The unfortunate news broke late Sunday evening in my timezone and hit me quite unexpectedly. I have so much respect and admiration for Mr.Iwata. It was obvious in a lot of his personal touches, Iwata Asks, Nintendo Direct, and Nintendo now reaching out to more third party developers, that he loved gaming and Nintendo. So I thought I’d play Balloon Fight as tribute to the late Nintendo’s president since Mr. Iwata had personally worked on the programming for this early NES game.
The game isn’t particularly long. I believe I finished the Player 1 game in under 2 hours. However I used save states to help me along since you only get 3 lives before you are sent back to the start.1 Without save states the game would have taken me much longer. I did however wish to finish the game and write this blog post within this week, so I cheated a little. If you’ve played Balloon Fight before, you know the game is endless, so you may be wondering how I “finished” it to begin with. Mainly I mean I finished all 12 unique phases of the game. After phase 12, the game starts looping back to phase 4 (albeit the counter doesn’t loop, so the game calls it phase 13 and so on).
The game is pleasantly fun. Definitely if you want to work your way through all 12 unique phases without save states, you’ll need some patience as it does take awhile to master the game, but unlike some score attack type games2, Balloon Fight never felt unfair. In fact, I enjoyed the game enough that I am going to try to find a physical version for the NES to try and finish without save states on its original hardware. Given that physics play such an important role in Balloon Fight, I would say that as one of Mr.Iwata’s earliest games, Balloon Fight’s physics definitely holds up decades later to provide just the right amount of challenge.
There is also a Balloon Fight theme available for the 3DS and since I had such a great time with the game, I thought I’d dress up my 3DS in tribute as well. The theme is very basic with balloons in the background on the top and the balloon riding player character flying from spot to spot as you toggle from left and right, but it’s charming in its own right. Plus you get to hear the main theme of Balloon Fight whenever you open your 3DS and personally I thought that song was remarkably well done. It has this happy adventurous chime that goes well with the game’s whimsical balloon popping excursion. That said, I do think the theme is priced a little high (@$2.49 CAN) for a retro theme. In fact, I think $2 per theme (or less) is fine, but any more is pushing it in terms of value/worth. Granted this hike up is partly due to the Canadian dollar’s weakening.
All in all, I’m glad I played Balloon Fight. It showed me that before Mr.Iwata become Nintendo’s president, he was a brilliant programmer. His love of games was genuine and he was probably an awesome boss.3 It’s a real shame we lost someone so full of life and love so early. Rest in peace, Mr.Iwata.
1 — Technically speaking, you have 6 chances/lives since each life comes with two balloons. An enemy hitting your balloon only pops one and to lose the life entirely, you’d have to have both popped. That said, playing with a single balloon is harder as the physics get even more slippery with only one.
2 — Given the nature of score attack type games as games where you aim to get higher and higher scores, these games have a tendency to be hard as nails, often unfairly so, just to stump the player from reaching too high a score. Part of this is also due to their origin as coin arcade games, where to continue, you’d have to pop another coin in. Thus tougher, borderline unfair, games, were less likely to be “finished” faster than easier and more forgiving games.
3 — I say probably because I haven’t personally worked for him. But any CEO willing to take 50% cut to his earning just so he doesn’t have to lay off his employees sounds pretty damn awesome.