Ultra Balloon. An inspired title to be sure, developed by an odd Korean company called SunA, yet I had no idea what to expect going in. Would it be yet another digital version of filling a clown's mouth with water at a carnival? Perhaps it's a clone of Balloon Fight, which itself being a clone of Joust would almost surely create a universe-crippling paradox? The game's title screen does little to clarify, so one is forced to put in at least one credit. Upon doing so, we are shown the following:
Or, in short...
Holy shit. This is the most uniqud thing I've ever seen.
It bears repeating - holy shit. That alone is worth two+ quarters.
I can tell already that this is a game that I can't even try and make jokes about. Even Bernie Mac combined with the powers of Steve Harvey could not claim to "got jokes" when it comes to this game. The bar has already been set so high that even Sergei Bubka could not claim to be able to vault it. This is going to be my ultimate challenge.
LET'S PLAY TERMINAL CANCER PATIENT
As the intro fades, we are immediately thrust into the game. Well, sort of. We get a brief visit from the bad dude in the intro. Wait a sec. Where's the baby? He's the only child I've ever approved of. This has to be some kind of mistake. Unfortunately for us, homicidal infants remain the turf of Captain Commando's crime-fighting superpal Baby Head, the world's only robot-driving infant:
Anyway, on to the game. Aaaand it's Bubble Bobble, except done like Parodius, right down to the penguin-as-a-main-character motif (they even look identical) and the rampant use of "classical" music from the public domain. It has enemies that capitalized on the then-megahot trend of wearing basketball goggles. REMEMBER THE BULLS. Anyway, it's such a blatant rip-off of a popular game, from a fly-by-night company that had absolutely no ties with Taito, using character designs by Famitsu artist Susumu Matsushita, which, given this situation, may or may not be bootlegged.
Actually, that's a bit unfair. The game is Bubble Bobble, yes. You put enemies in bubbles, and then burst them. They die. But it does have a couple unique twists on the basics. For one, you can charge up a super bubble that can encapsulate multiple enemies, and also gives a significant point bonus. Secondly, there is farting. Yes, farting. You can fart. Congratulations, SunA, you've managed to blaze trails that only the platforming classic Boogerman ever dared to explore.
You also get a bonus, and in the form of a bucket of fried chicken, if you kill all the enemies fast enough. A thought just crossed my mind, however: why does no one talk about eating penguins? We'll eat darn near any other decent-sized fatty bird, yet I've never even once seen a recipe for a penguin salad sandwich or sphenisciformes a la king. I feel like I should submit this to Google Answers or something. I'll keep you informed.
I feel like it'd be pretty easy to just end the review here and let it be judged by the merits shown so far. The game is clearly amazing, and you should play through it immediately. But since the chances of you actually doing so are slim to Kate Moss, here's a rundown of every ounce of amazing that this game offers.
A VERY SPECIAL EPISODE OF GOOD TIMES
Ultra Balloon doesn't add a terrible lot of fresh ideas to the Bubble-Shooting Animal genre, but it does have a few unique powerups. There's the typical speed shoes and all that, but there's also a surprising lot of powerups that seem to exist purely to appease the game-assisted suicide lobby. In fact, that's all one of them does, which is kind of a horrible situation if you end up releasing the skull-shaped darling in the same place as the spot your character starts at after every time you die. You'd think that it's the kind of thing that you touch once and then it goes away, but it manages to remain until you finish the level. In other words, you'd be better off tossing quarters under your fridge than trying to continue after your grievous mistake. Another "powerup" that can kill you is a stick of dynamite, provided that you stand too close to it.
Another thing that Ultra Balloon did that Bubble Bobble only sort of attempted is having bosses. While generally expected in games resembling the inspiration (not to mention a key improvement in 1993's Bubble Bobble 2), it's not just the fact that the game has bosses that counts. It's that they're almost all breathtakingly awesome.
Any boss that pukes eyeballs is okay by me. She explodes into turkey.
Oddly enough, this dude is totally the most difficult boss in the game. Killing him rewards you with a cake topped by what appears to be the yolk of a buzzard egg.
This boss reminds me of one tiny letdown: this game has no hidden cats. In fact, the only cat appears to be this dude, and his felinity is questionable. His primary form of attack is letters from his own name, and was apparently squandering away a deliciously large flan. The princess is apparently a total MILF all of a sudden. This is never explained.
I'm not going to bother figuring out what the hell he is. One thing is certain, however: he is a BOSS. Also, a sundae.
After 4 totally wacky bosses, we get a pterodactyl. Which is cool, I guess, and its color scheme makes it possibly related to the Pink Ranger's Dinozord of choice, but it's still totally boring. He's also the easiest boss in the game, bar none. He cooks up into a mean plate of... fries.
It's the token googly-eyed clam with a toungue, living in a jack-in-the-box. BORING.
It's... what? First of all, there's a Gundam head in the background, which I'll ignore for now. Second, there's no wacky. It's just seven normal enemies that shoot unkillable homing missles at you. It's impossible not to die at least eight times.
World eight? Same thing. Just more annoying in the way the level's designed. More cheap deaths, and you're at the mercy of the game's conclusion, so obviously you keep on continuing. More quarters are spent on the bosses of worlds seven and eight than basically the rest of the game combined, and they're not even that fun.
This is easily the most disappointing thing about the game, since five of the six real bosses were totally amazing. I imagine that Suna wasn't exactly rolling in cash, so I suppose it's not that surprising that the game ended up seemingly unfinished. Besides giant food, every boss killed results in this:
Which is Sweet, but we all know what happens next.
