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  ‘Balloon Express’ Delivers Package of Fun  
Posted 2006-04-14 by Tony Walsh
‘Balloon Express’ Delivers Package of Fun
Amelia's balloon over Venice. I didn't make it this far :(
Menara Games suggested I take a ride with their debut title Balloon Express, and I'm pleased to report I've got a new appreciation for heights. With Balloon Express, the two-person team delivers highly-polished casual fun exclusively for Windows-based computers. In the game, players control a hot-air balloon to help globetrotting courier Amelia in two interesting game modes. I sampled each mode in a free, one-hour trial of the game, which can be unlocked for only $19.95 USD.

Story Mode puts Amelia to work, floating above a cartoony Ireland to drop packages to waiting customers. Other real-world locations are unlocked as Amelia's career progresses. This is a top-to-bottom scroller that requires matching available payloads in the balloon's inventory to package-requests on the ground. Each successful delivery pays out, with bonuses if you're quick on the draw. Succeed, and you'll pass to the next stage. Seemingly simple at first glance, subsequent levels add more inventory items to match, and more package requests to uncover. It soon becomes an enjoyable clicking frenzy.

I spent the remaining 30 minutes of my trial run playing Puzzle Mode. This time, Amelia floats over a static (non-scrolling) screen to pick up and drop items. Mismatched objects are displayed in groups of three above buildings, and it's up to Amelia to set things right. A picked up item goes into the balloon's inventory, and can be swapped with any other item on-screen. The idea is to make matching triplets by selective swapping. While the immediate appeal wasn't obvious, I soon fell into that relaxing puzzle-game groove, trying to score extra points for matching with the fewest swaps. I wasn't able to become addicted due to the trial running out, but the potential is definitely there.

The audio-visual presentation of the game is lively, colourful, and cute. Playback on my higher-end PC was completely smooth, and in fact the system specs accomodate mid- to low-end computers. Control of the balloon is based entirely around mouse-clicks, and since I was playing with a pen/tablet combo, I probably had an advantage. Operating the game in this way convinced me that Balloon Express would be a great Nintendo DS title--the small stylus would be an excellent control scheme. There's also potential for something like the gesture-based Revolution controller, and I have a feeling the analog thumbstick on most consoles might work as well. The game mechanics of Balloon Express are solid enough to be a hit on a variety of platforms, but if the game was expanded in the console direction, I'd love to see a multiplayer version developed.

Balloon Express is a solid offering by Menara Games, and well worth the price-tag. I wish the team luck, and hope to find the game on a major console soon.
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