If you can get over the freak-out factor, you'll see that Balloon Headed Boy is a very enjoyable, high- quality platform game.
It's been quite some time since I played a game as charmingly baroque as Morpheme's Balloon Headed Boy. In fact, I must project myself back to my early childhood days to discover a comparative gaming experience. It was the mid- to-late 1980s: President Reagan hadn't found the beef, Saddam was a cordial acquaintance, parachute pants were just beginning to hit the streets, and we were more than thrilled to pay $200 for an original Nintendo system. We had all beaten Super Mario Brothers inside fifteen minutes and exhausted Duck Hunt; it was high time for Mario 2, and we formed Soviet-style lines outside of toy stores to participate in the itinerant plumbers' latest trip through the Mushroom Kingdom. Innocence lost! Mario 2 was an unexpected panoply of odd colors, strange sounds, uninvited characters, and unfamiliar concepts. What fiend had replaced my Koopas and Goombas with Birdos and Shyguys, and switched my satisfying head-stomps and shell-kicks for vegetable-tossing and potion-swilling? And yet, as each increasingly hallucinogenic level fell behind me, I felt my smile grow. So it goes also with Balloon Headed Boy. You may be seriously weirded out at first, but give this funny little platformer thirty minutes of gameplay and you'll be in the palm of the Inflated One's hand.
The first thing you'll notice about Balloon Headed Boy is that you have no idea what's going on. The title screen contains no information or options, only two doors and a little sign with a speaker on it. One of the doors quits the game, the other starts it, and the sign toggles sound on and off--but nobody tells you this. I accidentally quit the game by pressing buttons in an effort to bring up a menu or something. This is your first introduction to Balloon Headed Boy's overarching philosophy: Learn by doing. You must travel through the game on your own, picking up new commands and maneuvers as you go. There's a tutorial level every once in a while where you are guided through various aspects of gameplay, but that's pretty much it. Noam Chomsky would be proud.
Fortunately, there's nothing confusing about the game's objectives. Balloon Headed Boy travels from level to level, searching for balloons and unusual blue rabbit-like creatures; once you pick up enough balloons, the sad little level exit turns happy and unlocks. BHB can inflate his head to float around--but this depletes his air meter, which can only be replenished by picking special inflation flowers. Paging Dr. Leary...
BHB's graphics are freakishly bright and seemingly borrowed from Yoshi's Island School of Absinthe-Guzzling Video Game Art; everything is puffy, rounded, and wearing either a smile or a frown. You'd think that the sound would complete the psychedelic ensemble, but it's surprisingly weak, with only a few Atari-style blips.
If you can get over the freak-out factor and somewhat childlike game concept, you'll see that Balloon Headed Boy is a very enjoyable, high- quality platform game. I just have to wonder what BHB's head is really filled with.