Balloon Express Review

By Paul Hyman |

You familiar with the term "going postal"? It’s the maddening frustration that reportedly affects postal workers and sets them off, sometimes with deadly results. We imagine it’s something like having to deliver mail by high-flying hot air balloons over and over and over and …

OK, so maybe it sounds like fun at first. You’re floating over the lovely scrolling Irish countryside, clicking on houses to learn what you need to deliver, and if you slide the correct package down your delivery rope, you get all sorts of goodies — like cash and smiley icons. And if you do it quickly enough, you’re rewarded with a shiny red "tip balloon" or two which can be popped for extra cash. There’s even an "auto helper" to assist you with automatic deliveries. Cool!

At the end of each level, you’re rated for sent packages, mismatched packages, and missed deliveries. If you meet your goal — and at this slo-mo stage of the game, there’s no excuse not to — it’s on to day two in Ireland.

Along the way, you encounter friendly, waving citizens who will surprise you with factoids about Ireland. Hey, bet you had no idea that the Vikings founded Dublin? Who knew?

Soon you can use the smiley icons you’ve collected to reveal more quickly what you need to bring to each house, which means even more "tip balloons" for those express deliveries you’re making.

Other rewards come in the form of upgrades to your balloon — like extra rope for delivering more than one package at a time and speedier balloons for, well, speedier deliveries.

But — uh-oh — there are storm clouds on the horizon and your balloon is heading right into them. The wind isn’t always blowing the way you need to go, there are now additional kinds of packages other than just the two you started with, and there’s that theme song that loops around and around inside your head until … but, wait, it gets worse.

By day 11, you’ve left Ireland, arrived in Egypt, and — for some strange reason — the local residents are greeting you with a hearty "Shalom," making you think that perhaps you took a wrong turn back at the Rock of Gibraltar and maybe you’re in Tel Aviv instead. Here, the lovely green Irish landscape has turned into nasty desert sand, the winds are whipping you past homes where you’re missing deliveries right and left, and by day 19, the meaning of "going postal" became all too clear to us. It had transformed into a completely different game — repetitive, frustrating, with that maddening, never-changing theme song still refusing to end.

But all was not lost. You can shut down "story mode" and launch into "puzzle mode" which is practically an entirely different game. As your hot-air balloon floats over a non-scrolling screen, you encounter groupings of three houses, each with a different inventory item. By picking up a mismatched object, floating over to another grouping, and dropping it off, you aim to create three identical inventory items which vanish. And then it’s on to do more of the same. You score points for each triplicate and your goal is to beat your previous high score before time runs out.

This was a nice change-of-pace from the frantic "story mode," as it started out slow, simple, and rather relaxing. But it, too, became hectic as the clock ticked down and we decided we’d had enough.

There’s a lot that’s deceiving about both modes of play. Newcomers will appreciate the easy-does-it method of instruction that is revealed in bits and pieces as play progresses. And there’s nothing simpler than the gameplay mechanics; everything is controlled with one click of the mouse — balloon navigation, the choice of what to deliver, and the deliveries themselves.

But while there’s plenty of game for your money — two modes of play and 60 levels of "story mode" — the chances of a player actually making it past Egypt to the four additional countries are slim. While challenges of this sort usually spur us on to keep at it, there’s just so much mouse-clicking you can handle before it is no longer fun and you feel it’s time to hang up your mailbag and skedaddle. Just stamp our undelivered inventory "return to sender, address unknown."

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