Posted on October 05 2019 by Andy Spiteri
I can’t really explain it.
A few months ago, I was sitting at home patting myself on the back for being so familiar with each Zelda game. ‘I’ve played through every one of them at least once to full completion’ I arrogantly thought to myself. ‘I am a true Zelda expert.’ My smug grin disappeared as I realized that I was fooling myself though. You haven’t really played every Zelda game. Not really.
Not until you’ve played the Tingle games.
It was then that I embarked on an odyssey to get my hands on and play the three games in the Tingle series of DS games. A few months ago, I wrote about my bizarre foray into Freshly Picked Tingle’s Rosy Rupeeland – a game that lived up not only to its reputation for strangeness, but also to the high quality of gameplay we expect from a title associated with the Zelda series. I had finished my adventure in Rupeeland, but I knew that Tingle wasn’t done with me yet: there was still another game to play, one that both far harder to get my hands on, and so outrageously weird, it made Rosy Rupeeland look pedestrian.
Months later though, I finally got my hands on it. I acquired, played, and fully completed Ripened Tingle’s Balloon Trip of Love.
This is my story.
GETTING THE GAME.
Anyone familiar with my Rupeeland experience knows that acquiring the game took a midnight, back alley, cash only deal with someone I had never met (who’s gone on to become a good friend, go figure). Knowing what it took to get my hands on that game, I was a little trepidatious about how in the world I was going acquire Balloon Trip of Love, a game that had only ever been released in Japan and received no English translation at any point, unlike Rupeeland.
I shouldn’t have been worried because it was actually pretty easy.
Turns out I’m not the only sicko in the world who felt an inexplicable urge to play as a 35 year old single man in green tights. Nope, the fine folks over at Tingle Translation had the same urge to play this game as I did, and spent 5 years painstakingly translating the game from Japanese to English, finally releasing a version to download for free at the end of 2017.
I really can’t put over the work these guys did enough. It’s not an easy job translating dialogue (all your base anyone?) but the folks over at Tingle Translation not only nailed the verbiage, but they nailed the mood too. If I wouldn’t have known this was a translation, I would have never suspected a thing.
That being said, anyone that knows me knows I am a physical collector down to my bones, so I wanted to find a way to get this translated ROM on a DS cart. Turns out, that was pretty easy too. A quick Google search led me to GameBoyFanBoy’s etsy store, where they were selling a translated cart. 40 slammos later, I had myself a translated copy (note to anyone thinking of buying: this cart only works in a FD, not a 3DS). A spare DS case and quick scan of the Japanese box art from my good friend (and Rosy Rupeeland speedrunning world record holder) Locke Exile, and I had myself a brand new, physical cart and cased version of the previously Japan only Tingle’s Balloon Trip of Love.
It was finally time to fire it up and dive headfirst into my second Tingle Odyssey!
A WHOLE DIFFERENT KIND OF TINGLE
The game starts off in a similar fashion to Rosy Rupeeland. We meet Tingle – or actually, a guy who will go on to become Tingle as, as with Rupeeland, Tingle seems to be more of a title than a name. Tingle is 35 and still living at home with no car, no job, and most importantly, no girlfriend. We immediately feel bad for this poor, emasculated, kind-of-pathetic bastard. Even his dog doesn’t really look like he’s into Tingle. It seems like things can’t really get any lower…
… UNTIL! One night, our man is watching TV and sees an ad for a book starting a hero named… Tingle! This guy is ripped, cool, and can’t keep the ladies off of him! And wouldn’t you know it – the book is only 2 rupees if you order now! One phone call later and we have ourselves a book – kind of weird it was delivered so fast, but hey. Only, the second that Tingle starts reading it, he gets sucked into the book, becoming Tingle!
And that is where our journey begins.
The premise is basically that Tingle has been sucked into the world of the book he ordered and to get back, he must journey across the land, following a yellow brick road into Emerald City to meet the King and his beautiful daughter, the Princess, who can grant wishes. Along the way Tingle meets and forms a traveling party with Kakashi, a young scarecrow who’s super adorable but naive; Buriki, a robot who’s heavy on analysis and light on emotion; and the aptly named Lion, a sheer strong but equally cowardly lion. They all have something to wish of the King, so they all make their way to the city together.
