Saturday, January 28, 2012

Review: Balloon Kid (3DS Virtual Console)

Balloon Fight is a pretty neat game, as primitive as it is. Ambassadors have been able to play the NES original for free on their 3DS for some time, and indeed of the ten NES Ambassador games, Balloon Fight has ended up being my second most-played game (after Yoshi, naturally).

There’s something addictive about floating around trying to swoop down from above to pop the enemy balloons. While Joust is a game formula that hasn’t survived into the modern era, the Balloon Fight take on it is one of the best examples out there.

That said, I have no idea who could possibly want Balloon Kid, the Game Boy game. It takes the side-scrolling bonus game of the NES Balloon Kid, adds a weak storyline, some lame boss fights and wraps it up into a package that the Game Boy doesn’t handle well from a technical perspective.

The basic idea of the game is the same as Balloon Kid’s bonus mode. Float from right to left, dodging the enemies that are flying by, some environmental hazards, and avoid floating too close to the water that lines the base of each stage – there’s an annoying little fish down there that will jump out and eat you.

The balloon kid (a girl named Alice this time around) has two balloons strapped to her back. If an enemy hits her, she’ll bounce away. It might be into harmless space, or it might be into a spike, which will pop a balloon. If the enemy hits the balloons, one pops. One popped balloon is not the end of the world; though it’s hard to stay afloat, as long as you can get to a patch of dry land you’re able to inflate a replacement. Lose two balloons and it’s life over, though.

On land it’s possible for Alice to release the balloons to squeeze into some tight passages. Often at the end of those passages there is a bonus game for extra points and lives. It’s such a minor part of the game, but it plays better than the floating sections. The controls in the floating are far too clunky, and the frame rate is unreliable at best. Furthermore, unlike the NES balloon kid, it’s not possible to see the whole level in the one screen. Fast enemies also come on screen too quickly to avoid at times. Between all that is gameplay that is not so much fun, and dull and at times frustrating.

Then there are the boss battles. These are weird little things that ask Alice to launch herself in the air and then dump her balloons to land on the boss’ head. They’re not hard, but they are the most uninspired boss battles I’ve ever experienced in a video game. The enemies have boring attack patterns, and a dull design that is most definitely not normal for Nintendo.

The presentation is reasonable (though certainly not on the same par as some of the other platform games available on the eShop Virtual Console, such as Trip World or Kirby), but it can’t make up for gameplay that is essentially dull.

Balloon Kid is not a broken game, but it’s not worth the $4.50 asking price. Ambassadors have the better Balloon Fight for free already, and non-Ambassadors should just wait for the superior NES game to have a general eShop release.





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