In honour of Satoru Iwata I have decided to take a look at Balloon Fight, one of the more understated titles in the Famicom/NES library. Nevertheless, it is still extremely important to the gaming industry, as it showed us the first glimpses of the what Satoru Iwata could and would, offer to video games as a whole. Balloon Fight was famously programmed by the late Nintendo CEO himself, and is one of the longest lasting games from the Famicom/NES library, still available today through the Nintendo Virtual Console.
As stated Balloon fight is a simple game, but that certainly doesn’t mean it’s a bad game, and in fact it takes many of its cues from the arcade classic Joust. The aim of the game is to simply pop the enemy Balloon Fighter’s balloons in order to clear the stages and earn points. It’s a simple concept that sees the difficulty increase as you work your way through the stages trying to achieve the high score, and this can be done either solo or alongside a friend in the co-op 2 player mode.
The controls are also simple to understand, whilst directing the player with the d-pad you either repeatedly press the A button, or hold down the B button to make your character rise up, and let go to drop. The flying mechanism can seem slightly counterintuitive compared to modern games, as you can only affect the direction you move when you are pressing wither the A or B button, in effect propelling your character in the desired direction. This mean that you cannot alter the character’s fall unless you tap either A or B, and this can take some getting used to.
The actual gameplay whilst being simple does hold some nice intricacies. For example enemies who fall aren’t necessarily eliminated. If they happen to fall on a piece of land before you take out their parachute, then they will re-enter the battle. Furthermore, the monster in the water will seem to attack players at random, however there is method to this. Iwata himself programmed the monster to constantly move left to right on the bottom of the screen, and if you happen to be there at the same time you’ll be devoured. These simple touches to the game add character and personality to what is a seemingly simple game, and really enhance the player’s experience.
Aside from the main gameplay mode, Balloon Fight offers a third mode called “Balloon Trip”. In Balloon Trip players have one life to try and navigate a web of lightning bolts whilst avoiding the sea monster in order to see how many balloons they can collect. This all takes place on a scrolling screen moving from right to left, and is arguably even more enjoyable than the main gameplay mode. As it offers an addictive style of endless running, high score chasing gameplay, that is nowadays commonly seen in smartphone gaming, but done in a way that focuses on simple but quality gameplay.
The overall presentation follows the same formula of being simple, yet containing massive amounts of charm and personality. The characters and the sea monster are very well created, and the graphics mirror this trend. Even the use of a night sky backdrop (used in order to be able to generate the rest of the presentation) is subtly made more appealing through the use of shining stars. Furthermore, the soundtrack again whilst simple, offers some classic tunes that clearly represent the 8-bit era, and these are still relevant today, featuring in the latest Smash Bros.
Ultimately this is a game that may not make a best ever list, and may not hold everyone’s attention for a long time, having less replay value compared to a lot of its colleagues from the 8-bit era. Yet it offers a wealth of heart and charm that will make you appreciate the experience, whether you spend five minutes or five hours with it. It’s simple and intuitive gameplay also mean that Balloon Fight is highly accessible. As such Balloon Fight nicely optimises the larger legacy of Satoru Iwata of making gaming simple, but accessible to all, with a lot of charm and polish. And what a fitting legacy this is.