Zzap1st September 1987
Published in Zzap #29
Trans-Atlantic Balloon Challenge
Cast your minds back a couple of months to when Richard Branson dominated the headlines with his interminable attempts to get a balloon across the atlantic. Well, now you have your chance to participate in this exciting and necessary event, by taking the grinning beard's place and attempting to emulate his achievements.
The game takes the form of a two-player balloon race between your Virgin balloon and an anonymous challenger. Each player is given control of a flock of three sonic-beam spitting eagles, used to guide and defend their balloon as it makes the perilous journey across the sea. The birds also used to sabotage the opponent's balloon and reduce his chances of success.
The screen is split horizontally, with the Virgin Balloon at the top. To the left of each display area is a status panel containing three bars, representing Fuel, Altitude and the eagle's Energy Status. Also present is a map showing the balloon's position. On the right hand side are four icons which are activated to move the balloon left and right, increase altitude or switch screens (so that your eagle can visit the opponent's screen).
The eagle loses energy as it flies, causing its bar to shrink. Sitting on top of the balloon replenishes the lost calories and the bar adjusts accordingly. The problem with this is that the bird's eight causes the balloon to lose altitude! The bird dies when its energy drops to zero, and it is then replaced by one of its colleagues.
Throughout the crossing, an unfriendly biplane flies in and, if left alone, drops either a pot of paint or puncture device. If ignored, these deadly objects cause the balloon to lose height. Large missiles also cause grief and deflate the balloon completely if they hit their target. Children occasionally sail past, carried through the air by bunches of balloons. These yield extra points if collected, or remove some of the existing score if destroyed.
The game ends when both balloons have burst, all the eagles are dead or one of the players crosses the Atlantic. However, scraping your balloon off the Ulster landscape is not recommended, and dropping the game in the Irish sea only serves to irritate the coastguard - happy record breaking!
The effort that went into generating public interest in this ballooning non-event was admirable, if not totally over the top. Our local radio station covered just about every minute of the journey and every telly news bulletin showed pictures of the floating cheshire cat.
Now we've been treated to an infantile and unchallenging computer game!
There simply isn't enough in the gameplay to amuse a player for more than an hour - all you have to do is protect your balloon from two types of hazard and occasionally change the controls. It's true to say that the player is kept busy - but the action is just too boring and overpriced to be worthwhile.
As if the event itself hadn't been overhyped to the point of internal collapse, here's a computer game just to remind you of the 'thrilling' Atlantic crossing. I wouldn't mind if it was a good game, but it isn't.
The two-player mode is very badly designed, and a game only lasts a minute or two before one player's balloon plummets into the sea. Playing against the computer is even worse - the wally of an opponent is completely unchallenging and is disposed of within a minute.
The graphics are poor and only the title music stands out as being good. At eight quid, it just doesn't offer good value for money.
Once again that bored businessman hits the headlines - and his game hits the fan. Trans-Atlantic Balloon Challenge is completely and utterly dire - I cannot pour enough scorn on this pathetically contrived program.
The link between the farcical aerial escapades of Mr Branson and this 'game' is tenuous to say the least; save for the fact that it features a red balloon with 'Virgin' slashed across it, there is no *real* connection with the challenge proper.
The addition of 'sonic beam spitting eagles' to spice up the action is the final straw. There is some Trans-Atlantic, a little Balloon, but absolutely no Challenge whatsoever.
I bet Branson hasn't seen it.
One or two player option and sensible (if a little unaesthetic) on-screen presentation.
Mostly simple and uninspired.
A pleasant 'floatalong' Rob Hubbard tune plays on the title screen.
The simplistic action is almost too easy to get to grips with.
Shouldn't appeal for more than a couple of goes.
A poor piece of software which offers little to an intelligent games player.