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Balloon Fight’s Tiny Soundtrack Knows When To Be Quiet

Image: Nintendo / Kotaku
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Welcome to Morning Music, Kotaku’s new, daily hangout for folks who love video games and the cool-ass sounds they make. Did you know Balloon Fight’s soundtrack is by the same composer as Metroid’s? It’s pretty memorable despite clocking in at just a few minutes.

Yep, just minutes. And a lion’s share of that is a single track, for the Balloon Trip obstacle course mode. Yet for all its brevity, Balloon Fight (Longplay / VGMdb) makes every second count, resulting in half a dozen little earworms that helped make Nintendo’s minor classic more than just a brazen Joust clone.

Which it was. But it was also pretty good, so we forgive it.

Balloon Fight’s composer is none other than early Nintendo dynamo Hirokazu “Hip” Tanaka, who defined the company’s sound in the first half of the ‘80s and went on to score all-time greats like Kid Icarus, Super Mario Land, Mother, EarthBound, and most momentous of all, Metroid.

Let’s listen:

Nintendo / All Nintendo Music (YouTube)

Typical early NES boops, but very warm, nicely arranged ones. Even a bit of bass there in “Balloon Trip” (0:36). But what this OST-focused video fails to capture is that Balloon Fight’s gameplay is often scored only by sound effects, resulting in a stark but compelling soundscape punctuated by just the rapid tinkling of enemy balloonists and a few other incidental sounds.


Nintendo / World of Longplays (YouTube)

It works, and calls to mind previous early ‘80s arcade games like Donkey Kong and Millipede. The latter is entirely silent but for its sound effects, which convey important information to the player and in their cacophony provide a compelling beat of their own, an approach that fell out of favor once hardware offered more sophisticated music capabilities.

Atari / Old Classic Retro Gaming (YouTube)

If you could time-travel back to a vintage arcade, that’s what it would sound like... layered with lots of Starship and Journey, granted.

Guess what? Despite the brevity of its soundtrack, Balloon Fight got some pretty cool arrangements courtesy of Nintendo.

Nintendo / Gamemusicnerd (YouTube)

The first is from the 1990 album Game Music Graffiti (Playlist / VGMdb)—credited to the wonderfully named Mario Freaks Orchestra—and starts with some Caribbean flavor. Could do without the very 1990 breakdown midway through (1:40), but the brief guitar bit afterward is pleasant.

Nintendo / Nijipoop (YouTube)

Then there’s this jazzy piece from 2004’s Famicom 20th Anniversary Arrange Sound Tracks (Playlist / VGMdb). This was another album where I happened to be in Japan around its release, and it’s good! Lot of variety. It’s remarkable how much musical mileage they extract from Balloon Fight’s humble OST, and then the bizarro-world English announcer at the end (4:32) really sends it over the top.

Nintendo / 31 Horas Music (YouTube)

Finally there’s this most recent piece, a medley, from Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Never let it be said that Nintendo forgets its history. Except when it comes to [insert the never-happening Nintendo franchise revival you obsess about here].

That’s it for today’s Morning Music. Say hi in the comments! Me, I’m gonna fly up, up and away in my beautiful balloon. Don’t even think about popping it, you scurrilous buffoons, you cretinous sons o—[floats mercifully out of earshot]