If you can’t tell, the whole game is basically a take on The Wizard of Oz… a really bizarre, strange, erotic take on The Wizard of Oz, and like in the classic tale, our heroes run into a bunch of trouble on the way to the Emerald City.
I’m gonna assume most people that are going out of their way to play this game are also veterans of Tingle’s Rosy Rupeeland, so I guess I should mention that this game is pretty much nothing like it, and you see that right away. Whereas Rupeeland feels different but not entirely dissimilar to the other Zelda games available on the DS, Balloon Trip of Love is a classic point-and-click adventure, sharing more in common with Phoenix Wright or Grim Fandango. If you’re looking for a classic Zelda experience with dungeons, enemies, hearts, etc. then you will probably be disappointed by this game.
The game takes place in “pages”, aka levels, that typically offer a different setting or page. Each page has its own overarching goal and collection of secrets to be found using your allies abilities or by resvisiting it at a later date. There’s some pretty weird stuff here – page 5 is all about finding parts for your Tingle Train (I love that that’s a real thing), page 6 is all about finding fuel for your Train, page 12 revolves around breaking out of jail, and so on and so on.
Just to get some of the negative stuff out of the way first so we can move on to the strange stuff after, it has to be said that the way these pages are implemented as part of the story is super clumsy. The page idea would be alright if you could simply revisit areas once you’ve completed them, but because it’s a page in a book and turning it to a new page means the old page is over, the game tries to be too cute by introducing Tingle’s balloon and using it to time travel back to previous pages instead of just going back normally. Maybe this would have even worked, but when you time travel back on your balloon, the page setting has moved beyond what it was when you were there – making the whole time traveling thing pointless! If this sounds confusing and convoluted, that’s because it is.
Worse yet, the game forces you to time travel back frequently to progress in the story, but then doesn’t offer you any real checkpoints in the current page so you can easily jump back in! I spent a ton of time listening to the same dialogue from characters twice and doing a certain story events over simply because I had to balloon travel to another page to get something REQUIRED to progress. The system is pretty lame, and easily the worst thing about Balloon Trip of Love.
In addition to it’s silly Balloon time travel gimmick, this game also can’t help but fall prey to the same disease every point and click adventure has – the one where there is an answer to a riddle so absurd that you would have never thought to do it. It’s one thing to figure out an answer to a puzzle and go “AH-HA OF COURSE”, but when you’re left confused and bewildered by the solution, it just feels cheap. This is something I’ve had happen to me in Phoenix Wright, Grim Fandango, Rusty Lake, you name it. Every P+C adventure it seems is guilty of throwing in a puzzle like that, and Balloon Trip of Love is no exception.
I guess while I’m throwing some shade, it would be hypocritical of me not to dump on the purely touch screen controls after years of dumping on Spirit Tracks and Phantom Hourglass for the same thing. Go figure that it’s Tingle’s Rosy Rupeeland that really nails the perfect balance between utilizing the DS touch screen and controlling like a normal game, but credit where credit is due. Obviously, touch stylus controls on the DS is a pretty subjective thing, so use that information how you will, but also note that Balloon Trip being a point and click adventure, it’s more forgiving in my mind using your stylus to tap things rather than have to hold it down and squiggle all over the screen like in Link’s dual screen adventures.
This is all to say that Tingle’s Balloon Trip of Love, while certainly fun and a pleasure to play through most of the time, isn’t a perfect game. There were some frustrating moments, but on the whole, the gameplay was tight, the story was fun, and there were enough secrets to keep me coming back to the pages to fully complete my 30 hour journey. There is a solid game hiding underneath all the craziness on the outside, but let’s be honest – none of us are reading this to see how good of a video game this is. No, we’re here to see just how f*****n’ weird this game is.
I’m not one to disappoint. Let’s get weird!
RIPENED ROMANCE LAND
Tingle the character as established in The Legend of Zelda series is a weird character. Tingle as portrayed in his first spinoff game is a really weird character. Tingle as portrayed in this game is just something else entirely. Not only is our boy portrayed as a jobless loser who still lives at home at the age of 35, not only are we reminded that Tingle is single AF with no prospects of that ever changing on the way, but we literally hear eeeevery single female character in this game visibly react in disgust at how ugly Tingle is, while then going on to describe his ugliness is detailed physical descriptions. If this wasn’t bad enough, there are several instances where the ladies call T-dawg names like ‘pervert’ and ‘molester’ after seeing his trademark green tights. The ladies in this game are not kind to our man, which is an interesting paradox since most of the game revolves around wooing women.
