Review by TWaddington
Reviewed: 01/05/00 | Updated: 01/05/00
The most underrated game of all time.
Don't get me wrong; Balloon Fight is not the best nintendo game ever. But it certainly deserves to be up there - maybe in the top 10 or so. The idea is this: your enemies the bird people have a balloon, a parachute, and a fan (or propellor, or wing, or fin, or genetically engineered tail...). You, being far more hardcore than they, are similarly equipped except that instead of a parachute, you have two balloons, because if you get hit you don't want to survive, you want a chance to take out the evil bastard that made the mistake of messing with you. That's the game, and pretty much the plot, too. What makes the game great, though, are the following:
1. Physics. Balloon Fight gets a bad rap for the lack of maneuverability. You have a fan and two balloons; you aren't supposed to be maneuverable. Ballon Fight has the most realistic physics of any game, regardless of the number of bits involved, I have ever played. Horizontal momentum is conserved if you are not putting energy into the system with your fan, which controls acceleration (as per your exerting a force by using a fan) rather than direction (as in mario, metroid, and everything else ever). Vertically, momentum acts precisely as it should in a uniform gravitational field; I think this is the only nintendo game ever that has constant downward acceleration. In that way, this was a failed revolution of a sort, a great idea conquered by the fact that it is inherently much more difficult to deal with the differential paths of a realistic vector field than with the magically instantaneously maneuverable jumps of Super Mario Bros. (It is notable that there is a Balloon Fight 64 in Japan, but not in America - Japan got the real Super Mario Bros. 2, while we got a slapped together remake of Doki Doki Panic because the real Super Mario 2 was deemed too difficult for North American players.) But what most people perceive as poor gameplay is actually the game itself; this is not a game that inherently disallows maneuverability, it is simply a game where achieving maneuverability requires skill and extensive practice. In that way, it should be a cult classic at the very least, celebrated and hailed by lovers of mathematics and physics everywhere.
2. Philosophy. This does not apply to the 1-player games, but for 2-player Balloon Fight it plays as large a role as the realistic physics. It is left entirely up to the players whether to cooperate or combat. The game makes no suggestions as to whether the two of you are in competition. If you compete, it is a great combat game. If you cooperate, you get much farther. As far as the score is concerned, Balloon Fight is the Prisoner's dilemma; killing your partner while he tries to help you provides the most points, cooperating with your partner comes next, then fighting your partner, then trying to cooperate while he kills you. So which do you do; do you try to attack, or cooperate? If he is attacking, you should attack; if he isn't attacking, you should attack. But by that logic, both players should always attack, which is collectively stupider than both players always cooperating. This opens up a whole dynamic of trust, betrayal, treaties, and politics that simply does not exist in any other game. On top of this, there are the bonus levels, where competing has no serious consequences provided you collectively get all the balloons (otherwise you miss out on the lucrative Super Bonus). The idea is that there are 4 pipes out of which randomly emerge balloons. Popping your partner's balloons in this level merely temporarily incapacitates him, so competition is good - BUT if the two of you don't get all twenty balloons, you miss the Supeer Bonus, which is worth as much as all the balloons. So it becomes a question of when to break off the competition to insure that all the balloons are popped. This is tricky, because if you break off and he doesn't, the net result is either that you fall and he gets more balloons or possibly even that you fall and he fails to get the balloon you broke off the fight for, in which case you still lose the Bonus AND he gets more balloons. The inter-player dynamics are incredibly righ in this game, and can frequently lead to actual out-of-game violence.
In addition to these remarkable (and fairly unique) gaming qualities, the game is a masterpiece of traditional NESness. The basic premise, the floating rock perches, the ridiculous graphics, the repeating levels, the lightningh asterisks that fry you, and especially the nightmarish chirping music of the birdmen... The game is almost as strange as Super Mario Bros.
Also, the FISH!
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
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