In 1984 the talented Mr. Iwata, in his young version, created a game that combined air balloons and action. Balloon Fight has a simple concept in the same style as Joust; you need to destroy your enemies’ balloons and you need to make sure that they fall into the water. If you destroy their balloons but they fall on a platform they will create a new balloon. In Joust, if you remember, you ride an African bird and you need to destroy others in order to beat a level while you avoid lava pits.
From a game design perspective, Balloon Fight looks like a game that could be designed and programmed in few weeks. So what does it make Balloon Fight so much fun? I believe it has to do with accurate control and game pacing. The controls in this game are certainly well implemented and you need only 1 button to accomplish the main task of going up and down. The more you press the button you go higher, if you release it, you go down. If you go close to the water you can get caught by a giant fish that lives in the bottom of the screen. This is a curious and cute detail, but when I talk with other people about famicom games, they always remember the fish or the game where a fish could eat you if you go near to the water.
The game offers single player game, cooperative gameplay with 2 players on screen and a special mode, Balloon Trip, that is really fun to play when you’re drunk in a party. This mode is an endurance level where you need to get as many balloons as you can before dying. How do you die? Well you need to dodge the “electric stars”, if you fail, you fall into the water and die. The fish is also present in this part of the game.
The cooperative gameplay is really fun and you can destroy the balloons of your partner, so you need to be careful to not clean the same area as your friend. The best tip regarding strategy is to choose a side and stick to it. Many months ago, I was thinking about making a remake of this game adding 4 players in the same screen. I think that would be awesome.
The graphics are simple but you can tell what’s on the screen. That’s quite a trademark from early Nintendo games. They used very clean sprites and spot-on animations. They are not impressive compared with other Nintendo games, but they have a style that it’s difficult to emulate regarding sprite creation. When I started designing and programming games, my main goals was to emulate early Nintendo releases for the Famicom and creating sprites that looked cute and colourful just like those games was one of the hardest things to do.
In general terms, Balloon Fight is a simple but powerful game that offers many hours of legitimate fun using simple game mechanics and simple graphics and sounds. It can’t be better than that.