Monday, December 9, 2013

NES Replay: Balloon Fight

Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Released: 1986
As we've mentioned before, Nintendo reuses assets habitually. Some may chalk this up to creative bankruptcy, but it's not exactly true. When you have an enormous backlog of music, art and physics at your disposal, you'd be crazy not to use it. It makes perfect sense for Nintendo to reuse good ideas as long as they're sufficiently remixed.

For example, in one of the craziest cases of Nintendo reuse, there a piece of music that's tucked into the Japanese Famicom system. It was reused years later. Where? They slowed the track way, way down and played it as the background music in the Gamecube menu. Here, I'm not lying:

That's wild, isn't it? However, this isn't a recent phenomenon. Nintendo's asset cannibalism started years ago during the supposed peak of their creative powers, and one of the earliest demonstrations of asset cannibalism happened all the way back in 1986.

Balloon Fight basically reuses the swimming physics from Super Mario Bros. and builds an entire game out of it. In Balloon Fight, you're a guy with some balloons attached to your back, and you flap your arms to float around in the air. They took the player out of the water and put him into the air with some minor physics tweaks, which is kind of a neat idea. Balloon Fight was originally released in the arcade in 1984 and then ported to the NES. That means it was under development at the same time as Super Mario Bros, so the math checks out. Of course, the swimming physics are a little better in Super Mario Bros., but the basic idea between is the same.

The NES port has two modes of play, and the main mode of Balloon Fight shows its original arcade roots. It's a combat mode where you try and pop the balloons of your opponents in order to send them to their deaths, and it's lifted shamelessly from 1980's Joust. There's really nothing exciting about it: Try and fly into your enemies' balloons and pop them before they pop yours. Rinse, lather, repeat.

However, Balloon Trip is the other mode in Balloon Fight, and it shows a lot more initiative. The screen scrolls continually as you float your way through an obstacle course. Get hit once, and you have to start over at the beginning. It's a precursor to the future "free-running" genre, which includes games like Canabalt, Temple Run and others.

So what was the point of releasing Balloon Fight along with the second wave?

At this point, Nintendo didn't need to convince people to buy the NES. The NES was a hit already. However, arcade games were still the most powerful games out there. Nintendo's job at this point was to convince people that the NES was just as powerful as what they were playing in the arcades, and the best way to do that was with near-flawless arcade ports.

To that end, Balloon Fight was an important game. It's not great, but it's fun for a bit and served its purpose well.

Final Rating: