Sawbuck Gamer


Inflated Expectations

The world’s a nicer place in the beautiful Balloon, but it can ask too much of the player.

By Todd VanDerWerff • May 22, 2012

Sawbuck Gamer is our daily review of a free or cheap ($10 or less) game.

Why are so many browser games wrapped up in needless obfuscation? Too many adventure games on the web invite random clicking, and random clicking is the death knell for getting players invested in a story. Balloon, a Japanese point-and-click game, has its fair share of puzzles that lack any clear hint or direction, but at least it’s incredibly charming. Done in the loose art style of a child’s drawing stuck up on the refrigerator, the game follows a little box person who’s lost her child to a balloon that swept the kid away into the air. She races after her child, then has to navigate a series of obstacles—everything from blowing up rocks to solving logic puzzles—to rescue the tyke.

On the one hand, the goal here is simple: On every screen, you need to navigate to the next screen. On the other hand, it’s not always clear what the puzzle is or how the puzzle works on too many of these screens. Players may find themselves stymied by a screen where the mom is confronted with a cliff that extends out of the play area, and the only “clickables” are three blades of grass—blades of grass that have nothing to do with the ultimate solution. Want to know what to do? All you’ll get from the onscreen protagonist is a shrug.

To be sure, there are screens here where the puzzle is immediately clear, though it remains devious in its challenge. When the game strings a number of those in a row (along with an easier puzzle here or there), it becomes quite a bit of fun.

Balloon has so much to recommend it in the presentation department—including whimsical music and the cute “Yay!” the mother offers up when she advances—that it’s all the more disappointing to see it fall short. There’s about 30 minutes of puzzle-solving here. Sadly, at least 10 of that will be spent trying to figure out what the hell you’re supposed to do.

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372 Responses to “Inflated Expectations”

  1. Xtracurlyfries says:

    In a surprisingly meta twist, it turns out that complaining about random clicking is also the death knell of a review!

    In other words, TL;DR. Onions!

  2. ImANarc says:

    Okay, somebody needs to tell me what to do on the screen with the “Weee News X” ’cause I have no idea.

  3. Aaron Riccio says:

    I haven’t played this yet, but by the description, it sounds a lot like Botanicula, which also has a lovely aesthetic but occasionally frustrating puzzles — so much so that the game is hardly about the puzzles, it’s more about the experience. Games as art, the debate continues!

    • Girard says:

       It’s a little like a low-rent Amanita game, yeah. The aesthetic isn’t nearly as polished or charming, and the programming doesn’t make it clear what is clickable or not (draggable objects don’t turn your arrow into a hand cursor, so you’re likely to only discover they are draggable by accident, which is kind of bone-headed).

      The puzzles are sort of similar in philosophy, though – they’re the type better served by you loosening your brain rather than honing it.

    • lokimotive says:

      I haven’t played Botanicula, but I’ve played other Amanita games and remember enjoying them. This is fairly obnoxious, however, in large part for the aforementioned lack of draggable object cursor change.

      Plus, the Amanita games just seem like an invitation to play around in the world, whereas this just seems obtuse and random. There’s no intention of creating much of a consistency to the “world” (if you could even call it that), here. Really, besides the aesthetic, I don’t feel there’s much to recommend this.

      • Aaron Riccio says:

        Yeah, having now played it, it lacks the loveliness and exploratory nature of Amanita’s work. Botanicula may have had some bizarre puzzles that utilized the mouse in ways that also weren’t obvious, but they were also packed full of charming additional features to interact with, whereas here there’s merely the wispiest sketch of a game, wrapped up in a simple elastic bubble. Watch as it floats away.

  4. “The world’s a nicer place in the beautifulBalloon


    (ports game to the 5DS)