8-Bit Mondays: Balloon Fight – “Balloon Trip” (Hirokazu Takana)March 2, 2010
Despite the fact that there are hundreds of good albums out there to choose from and many of these are 8-bit soundtracks, it can be hard to pick the ‘right piece’ for the day. It’s not that I don’t want to play certain songs, it’s just that with so many choices, it can be difficult to pick something wholly unique versus something old and familiar. Such is the case with today’s “Balloon Trip” from Balloon Fight, that 1985 classic by Hirokazu “Hip” Tanaka. (And some great news for Tanaka fans: he has composed a single with Kyoto DJ and Q-Games composer Baiyon called In the Collaborations 03, which will be available in March 13 from iTunes, just in time for the GDC!) The soundtrack was released both as a standalone and as part of the Famicom 20th Anniversary Original Soundtracks Vol. 1 (2004).
“Balloon Trip” is a pretty fun piece of music for the early days of the NES. It is also 50 seconds long, which is a very good length for an NES track. Hip Tanaka was able to pull some nice bubbly effects from the 2A03 sound chip, making it sound like balloons bouncing off each other; in some ways the 2A03 seems almost custom-built for this type of sound. In any event, it’s unlike anything else you’ll hear on the system (except maybe some of Takana’s other work).
The song replicates gameplay and level design, the rising and falling of the notes as well as their airy nature mimicking the upward and downward movement of the Balloon Fighter and the floaty physics of the game. There are also some nice breaks such as a bass-controlled B section at 0:18 (transitioned into with a nice downward spiral of notes), and a drum solo at 0:44. There is also a nice burst of static at 0:32 to transition out of the bass solo. The drum beat gives the piece a trance-like feel: listen to it too loudly when you’re trying to to fall asleep, and your head might explode!
Though superficially, Balloon Fight is a lighter-toned version of Joust, it contains enough unique gameplay elements to help it stand out at least a little from the Midway classic, particularly the Balloon Trip level, which is a long obstacle course the player must navigate through. Collect the balloons while avoiding the moving balls of electricity, all to this pretty hip tune by a pretty hip guy. I think maybe the song is so long not only because the Balloon Trip is kind of long, but also because the rest of the game has very little music, relying heavily on sound effects punctuating silence – it all seems to have been used in this one challenge level. Just watch out for those darn fish!
Back in the OLD days of OCRemix, Virt released a ska remix of “Balloon Trip” (“Ska Poppin’“) that still holds out very well to this day. I listen to this piece sometimes when I’m feeling down; hearing the happy sounds of a beach party in the warm Hawaiian sun is a cheer-booster. There was also a nice remix of this tune on Super Smash Bros. Brawl composed by the crazy-awesome Koji Hayama, complete with his trademark cheesy ‘hey!’ sfx.