The saga of Colorado's Balloon Boy had me and Crecente nostalgic for our days of four-alarm all-hands coverage at the Rocky (which only happened every week). So I've localised today's report to include the video game angle to balloons.
So here we go: All the games I could think of involving balloons, their age relative to young Falcon Heene, and a fun factor on a scale of 1 to 10, with one being "The Lifetime of Grounding Falcon is in for After This" and 10 being "Chased by Two Sheriffs Departments and Eleven News Crews on a Magical Journey Through the Air".
Granted, it looks like he did not actually take that journey. He was found in the attic of his home, apparently never aboard the wayward experimental aircraft in the first place. But on a day dominated by news of balloons, here's our contribution. Because dammit, Brian and I just can't not localise a story. It's still in our blood.
• CIRCUS ATARI (Atari 2600, 1980: 23 years older than Falcon Henne): This Breakout clone involved two clowns poised on a teeter-totter — one would launch the other into the air to pop a canopy of balloons overhead, landing to launch his partner, and so forth. This was developed by Exidy and published by Sears, back when it produced a licensed version of the VCS console. Fun rating: Two: Three hours with this would be like Falcon writing 1000 "I will not trick an entire nation into believing I am aboard a balloon at 3000 metres" sentences.
• KICKMAN (Arcade 1981, Commodore 64 1982: 22 years older than Falcon Henne): Single-clown action this time, aboard a unicycle, not a teeter totter. In Kickman, your clown has to keep plummeting balloons from touching the ground, either by catching them atop his pointy hat or kicking them back in the air to catch on his pointy hat. Pac-Man occasionally falls out of the sky to eat the balloons off your head and, if you balance him, will gobble them up from beneath, turning you into an engine of balloon destruction. Fun rating: Actually, I'll give this a five. I lost hours to it playing on a 64 with an old Wico command control stick. Surprisingly addictive, especially once you figured out the speeds of each colour balloon.
• BALLOON FIGHT (Nintendo Entertainment System, 1985: 18 years older than Falcon Henne): Of course, the first game that leaps to mind. Balloon Fight was a Joust-type setup that pit you against other balloon-harnessed foes in midair combat. Pop or be popped was the name of the game; a single-player mode had you navigating an aerial race course filled with ouchy things that could send you plummeting to the ground faster than a mylar-covered flying saucer punctured by small arms fire. Fun Rating: A good seven. One of the first titles for NES, fondly remembered by many who had the system, but it'll get old after the twelfth day of home confinement.
• BALLOON KID (GameBoy, 1990 and GameBoy Advance, 2000: 13 years older than Falcon Henne): Now we're dealing with a game that truly could be ripped from today's headlines — if Falcon had in fact taken flight and he had a sister go looking for him, instead of the Weld County Sheriff's Office. In this side scroller, you're seeking out your kid brother, who's gone floating away on a bunch of balloons. You must navigate through treacherous levels using a couple of balloons whose altitude you can control by using the A button. Fun Rating: Another seven. Look, we're talking about f—-ing balloons here, not Metal Gear Solid. Of course it's not going to appeal to the core, and, relative to the genre, this was about as good as it ever got.
• INDIANA JONES and the FATE of ATLANTIS (PC and Mac, 1992, 11 years older than Falcon Henne): A key sequence in this LucasArts SCUMM classic was constructing a makeshift hot-air balloon to land Indy aboard a Nazi U-boat, as the story lurched toward its inevitable conclusion undersea. Fun rating: The balloon portion itself was a bit frustrating, but taken on the whole, graphical adventure games of this era were the apotheosis of the genre, and Indiana Jones only made them better, so I give it a nine.
There you are, a dirty half-dozen localising video games in the ballooniest news cycle ever to hit modern mass media. So, what are your favourite games including balloons? Or we can broaden the discussion to video games that include Falcons. Or Hennes. Madden NFL 10 has both, actually.