite direction as you land on a bird so you don't skid off and end up in the drink. Luckily you get a small break, as the next few birds only move vertically so they're easier to land on. Finally for this bit, there's two more horizontally-flying birds you need to jump on, otherwise you won't be able to get past the skyscraper and you'll cark it.

Phew! We're nearly there. A quick breather for us- follow thr trail of balloons down to the bottom for an extra life. There's not much on the next few platforms, but once another bird appears from the left, jump on it otherwise you won't be able to reach the next high-up platform. Finally, a fireplace and a single jump is all that stands between us and getting the hell out of here.

Well done! If you're still with us, you've beaten the first stage of Balloon Kid sans balloons.

Back to business, then. At the end of every stage, this screen comes up that gives you 100 points for every balloon you've collected. If you've beaten the stage without dying, and collected every balloon- that is, collected the first twenty and then collected all the double balloons that follow without missing a single one- you'll get a 'Perfect!' bonus and gain an extra life. If it helps, the balloons collected in the bonus stage don't count towards a Perfect. Fortunately, the game has plenty of extra lives to find (and earn, as you get one for collecting 100 balloons anyway) but it's not really about the extra life- it's about getting that Perfect and showing you've totally trashed the stage.

(Not that you'll do that on foot, like we've just done, but shush.)

Enough of the self-imposed challenge, then- we'll finally take to the air in Stage 2, the forest.

(If you want to do the no-balloon challenge, here's a tip- wait until the last moment to make your first jump!)

... I'd better get you up to speed on how the controls for the balloons work, eh? Just in case you skipped the first page. You'll start each stage and life with two balloons, and you really want to try and always keep two at all times- you'll lose one of them if the balloons get hit by any enemies, and while one is enough to lift Alice (albeit with a bit more tapping), it's much easier to maintain your momentum and stay afloat with two. Lightly tapping a direction simply nudges Alice in that direction when flying, but be careful not to get carried away and go too far foward. The main thing is to tap rather than hold because holding doesn't flap nearly as fast, and doing so can easily get you killed, especially if you've only got one balloon.

We'll be kinda zipping through these stages now, seeing as we don't need to have step-by-step instructions on which birds you can step on and so forth. A general overview of the land and the enemies therein should be sufficient. While the first stage was filled with fairly slow-moving birds, most of those are gone now and replaced with insects, some of which are still slow (like the spiders that slowly move vertically on the trees in the background), some of which are medium speed (the bees that either fly on-screen horizontally or circle beehives) and some of which are super-fast (the gnats who zip-on screen in packs of four). The rest of the stage is pretty textbook, with only a few things to watch out for- new alligator enemies that kill just like fires, and a detour that's clearly marked with balloons to get to the stage's Bonus Stage. Other than that, get used to flying and have fun!

As the trees start to get all angry on us, it's time for a boss fight!

You'll catch a brief glimpse of Jim floating away...

But before Alice can give chase, we have a wolf to deal with. A big bad wolf.

Most of the bosses are in the same form- a single-screen arena where you need to drop down on the boss's head from a height (usually three times) to send them on their way. The wolf is the most basic, as he has absolutely no attacks and all he can do is walk and push you, which won't kill unless you fall into the water- if you're on the ground next to him he'll walk towards you, but if you're in the air or the platforms above he'll move away from you. Bop him on the head and he'll speed up each time, but throw in the towel on the third bop. You can approach this however you like. Jumping on him from the ground is easiest (less chance of getting thrown into the drink) but you may wish to practice divebombing him (let go of your balloons to hit him, then grab them on the way back up) as practice for later.

After the encounter, Alice takes a moment to rest...

Before heading off to the next violent battle.

Stage 3 is the ocean. Ah, breathe deeply! Fresh sea air, does you good!

Anyway, there's a couple of changes here. There's obviously a lot more water here, with small-ish islands serving as your only solid ground outside a new hazard, small platforms that will drop shortly after you step on them. The other big change is the scrolling speed- this one whips by a lot faster, almost the same speed you go when you grab a Power balloon, so try and keep up! There's also a few new enemies here, including instant-kill crabs who scuttle on the ground, birds that appear in vertical formations to catch you on the way down, and... OK, I'm giving this guy a picture on his own, because he rules:

A rival Balloon Fighter appears!

Oh yeah, seven years later, and this old codger can still kick it with the tykes. Just like his appearance in Balloon Fight, he can't be killed by bumping into him, he'll just bounce around. Instead, pop his balloon and send the ancient geezer into the ocean. Sure, that's incredibly mean to do to an elderly man, but balloon fighting is for the youth nowadays. Old man's gotta learn his lesson somehow. Aside from that, this is a pretty open stage, with the main hazard being the scrolling speed, especially since there's no way to speed up your descent (which would be handy against the flocks of birds around here), and some areas with low-hanging ceilings peppered with spikes. Not much to worry about, though- there isn't even a Bonus Stage hidden here! But once you get to the end...

... Huh. It's... A whale's mouth. Are we going in there? For real?

On the next page, we're gonna have a WHALE of a time.