How Can I Play It?: The Balloon Fight series
Whether you're a Kid, a Fighter, or just straight Trippin', there's a balloony adventure just waiting for you. [Updated]
Our "How Can I Play It?" series lays out the best options for legitimately and legally playing the classic games we cover here at Retronauts, ideally on current platforms.
We didn't talk about any specific games in this week's all-inclusive arcade memories podcast episode, so let's instead turn the "How Can I Play It?" spotlight onto this week's video feature subject, Balloon Kid. It's a Nintendo classic, and it also belongs to a larger body of work — much of which you can easily play today at very little cost.
Before Balloon Kid, there was Balloon Fight, a storied NES classic. It holds a critical place in Nintendo history, and also it's quite fun for one or two players.
If you're into the authentic experience, the original NES cartridge of Balloon Fight can be had for $15-20 if you don't do a hasty Buy It Now for an overpriced auction listing. A complete boxed copy will run a bit more, though it's come down in price over the past couple of years from $100+ shortly after Satoru Iwata's passing to a reasonable-ish $40 or so.
Balloon Fight is one of many games you can unlock in the GameCube version of Animal Crossing, if you don't mind working hard for the privilege.
Game Boy Advance
GBA owners have two options for playing Balloon Fight. Nintendo released it as a Famicom Mini (aka NES Classic series) title in Japan only — you'll have to grab an import copy, but GBA is region-free and the complete boxed edition costs about half as much as the NES game. Or you can go really cheap and get the eReader card set; as long as you already own the eReader peripheral, the Balloon Fight card set will cost you about five bucks. Both versions look slightly squashed due to the GBA's low resolution.
Five bucks, as it happens, is also the price of the game on Wii Virtual Console. Despite a slightly too-dark color palette and lack of save states, this could be the VC version to get; if you hook up your Wii to an old-school television, you get to play it in true-pixel resolution with no upscaling lag.
The Wii U Virtual Console release will also run you five bucks. If you don't have access to an old CRT television, you should probably go with this rendition. It looks a little rough, but the Wii U's HDMI connection means you won't encounter any display lag on a modern television.
Also weighing in at $5, the 3DS Virtual Console release is probably the ideal way to play Balloon Fight on the go. While the slightly stretched visuals of NES games on 3DS VC are hardly ideal, they're not as offensive as the squashy look of the GBA ports. Also, Balloon Fight is one of several NES games that offers not only wireless multiplayer but even download play on 3DS, meaning you can get a head-to-head session going with minimal fuss.
Classic NES Edition
And finally, the Cadillac option. Balloon Fight looks and sounds pretty much perfect on the NES mini console… and since Nintendo will be putting the system back into production next year, you're not out of luck if you haven't found a unit already.
The stealth sequel to Balloon Fight, featuring a greatly expanded version of Balloon Trip mode.
Much as I hate to say it, Game Boy is the way to play this game. The cartridge is cheap as dirt, and it'll run on any Game Boy family device up through the Nintendo DS or Game Boy Micro. Yeah, you can get it on Virtual Console… but there's no multiplayer support in that version, and Balloon Kid's head-to-head mode is a treat.
Game Boy Color (Balloon Fight GB)
The hipster option: If you can find it, you can import the Japan-only color remake of Balloon Kid, Balloon Fight GB. This was never released to retail, so you'll have to track down a Nintendo Power flash cart that happens to have Balloon Fight GB written to memory. Or else get one of the sketchy bootlegs floating around eBay…
Famicom (Hello Kitty World)
Equally hipster, if a lot more feasible, is the Famicom (NES) conversion of Balloon Kid. It was reworked into a Hello Kitty game for some odd reason, but it's literally the exact same game with different graphics. Even the music's the same!
The easiest way to tackle Balloon Kid, of course, is to get the 3DS Virtual Console version. It doesn't offer multiplayer support, but it's a fine port otherwise. If you have a Japanese 3DS, you can get onto eShop and buy Balloon Fight GB, which costs twice as much but does offer multiplayer.
While the Balloon Fight "series" consists of just those two games, the idea has been, ah, floating around in some of Nintendo's other works through the years.
Vs. Balloon Fight (arcade)
If you are a very good boy or girl and eat all your vegetables and say your prayers every night, you might someday be lucky enough to stumble upon Vs. Balloon Fight. (Just kidding, you'll almost certainly never see this game in the wild.) Though based on the NES game, this version features vertically scrolling arenas and more complex hazards to navigate. Edit: Nintendo will, amazingly, be publishing Vs. Balloon Fight on Switch.
Tingle's Balloon Trip of Love (DS)
You can, however, get the gist of the Vs. Ballloon Fight experience a lot more easily by playing the kooky DS remake Nintendo and Vanderpool put together for DS. It stars Tingle from Zelda, unfortunately, but otherwise it hews closely to the arcade game. While this was released exclusively in Japan through Club Nintendo, you should know that (1) it was released in large volumes and sells for cheap on eBay and (2) DS games didn't start suffering from region locks until after this was released, so you can play it on an American DS, DSi, 2DS, or 3DS.
Nintendo Land (Wii U)
The Wii U pack-in game Nintendo Land featured an entire mode based around Balloon Trip. It's pretty faithful, which is to say, fun.