It started with my PocketPC and Palm, but since I’ve had my iPhone I’ve really come to appreciate the merits of a casual game. I also believe there are certain rules that must be adhered to for a game to be “casual”. It must be accessible to people who don’t normally play games. It must be designed in such a way that it’s challenging yet not frustrating to the player. And while things like precision and accuracy are nice, they don’t necessarily make for a good casual game. Tap Tap Balloon tries really hard, but I think it fails a bit in the frustration / precision areas.
There’s no question that the concept is accessible, and in fact it’s actually quite cool. The screen is split in half (though this is conceptual, as there is no line down the center of the screen), and on each half of the screen is a numbered set of balloons. The object of the game is to clear away the balloons by pressing the same numbered balloon on each side of the screen.
In normal mode you have levels, each of which is comprised of a series of 10 waves. As you progress through the levels you’ll get more balloons per wave and the balloons will be more mixed up as to how they are placed on the screen. There is a timer that perpetually decreases, and it decreases even faster when you make an incorrect mach. However, it will go up slightly every time you make a correct match. When the timer completely depletes the game is over. You must complete a level with a certain minimum score in order to earn at least one star, and all levels in a group must be completed with at least one star to unlock the next group of levels. In Endless mode you just get wave after wave of balloons. Every so many waves more balloons will be added, and just like in Normal mode the order gets crazier with each passing wave.
The control is quite simple. You just tap the two balloons you want to pop. There are a couple of problems with how this works, though. First of all, timing can be a real issue. Even if you have your fingers over the right two balloons, if the timing with which you tap them isn’t just right you’ll fail. The other issue is that because you’re fingers are in constant motion all over the screen and the game requires two hands to play, it can be difficult finding a way to hold the device that’s both comfortable and allows you enough flexibility of movement to do well in the game. The result is a lot of frustrating moments where you think you’ve hit the right thing only to get the gut wrenching noise of failure. The funny thing is that on most games this would be enough to make me want to give up, but with Tap Tap Balloons I feel oddly compelled to keep playing until I beat a level.
Visually the game is simple but nice. There is no background to avoid any distractions, so you basically have the balloons and the timer in the upper left corner. The balloons look cool, and the one that need to be tapped next will pulse a bit to let you know they’re ready to be tapped. The effect when correctly tapped balloons fade away is decent as well. I also like how the timer bar kind of dances a bit when time is running low. Of course, that might be as much of a distraction as having backgrounds would be!
The sound of tapping balloons correctly actually gets a bit old after a while, but then your only other option is the boing of an incorrectly selected option, so I guess I’ll stick with the “good” noise. The music when things are going great is nice and peaceful and really quite relaxing. Once the timer gets into the danger level, however, the music turns into this 80s ghetto adventure movie track that’s actually a bit of a hindrance. When that music starts playing it makes me kind of nervous, and I find myself making a lot more mistakes. It’s something akin to the annoying Final Jeopardy theme.
This is the rough part of the review. Here’s where I’m supposed to say “everyone go out and buy this”. The truth is, I really like the game, despite my frustrations with the controls. Thankfully it requires two hands, though, so I can’t pull out my hair while I’m playing! I guess the problem is that I’m not really sure what the target audience for this game is. It acts like a casual game, but I think casual gamers will get frustrated quickly with the less than desirable controls. Hard core gamers, on the other hand, will most likely find the concept too simple, and they might get frustrated with the controls. As such, I’m going to have to give the game a cautionary rating.