Wednesday, March 08, 2017

My 10 most influential games: Balloon Kid (GameBoy)

Nintendo's Balloon Fight and I didn't exactly get off on the right foot.

After renting this early "black box" NES cartridge from my local grocery store (yes, you read that correctly), I played it for a few minutes, decided it was little more than a subpar Joust ripoff and then promptly and thoroughly ignored it until it was time to return it.

Yes, that means I overlooked Balloon Fight's superior "Balloon Trip" mode during my initial experience with the game.


I eventually pulled my head out of my ass, of course, and not only checked out the mode in question but fell head over heels in love with it. Unfortunately, that didn't happen until a good number of years after the aforementioned rental debacle.

Why am I airing this dirty laundry here? Because I want everyone reading to know I wasn't a Balloon Fight fan when I first became aware of 1990's GameBoy spinoff, Balloon Kid.

Despite my lack of love for the NES game that clearly inspired it, Balloon Kid immediately caught my attention. There were a number of reasons for that. One was that I was desperately obsessed with my GameBoy at the time. Nintendo's first portable gaming system was only a year old when Balloon Kid hit the streets in my neck of the woods, so I immediately zeroed in on any even semi-interesting title that was announced at that point--especially if it was being made or was going to be published by Nintendo.


Another reason Balloon Kid grabbed me by the short and curlies in the lead up to its North American release: its eye-popping logo and bright cover illustration.

I also quickly found myself enamored with its look. You may not be aware, but a number of Nintendo-published GameBoy titles featured character sprites that were stylistically similar. To see what I mean, compare these screenshots from Balloon Kid, Golf, Tennis and even Kaeru no Tame ni Kane wa Naru. Anyway, this aesthetic really made me swoon back in the day (still does now, to be perfectly honest) and it definitely helped solidify my interest in Balloon Kid.

The main reason I couldn't get enough of Balloon Kid around the time of its release nearly three decades ago, though, and the main reason I consider it influential in terms of shaping my current taste in video games, was that it boldly turned the platformer genre on its head.


At the time, especially, platformers were at the top of my "favorite game types" list. I devoured every side-scrolling run-and-jump title that pinged my radar. Adventure Island, Duck Tales, Mickey Mousecapade, Monster Party, Ninja Kid, Panic Restaurant--you name it, I almost assuredly played (and enjoyed) it as a teen, assuming the "it" was an 8-bit platform game.

Most of those platformers stuck pretty close to the template created by Nintendo's own Super Mario Bros. series, however. Which is why I was so intrigued that Balloon Kid seemed to throw most of the "rules" associated with the genre out the window. For starters, its levels scrolled the "wrong way"--from right to left. Also, its protagonist, Alice, was a girl rather than a boy or man. And not only that, but Alice relied on more than her legs to make her way through the game's eight stages. In fact, her preferred mode of transportation was catching a ride on a helium balloon or two--which were then "controlled" in a way that'd be instantly familiar to anyone who'd played Balloon Fight.


All three of those aspects thoroughly impressed my younger self. Previously, I assumed that for a game to be a "real" platformer, it had to scroll from left to right and its primary action had to be jumping or leaping. I didn't necessarily think its protagonist had to be male, but that was so often the case that it was thrilling to finally encounter a release that dared to buck that trend.

I still have a complete-in-box copy of Balloon Kid, by the way. I've also bought and downloaded digital versions of it to both my Japanese and North American 3DS systems. That's the kind of impact this game had on me early on in my gaming life.

Have any of you played this Pax Softonica-developed (but Nintendo-published) GameBoy adventure? If so, what sort of experience did you have with it? Share your memories in the comments section of this post.

See also: my '10 most influential games' post about The 7th Guest

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