As I’ve mentioned ad nauseam in this piece, Balloon Trip of Love is a point and click adventure… but if you were to make the argument that it’s really a dating sim, I’m not sure I could say that you were wrong either.
The main gimmick of this game involves Tingle overcoming every woman’s initial disgusted reaction by performing what is called a Love Push on them. It’s almost as creepy as it sounds, too. A Love Push is an exchange between Tingle and a female character wherein Tingle will write down said female characters name in his “female love book” and deduce how to win them over by giving them presents. Yup… you overcome your alleged horrific physical appearance by showering women with presents. If you give them enough presents that they like, the female characters will warm up to you and help you, or in certain female characters characters, go on to become love interests.
Putting aside the obvious problems of presenting women as materialistic creatures capable of being wooed over with presents (this was probably a bad look for 2009, kept alone today in 2019), performing Love Pushes is actually pretty fun. You buy presents from a flying old man with a bow named Loveya (it’s easy to see this dude as future look at Tingle in 20 years) that each have different properties: cool, pretty, food, rare, etc. Each female has a certain amount of traits that she likes and dislikes. Some presents have more than one trait, so you can stack them on top of each other. It’s hilarious watching Tingle slowly creep over and awkward present the presents with that creepy look on his face, and even more funny when it’s the wrong gift. Watching our guy get dumped on is truly a gift.
Of course, it’s also unintentionally hilarious to see the characters in this game bought with gifts so easily, especially after dumping on the ideas of greed and capitalism in Rosy Rupeeland. You end up with 5 different girls that you can Love Push more than once and end up dancing with at the end of the game (no, not that kind of dance). From pervert to hero: the classic heroes tale.
You see some truly bizarre stuff along the way in your journey. A few things that stick out are the appropriately named Lair Village; here, the only language they know is the language of deceit, so literally everything anyone tells you in this place is backwards. It’s goofy and silly and fits right in with the twisted version of Oz. Moving on, one of the final battle sequences in this game sees Tingle engage in a dance off with a portly man who could be Porky Minch’s twin brother, before transforming himself into a Tingle slingshot (a Slingle shot?) to do battle. Then there’s the really randomly weird stuff, like the floating pig you use to save. There’s no rhyme, no reason as to why you click on a floating pig to save your game. You just do.
Zelda fans will be pleased to know this game offers up dungeons… kinda. In one of the most bizarre, yet strangely addicting, mini games in this game you eventually get to the Dungeon… which is an arcade ran by two guys (named… are you ready for this… Dun and John) who load up little NES cartridges that you find around the pages of the world so you can play “dungeons”. These dungeons are basically mazes you have to finish in a certain amount of time where you collect coins to earn rupees. It’s pretty odd playing through them, but perhaps even stranger once you finish them since you see a 3D render of Tingle dancing and gyrating. If it wasn’t obvious already, you learn very quickly that this is the type of game you just need to go along with and not ask questions.
A BALLOON TRIP WORTH TAKING?
As I sit here at my computer pressing “Order” on Tingle’s Balloon Fight, the last of the Tingle games I need to play, but not one I’ll probably write about, I can’t help but feel a little sad my Tingle odyssey is at its end. The excitement of experiencing these new titles in the Zelda series that were on an island to themselves was something really fun, and it turns out that not only were both titles incredibly unique, but both really fun in their own way too.
Are the Tingle games for everybody? No, definitely not, Balloon Trip especially. Would I recommend them to the average Zelda fan? Eh… I’m not sure that I would – Balloon Trip especially. But what I would say is that the experience is definitely worth the price of admission for hardcore Zelda fans that feel the same need to play everything. With this game easier than ever to play – something that would have been unthinkable even a couple years ago – why wouldn’t you want to take a deep dive into the mad world of Tingle?
My odyssey is at its end, but the memories will live with me for a long time – mostly because they’re too bizarre to forget.
Please enjoy this collection of pictures I took of my DS screen in the moments I most said to myself “what the **** is going on?”
Andy Spiteri is the Editor-In-Chief of Zelda Dungeon. He has spent way too many hours of his life playing Tingle games, but doesn’t regret anything. Follow him on Twitter here.