Each new Balloon Fight game usually brings some sort of twist or unique feature, such as with story, gameplay, controls, or even the system it's on and the gimmicks that come with it. However, the series has somewhat fallen into two sub-series: The "Balloon Fighting" joust-like clear-the-screen type games, and the "Balloon Trip" score-based endurance type games. While the former is usually multiplayer, the latter is usually single-player, with of course the occasional exception for each.
While the classic "Balloon Fighting" type games seem to be less frequent, this can somewhat be derived from the early handheld iterations of Balloon Fight, namely the Game & Watch and Balloon Kid (Otherwise known as Balloon Fight GB), which likely leaned toward Balloon Trip type gameplay due to the systems themselves. The first handheld Balloon Fight game was the Game & Watch version, which was limited by the monochrome calculator-like segmented LCD screen. In an Iwata Asks interview about the Game & Watch, it was stated that the chip used in Game & Watch systems for screen display had a maximum of 72 segments, on or off. To create a game with Balloon Trip and Balloon Fighting type games on the Game & Watch hardware would be impossible due to this, and even just a Balloon Fighting type game would be very difficult. There is a 4 by 5 grid of player segments on the Balloon Fight Game & Watch, taking up 20/72 segments. Assuming the platforms would take up some segments due to unique level layouts, the platforms would probably form a grid-like pattern between player positions,like in Super Mario Brothers, another NES game ported to the Game & Watch. Taking out platforms on the side and bottom edges of the player area, that would take up 27 segments, making the total 47/72. Four digits (for time and score) would take up 28 segments, and one additional one for the colon in the time, putting the total at 75, 3 over the maximum. To add Balloon Birds with seperate Balloon segments and 3 splash segments for the bottom of the screen would put the total at a stifling 119 segments, far over the limit of 72. Even going back and removing some non-vital segments leaves us at 75, if you combine Balloon Birds and their Balloons, reduce the platforms to 9 horizontal platforms, andmake the thousands place of the score digits just a single segment capable only of displaying the number one. But it was barely even Balloon Fight over the limit, and now taking even more liberties, it not only still isn't possible but it also is even less faithful and less playable. This didn't even take into consideration multiple Balloons for the player, parachutes, the fish, Sparks, Bonus Phases, different colors of Balloon Birds, and Flippers. Clearly, Balloon Fighting type gameplay for the Game & Watch is out of the question.
Balloon Kid, however, is a different story. The Game Boy could theoretically handle a "Balloon Fighting" type game, but why didn't they opt for a game like that? The Game Boy's resolution may have played a role in this. Levels would be extremely small if they were contained in one screen, unless the sprite size was reduced, but that would make the game look squished and uncomfortable. The only other option is scrolling, and while this is done in Vs. Balloon Fight and even in Balloon Kid vertically, this would require vertical and horizontal scrolling, which would leave the majority of the screen unseen, with only about 40% of the screen seen, assuming the level sizes of the NES version. Even if the levels were made to be just vertical scrolling, the levels would still be fairly small horizontally, which could make the game somewhat more difficult, since the enemies usually spawn above you, and can attack from above. While this was possible on the VS. system, it was only because of the larger screen.
So, from a hardware perspective, Balloon Trip is usually easier to make. From a developer's angle, it could seem that Balloon Trip type games are "ideal", and some players may find Balloon Trip more fun than the Balloon Fighting type games. (In fact, it was stated in an interview with Satoru Iwata that Balloon Trip was more or less an afterthought, being a quick extra made in the leftover space on the cartridge.) However, certain elements of Balloon Fight mode are "ideal" in other ways. For example, multiplayer. A common praise for Balloon Fight is the multiplayer, which makes sense, because the original game was based solely around multiplayer due to the dual-screen system. However, some feel that it is too easy to end the other player's game, and usually makes the game short-lived. As I mentioned at the outset, though, each game has its own positives and negatives.
Here's a quick chart outlining the features of each major game:
|NES||G&W||Balloon Kid||Famicom Mini||Tingle's Balloon Fight||Balloon Trip Breeze|
|Multiplayer Type||2nd Controller||N/A||Link Cable||Link Cable, Wireless Adapter||
|Assist play with Wii Remotes|
|Max. Players||2||1||2||2||4||1, 5 including Assist Play|
If I had to sum up what this means, it's that in terms of content, Balloon Trip Breeze wins (Unless you want to track down Vs. Balloon Fight), and in terms of multiplayer, Tingle's Balloon Fight is best because it doesn't require any extra accessory or multiple copies of the game, and it allows for the most players simultaneously.