Written by  :  Mr. Eight-Three-One (1638)
Written on  :  Aug 03, 2014
Platform  :  Windows 3.x
Rating  :  4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars

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An interesting take on Breakout

The Good

Previous review: Freddi Fish 2

Info and discussion: http://www.mobygames.com/forums/dga,2/dgb,5/dgm,197698/

And now, for something completely different. For the next four games, it will be nothing but an arcade extravaganza. There were four Junior Arcade games released in 1996 -- two for Putt-Putt and two for Freddi Fish. The Putt-Putt ones came first, with the Freddi Fish ones coming shortly thereafter. I'll be reviewing the games alphabetically by batch for this. These games are an interesting specimen; they're generally seen as little more than footnotes in Humongous's game catalog. These were meant more as filler, likely to keep profits up to invest in the more expensive games. It must have worked; late 1996 and 1997 ended up being an amazing time for Humongous. Just how much does it mean these games are good, though?

For the first game of discussion, we have Putt-Putt and Pep's Balloon-o-Rama. The game has about as much of a plot as the game it is directly based on -- absolutely none. There is an introduction cut scene, but I don't think it provides any greater of a plot than what I just said. Seriously, this is the script, word for word:

"Hang on tight to those balloons, Pep!" (Pep barks, letting them go) "Uh-oh...come on, Pep! We gotta go get those balloons!"

If you can somehow make a plot out of that, you deserve a medal. The game is one of those paddle-and-ball games, like Breakout and Arkanoid. You control Putt-Putt and bounce Pep in 120 levels filled with balloons to pop them all. Unlike Breakout and Arkanoid, though, this game has you dealing with gravity. Pep doesn't go in a straight line until he hits a wall or a balloon, he actually has to worry about falling.

At the start of the game, the levels are pretty basic. There will generally be no fewer than 15 or so balloons out at once, and they only need to be hit once. Later on, things start getting more ridiculous, with balloons within balloons appearing, candy filled balloons that explode and provide 50-point pieces if you catch them, striped balloons filled with crud that subtract 50 points, flower balloons that provide both, pinwheels and bumpers that are indestructible and get in your way...ack. It's overwhelming at times. Levels start filling up with more and more balloons as well.

Over time, more unique balloons start to show up -- the most memorable are the question mark balloons, which provide one of five powerups. It will be a low-gravity space helmet, a cape that makes Pep pop through balloons instead of bouncing back, electro-boots that allow you to catch Pep and toss him where you want, a rubber band that extends Putt-Putt, or an extra life. There are also UFOs that appear every fifth level when you pop a certain row of balloons (generally the last one). If you can manage to pop it, you will be sent to the bonus level where there are nothing but 50-point alien filled UFOs. The main way of scoring a lot of points is by popping more than one balloon in a single bounce; the combos are, in order, 1 point, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100 for every balloon after.

One thing that holds this game together is its creative level designs. Some of them are quite memorable and a few are really annoying and difficult. Luckily, if you're a really young one, they provide a Junior Helper that can allow you to enable infinite lives are make Pep harder to drop. There are a few levels I think they got a little carried away though -- there are two levels with lines of paint bucket balloons that are painfully annoying to pop (though once you get the first one taken care of, it's smooth sailing). They also start throwing in regenerating balloons after a while, and they make some levels seem to go on forever.

Speaking of forever, that's unfortunately this game's greatest weakness. There are 120 levels total as mentioned, and I doubt there are many kids with enough attention to actually make it all the way through. Part of that lies in how repetitive this game is. It's pretty much a 2.5-3 hour game of Breakout. The levels do have a good amount of variety compared to some other Junior Arcades, but it's not enough to keep most people invested. I'm quite surprised myself that I was able to beat this game as a five year old.

One thing that does change things up is that the backdrop and music changes every ten levels. You start out in the outskirts of Cartown, then head down to town, to the fireworks factory...it's fun to play through the game just to see what level theme is next, and probably how they kept kids entertained. Speaking of the music, this game has a pretty outstanding soundtrack composed by Humongous veteran Rhett Mathis. He probably would have been the last person I expected to compose music, seeing how he was busy programming and being a lead designer. That doesn't change the fact that he has some amazing composing ability; he has the talent of being able to make a wide range of feels. It's all catchy, fun, and easily one of the most memorable HE game soundtracks. You will not be able to get the main menu theme out of your head once you play this game, let me tell you.

There is also a level designer tailored specifically for kids. It's very easy to use, as you simply click a balloon and place it on the grid. You can choose from one of four color schemes. Unfortunately it doesn't let you do everything; a fair amount of the decorative balloons are missing and you can't do things like regenerating balloons or two-in-ones. It definitely increases the replayability though.

The Bad


The Bottom Line

On the whole, Balloon-o-Rama is an okay game. I played it religiously as a kid (as my parents will easily attest to), but looking back on it I really don't see why. Perhaps it's because it was my first action game. Whatever the reason, it's a game I hold fond memories of, but nothing I can see myself truly recommending. It's a somewhat enjoyable game, and if you see a copy for maybe three dollars at most I say give it a try.

This is only the first of the four arcades though; just how well did the other three fare? Join me next time.

(Up next: Putt-Putt and Pep's Dog on a Stick)