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23rd March 2012; By KnucklesSonic8
Unlike its relative, Balloon Kid is a right-to-left side-scrolling arcade title that sees your balloon-equipped female protagonist avoiding airborne enemies and getting through ground obstacles to find her missing brother. (If you're still thinking that's Balloon Fight, you need to flip the page now.) In the way of background story, you'll simply watch a really short and to-the-point cutscene where your sibling is seen getting carried off by the wind as a bunch of balloons remain tied to his back. Faster than you can say "He's floating away!" you'll jump right into the game and begin an eight-stage-long hunt.
Alice, the main character, can have up to two balloons carrying her at a time, with the second granting you faster movement but also acting as a backup in case you collide with an enemy from up above. Pressing the A Button will increase your altitude while aloft, or perform a jump when you're balloon-free. Alice is actually a surprisingly high jumper, so crossing gaps when you're inadvertently ground-bound shouldn't be an impossible task. Her small stature also allows her to get past platforms that block your path, but in order to squeeze through, you'll first have to press the B Button to release the extra weight. When you have enough space above your head to do so, pressing the Down button repeatedly will pump and bring up a balloon once more. It's worth noting that the controls will feel a bit loose off the bat. They're honestly not as tight as they could be, and for the first 15 minutes, you may find yourself losing a life or two because of overcompensating. Unfortunately, these feelings don't go away entirely (will touch on that in a bit), but they are manageable I found.
Common elements seen throughout include 1UP Hearts, floating balloons that add to your point total, and, best of all, P-Balloons that grant temporary invincibility for more than 10 seconds. To that end, I always found it humorous to knock enemies and even patches of fire out of my way. Within each level, you'll usually find a large Game Boy that acts as a door to a bonus room that plays almost exactly like the bonus stage from Balloon Fight, just with a little more wiggle room to gather the balloons. In terms of enemies, the entities you'll come across are generally pretty harmless; among them, flies, octopi, birds, and shrimp. Your main threat actually comes in the form of an end-of-level boss that will always require you to time your jumps carefully so you can land an attack at just the right moment. I found these to be enjoyable for the most part, though they can seem a bit finicky in what's asked of you due to the nature of the controls.
Over the course of the modest journey, you'll visit a bunch of different run-of-the-mill environments, including a forest, the interior of a whale, and a seascape. In one world, rain clouds push you down as you fly underneath, thereby proving to be a considerable hindrance if you stick to the slow-moving left side of the screen. On other occasions, you'll have to be wary against floating too close to the top of the screen, as you run the risk of an enemy just coming by and knocking you right into the sets of stalactites overhead. The levels in this game don't usually have a lot of gimmicks to them to make them feel unique or present challenging obstacles. Oftentimes, the change in difficulty is left up to the varying enemies and brief platforming segments. That doesn't make them boring, though. The backgrounds seen throughout are somewhat detailed, albeit most of them are still plain-looking. There are some odd touches here and there, like having trees with smiley faces turn angry as you get closer to the boss at the end. And as for the audio, many of the sound effects are borrowed straight from Balloon Fight with the stage themes being variations on the familiar tunes from the NES title. Most of the time this has resulted in some pleasurable songs, but the one for the cave-like area was more of an irritant than anything else.
You might not expect precision to play such a key role in a game like this, but it does. There were times when I got a Game Over on my last life because of a minor slip-up, like coming a few steps away from avoiding a surprise enemy. I know some will see the use of Restore Points as a cheating mechanism, but having this system in place erases the minor frustration of getting a Game Over very close to the end of the game and having to go through every single level all over again. I'm not suggesting that it isn't enjoyable to do so post-completion of the game, but the reasons behind these setbacks can rightly leave you feeling annoyed at times.
It's interesting to see that despite the, what you might consider, casual-tailored design with regular checkpoints and the like, frustration still sets in at times. This is largely due to the aforementioned controls and cheap deaths over stage layouts near the end of the game. Although she certainly doesn't look the part, you might have Alice confused for a round ball with the way she bounces off walls with such force. It's actually really easy to make inadvertent contact with passing enemies this way. This is exactly why I actually found the earlier levels more enjoyable even though they weren't as difficult.
There were actually two cases in my playthrough of the game where glitches occurred. The first was when Alice fell into the water and ended up falling from the very top of the level back down to the sea. Not sure how that happened! At another time, Alice went through the arm of a boss and got zapped by a floating projectile that was behind the enemy, not in front. Nothing terrible, but still worth mentioning.
Once again, Balloon Kid has eight stages in all, and just breaking that down, the game lasted me more than two hours with Restore Points. So if you were to play through the game without making use of this feature, I wouldn't be surprised if you were able to sink an additional hour into it just to reach the end of the game. The single-player adventure is fairly easy to come back to on top of that, making it a worthwhile buy by the standards of most. Aside from that, you also have Balloon Trip mode which probably won't be too appealing since, if you really wanted to, you could just boot up Balloon Fight instead (assuming you're a 3DS Ambassador). There's also a VS Play option, but Nintendo has chosen to disable this for whatever reason.
Despite the similarities shared between the games in question, we're still talking about two different titles here. Of the two, Balloon Fight is easily the stronger game overall. Yet, I think it's safe to say that if you enjoy the idea of floating around in the sky with a balloon in tow, you'll like seeing the mechanics of that classic game pursued in a different style. What you won't be so fond of are the loose controls and occasionally frustrating game design, but it's safe to say that if you love Balloon Fight, chances are you'll enjoy Balloon Kid too.
21/30 - Good
Gameplay 7/10 - Fairly simple execution with challenging obstacles, tricky controls, cheap deaths stemming from the design and controls, good bosses
Presentation 7/10 - Borrowed sound effects, decent sprites and backgrounds, fun tunes that are often variations on Balloon Fight's themes, glitches
Enjoyment 4/5 - Amusing to play, frustrations are easier to deal with because of the Restore Point feature, early levels are more fun
Extra Content 3/5 - Fairly replayable for the most part, can last you more than an hour on your first go, multiplayer mode disabled, Balloon Trip mode
Equivalent to a score of 70% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System