Reminiscent of the classic NES game Balloon Fight, Helium Boy puts you in the shoes of a silly-faced little boy who is trying to explore a dangerous world with nothing more than an air pump and some balloons. Fly through a range of different environments to find and collect stars. Keep your eyes peeled for spikes, bird and even ninjas who are all out to burst your bubble (or, to be more precise, burst your balloon). This quirky platformer features 3D graphics and a fun, cartoony art style. Put your skills to the test in 8 stages with two difficulty levels and variable control modes. Want a more relaxed trek through Helium Boy's world? Go for the game's Beginner difficulty option. Otherwise, you'll need to contend with the screen scrolling all on its own in Normal mode. Think you can keep up with the high-flying action?
Just a Boy and his Balloon
Despite the game's challenging stages, the objective remains the same throughout your adventure. Get to the end of the level in one piece. Keep in mind that you only have your balloons and your wits about so get creative. Float for as long as you can and deflate those balloons as soon as you get access to land. Keep in mind that not everything in your fun, little world wants you to succeed so watch out for enemies. Armed with sharp beaks or weapons, they will undoubtedly make short work of your helium-filled transport.
For the most part, Helium Boy's whimsical world is fun to explore. There is one catch, however. The controls do take some getting used to. If you're on te go or you aren't too keen about using additional peripherals, you can go for the on-screen game pad. Optionally, you can also connect a physical keyboard or game pad if you already happen to have one. Move Helium Boy towards the direction you wish by pressing on the corresponding key on the virtual controls. Use the balloons to fly by pressing the Jump button a few times or press it once to jump while on land. In case the balloon you're using pops, you can inflate another one using the Pump button or let go of them with the Drop button.
What makes the virtual game pad so tricky to use is that it's pretty hard to time it by mere intuition. In Normal mode, you'll have to time your moves to a slow-scrolling screen. If you hesitate to, say, land even for a split second, you'll end up too far away. If you manage to survive, not being able to see the character clearly opens up a can of worms as you'll have to maneuver around obstacles with a handicap. To counter this, you can go for the game's Beginner mode or rely on the shadow cast by Helium Boy to gauge your landings. The latter works for sure, however, it doesn't leave much room for you to enjoy the game fluidly.
Looks Like Fun
The controls for Helium Boy may not be the most intuitive but its hard to deny the charm of its environments. Puffy clouds, chunky logs and even birds with Super Mario-esque hats litter the landscapes as you float from one end of the stage to another. Levels vary not only by design but also in terms of view and perspective. Enjoy the catchy background music while maneuvering away from obstacles. Avoid birds with sharp beaks and be sure to think fast on your feet to get into those cramped spaces. You'll need to keep pumping and popping balloons as the screen scrolls forward.
Things get a bit more complicated when ice is added into the equation after level 6. Aside from falling behind on your aerial dives and needing to be precise to differentiate between balloon inflating and actual jumping, you'll need to account for skids and slips too. The frozen landscapes definitely add something special to the mix when it comes to looks but the challenges it poses may just end up adding to the game's frustration factor.
The Sky's the Limit
With its nostalgic, old school look, Helium Boy certainly catches the eye and is a welcome relief from the familiar web and mobile balloon bursting games found at Popping Balloon Game. Its vivid colors combined with well-animated characters make for something of a visual treat. Unfortunately, it is hard to appreciate all that when you're too busy fiddling with the controls. If you are able to adjust to the unintuitive control scheme, then that's the time you'll actually start to appreciate the work that has gone into designing Helium Boy's lively world. However, the first few levels will likely be a challenge and this will pose a problem for those who may not have the patience to invest a fair bit of time in learning how things work. If you're the type to just want to dive in and enjoy a game off the bat, then this may not be the platformer for you.
On the other hand, if you're up for the challenge, you can opt to start with the Beginner mode before moving on to the game's Normal difficulty level. By then, you may be able to squeeze in a breath or two to take in the sights Helium Boy has to offer. The bottom line is, you may just find a fun little gem if you begin the game with few expectations. Otherwise, there are other platformers out there.