Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Matter of Import 40: Balloon Bomber [Taito 1980]


Balloon Bomber is a 1980 arcade game from Taito that controls like a fixed-screen shooter – the player has a two-direction joystick to move left and right and a button to press to shoot at enemies scrolling by overhead.

In this game you're fighting the titular Balloon Bombers, deployed by a carrier plane at the beginning of each stage. The Balloons drift by, left to right, occasionally dropping bombs at you. While you can shoot the bombs out of the air, if you miss they blow away a chunk of the ground, limiting your movement and restricting your ability to traverse the screen.

It's actually pretty innovative and one of the best parts of the game.

The damage to the ground persists even after you clear a wave of balloons – the only repairs come when you get hit, and the constant erosion of available play-space increases the tension dramatically – particularly as your gun can't hit the bombs capable of destroying the edge of your current plot of land.

Gameplay is decent, if a little simple, and each wave of balloons gets faster and deploys lower, giving you less time to react to their destruction. In later waves the carrier plane deploys its own cluster bombs as well, though these – thankfully – don't damage the ground. The difficulty of leading your shots in these conditions lends a nice challenge.

Negative marks come from the audio and graphics. Like many prior games, Balloon Bomber is a monochrome sprite game colored by screen overlays – a practice old in 1979, and in 1980 – the year Namco releases Pac-Man – is hard to excuse. It feels like a cabinet that was rushed out at low cost and deemed good enough for domestic arcades in Japan, but not worth the expense of exporting, even at the height of the golden age. Which is exactly what it is.

Balloon Bomber gets a C ranking.


  1. I remember this one from MAME. Sounds like a better game on paper than it translates to in reality. Been a while for me but if I recall I'd be in more like D territory.

    1. That's not an unfair assessment; I gave it a boost for the innovative terrain destruction mechanic.