The Nintendo Switch has made itself an ideal home for couch multiplayer games. The ease of splitting off two Joy-Con controllers from the console creates a natural and open invitation for a friend to join in the action. As the proclaimed hub for local co-op and competitive fun, it’s no surprise the Switch has seen a rise in small, simple multiplayer games that would otherwise go overlooked on other platforms.
Enter Battlloon, the first game by Tokyo-based indie developer Noname Studio. Pitting up to four players against one another in various chibi-inspired arenas, Battlloon is a humble and wholesome game of dodgems featuring a cast of cute and charismatic balloons. Players must inflate their balloons and fire off into opponents with the goal of bouncing them into the spikes on the stage’s perimeter. In a welcome addition for inexperienced players, downed players can still participate as they come back in ghostly forms to enact revenge – still quite charming, if a little macabre.
Getting a hang of Battlloon‘s movement system is a slight challenge, but it contributes to the fun. Balloons are unable to move unless deflating, and to keep things interesting each of the six characters have their own unique movement traits. For example, the mascot Mr. Balloon experiences a small speed boost when flying dangerously close to walls and spikes, Birdie Jay, while not a heavy hitter, is able to inflate quicker and move faster and further, and Tako-san the octopus can become agile by continuously sucking in and blowing out on the go.
Battles are also made a dash more interesting with the inclusion of some environmental hazards. Certain stages might include propeller fans to give your opponents an extra thump, others might introduce whirlwinds, bombs or piranhas that can stun your character, and players might even come across a golden coin to tip the scales and gain some bonus points. It’s these small touches that keep Battlloon from feeling like a simple minigame in a bigger compilation like Mario Party, and introduce some nuance into its arena battles.
Aside from Battlloon’s gorgeous pixel art of apocalyptic cities, starlit skies and autumn forests, not to mention its suitably chiptune soundtrack, the brawler also delivers a surprising amount of lore between its loading screens. I enjoyed learning about Birdie Jay’s underdog story, fighting to become as strong as his late father, that Astro Cat is some kind of space traveller and that Puffer is a veteran fighter with twenty children. There’s no reason for Battlloon to divulge on its adorable cartoon characters in this much detail, but it certainly makes the game infinitely more endearing.
The winner of Japan’s National Vocational School Game Competition 2017, Battlloon is a modest effort and first entry into the video games industry. While reasonably priced, my friends could only harvest a little over an hour’s enjoyment out of Battlloon before we felt like we had seen everything. Despite that, Battlloon remains an amusing and delightful multiplayer bash that its developers have clearly imparted a love and care for its characters and arcade-inspired arenas.