So, what of the purple jerk who keeps stealing this princess away from your loving little wings? What of the epic final showdown? I'll get to that later.
IS THAT AN ULTRA BALLOON IN YOUR POCKET
Straight from the outset, I had no idea what to expect to get out of Ultra Balloon. It teased me with an awesome plot and a baby dressed as a dude that you'd see if you closed your eyes and imagined a dude named Olaf. But then, it turned out that I play as a bubble blowing penguin with gastric issues. A few minutes later, I killed the gigantic head of a queen that puked eyeballs. I certainly didn't know what to expect next; least of all, a raging hard-on.
But there it was. Completely out of the blue. A set of smoothly-waxed anime legs, tempting me on the progress screen between worlds. Now, obviously, legs alone would be a pretty silly, so it seemed safe to assume that it'd scroll up in between levels, revealing more of this vixen. We could only pray that they didn't give it the face of a giraffe at the top. I swear to god, they ALWAYS do that shit to me.
And anyway, you'd be right. It scrolls up bit by bit, revealing that she is wearing a top that could stand to be a bit more conservative, frankly. Children are going to be reading this site.
As for her face?
Thank god. Also note that this girl seems directly like something by Satoshi Urushihara, artist of Langrisser, Growlanser, Plastic Little, and other pornography. This lends to the theory of this all just being a huge ripoff.
There's another lady after this, which I guess should be obvious. Unfortunately, she doesn't quite stitch together as smoothly as the other one. Also, she's wearing a rather similar top, and suffering from the same apparent areola inflammation. I don't think it's healthy for them to be that puffy, and they really ought to consider getting them checked.
EDWARD PRINCESSHANDS IS MY STREET NAME
So, the last two boss fights are completely disappointing compared to those that proceeded them. To refresh, they weren't wacky, and were really just death traps that aimed homing missles at you. Totally lame. Well, after we finish off the boss of stage 8, the big purple dude pops up again, grabbing the princess away one more time.
Now, it's safe to assume at this point that there's going to be another stage, or at least a totally epic fight. This dude has been taunting you after every boss fight, snatching away this lovely lady.
So without further adieu, here is the final struggle:
Yes. That's it. That was the fight you were waiting for, and spent around $20 in credits to reach.
There are no words. Perhaps the ending will make up for it all?
I look at the kid again, and it's impossible to stay mad for long.
I want to point out a couple things here:
- This is the first and only time that we see the name "Robin." We can assume, I think, that that's the name of the kid above, who also apparently stole half of his clothes from Luigi and the other half from Mario. I have no idea why they felt the name to give him a name that only 1% of people who touch this game will ever see, but I love them for it.
- The game apparently happened in the "Toy Kingdom," right? I guess that would explain the giant Gundam, even if the use of the likeness is certainly questionable from the copyright perspective. What I'd like to know, though, is how he came into posession of a child-sized dungeon. No really, check out the background of Stage 6:
The bosses alone showed questionable choices of parenting, if they are supposed to represent some of the child's toys. But a dungeon? That's just irresponsible.
PRIME SOBRIETY LEVEL: The Pope
I had originally tried this game after having a fair number of drinks and I've never been so humbled. I spent probably spent somewhere in the realm of $4 on the first world alone. Conversely, I played it again sober and beat the same section on one credit. In short, friends seriously don't let friends play this game drunk, unless you're actually getting quarters out of them for it.
APPROXIMATE COMPLETION TIME: 50 Minutes
STAGE AT WHICH YOU JUST WISH THE DAMN GAME WOULD BE OVER: Personal Maturity
This is a tough one. I guess it really depends on how desperate you are to see questionable anime nudity, and how often you post "LOL, JAPAN LOVES THE DRUGS" on internet forums whenever your see something come out of the country which has more colors than have been used in American video games starring tough dudes in the last four years. Yes, I'm making the joke about how Gears of War was really, really brown.
Really though - as fun as the game is, there's not much to see after world six.
APPROXIMATE QUARTER OUTPUT: [Bar Tab/2]+$12.00 The last four levels in world 8 are brutal - they consist of seemlingly endless generators of enemies, which it's impossible to kill all of before the "HURRY UP" ghost comes and kills you for not beating the level fast enough.
THIS GAME NEEDED: A healthier diet when it comes to bonus items. Every time you get such an award, it's always a giant burger or other huge junk food items. It's certainly no wonder that the penguin has such horrible digestive problems.
MOST UNEXPECTED APPEARENCE OF A SONG FROM 1969: World Six
Hot Butter's Popcorn. You know the song. Popcorn. You've heard it a million times.
This game is rife with things that Japan is known for. At least, all of the wacky things and all of the fan service. I was worried, however, about the game's apparent lack of pointless Judeo-Christian symbolism, which was in its height in the mid-90s during those halcyon days of Neon Genesis Evangelion. Which is a series I know nothing about, frankly, other than the fact that it apparently struck up the largest revival of said ridiculous symbolism that the country had ever seen.
Thankfully, SunA was not one to disappoint.
This game is really pretty fun. It's also quite frustratingly designed. Nearly all of the enemies will jump whenever you try to blow a bubble, which means they'll land on a floor above you, requiring you to chase them down and probably get killed. ARGH. Many of the enemies are infuriating, too, especially the stupid clocks which will randomly stop still and project sonic waves. They also make some of the most incredibly annoying noises to man. Actually, most of the sound effects are just as annoying, especially your "death/restart" sound, which sounds like a demented crow.
Aside from that? It's wacky. It's enjoyable. It's also apparently kind of unfinished. Play it until you get bored. Or frustrated. Or broke.