Players control a "Balloon Man," a funny little man who wears a blue shirt and red overalls not unlike Mario at the time, who has two red balloons tied to him. Pressing either of the buttons makes the Balloon Man flap his arms and gain altitude. Bird-like enemies inhabit each stage, which fly around with their own balloons, trying to pop the Balloon Man's, who in turn is trying to pop theirs. When one of the balloons is gone, the Balloon Man's flotation decreases, making it harder for him to stay airborne. When both are popped, it's a life lost. When the Balloon Man pops an enemy's balloon, the enemy will deploy a parachute and float to the nearest surface, where they begin inflating a new balloon. The Balloon Man can then run into them to kill them permanently, or hit them as they float down. If either the Balloon Fighter or an enemy gets too close to the water in each stage, a giant fish will leap up to grab them. Other obstacles include lightning, which is instant death, and Flippers, which bounce whoever touches them straight down or up. In the two-player mode, it is largely a competition for points, but the players can decide to work together. Accidents happen though. Every three rounds, there is a bonus game where the player(s) try to grab all 20 balloons coming out of pipes in the ground.
The third mode is "Balloon Trip," a single player maneuvers the Balloon Man through an Auto-Scrolling Level inhabited by electrical sparks, which cause death, and balloons, which give points. With only one life, the player tries to get a high score.
The game had one pseudo-sequel, Balloon Kid for the Game Boy, as well as a Dolled-Up Installment in the Japan-exclusive Tingle's Balloon Fight. Balloon Fight is a popular go-to title in some of Nintendo's self-referential games. References pop up everywhere from Tetris DS, and Pictobits, to WarioWare, and Super Smash Bros.. It is featured as one of the twelve attractions in Nintendo Land. It's also a fairly common game for Nintendo to re-release. It was made available on the Game Boy Advance e-Reader, on GameCube in Animal Crossing as well as being present on the Wii Virtual Console, given away for free as a 3DS Ambassador Game, and was the first game on sale in a special campaign leading to the official launch of the Wii U Virtual Console. The Balloon Men show up with their own challenges in NES Remix.
Tropes present in Balloon Fight include:
- Accidental Murder: Even if two players are trying to cooperate, it's very easy for one to accidentally pop their partner's balloons.
- Always Night: Rather than just a black background, there are actually stars indicating it's night. Not used for horror, the only scary things here are the clouds and the fish.
- Auto-Scrolling Level: Balloon Trip mode is one through a maze.
- Balloonacy: Less balloons than usual albeit, one is enough to carry you through the air.
- Bonus Stage: That just involve popping unmanned balloons that come out of pipes and float towards the sky. You even get another balloon if you happen to be down to one.
- Bootstrapped Theme: The Balloon Trip and bonus level music. Justified in that it's the only music in the game that isn't a short jingle.
- Collision Damage: If a computer player has no balloon or parachute you can just bump into them to remove them from play. Your balloons inflate faster at the start of a stage so you can potentially knock some out before they can even get going. They all gang up on you anyway so consider it fair game.
- Dolled-Up Installment: Downplayed with Tingle's Balloon Fight. While the box art suggests this by having Tingle and his name blatantly taped onto the original Famicom version's boxart, it is a new game created from scratch with updated graphics and support for up to four players rather than a port of the NES title with edited graphics.
- Eaten Alive: Can happen to people who fall down or fly too close to the water, although the fish doesn't always jump out.
- Endless Game: Both the main game and Balloon Trip.
- Endless Running Game: Balloon Trip mode only stops when you lose.
- Fed to the Beast: You can knock other enemies (and even the opposing/co-op player in 2-Player mode) down to the sea below, where the giant fish awaits. Everyone else can also do the same to you.
- Floating Platforms: Present in just about every stage, and typically where your enemies spawn. The computer players will also treat flippers like platforms, even though the human players cannot touch any without being knocked away.
- Friendly Fire Proof: The computer players can't hurt each other, unlike the players.
- Game Mod: A rom hack was made that lets you play as the late Satoru Iwata, who was the programmer of the game. It was made as a tribute to his passing in 2015.
- Giant Space Flea from Nowhere: The fish who eats enemies and player characters should they even go near the water.
- Goomba Stomp: Pretty much, since you bump into balloon and parachuting opponents on a higher level to send the crashing down to the ground.
- Graphics-Induced Super-Deformed: The Balloon Man's head is pretty big in proportion to the rest of his body.
- No Plot? No Problem!: Exactly why Balloon Men are doing battle with Balloon Birds or navigating an electrified maze over a body of water are not explained. Is it a professional spectator sport? Coerced deadly games? Some elaborate sacrificial appeasement ritual? A raid on enemy territory? We will probably never know.
- Palette Swap: Just to tell some characters apart. Player one is a man in red overalls and a blue shirt, much like Mario was at the time, albeit with a blue hat. Player two swaps the blues and reds, coincidentally giving us a man who resembles Mario's modern look of blue overalls, red shirt and red hat.
- Pinball Projectile: The lightning bolts leave behind little white balls that bounce around the stage. Naturally they kill you but do nothing to the computer players.
- Puny Parachute: The computer players only have one balloon at a time but if they lose it they will deploy a parachute, which they can use to land on solid ground and pump up another balloon.
- Scoring Points: Popping bubbles from people who fall in the water, popping balloons, kicking parachutes and every amount of distance you gain in Balloon Trip mode.
- Super Drowning Skills: Even if the fish is not present on a level, it doesn't really matter since nobody seems to know how to swim anyway.
- Thunderbolts and Lightning: They come from the clouds.
- Updated Re Release: The original game got an arcade version called Vs. Balloon Fight. Among the upgrades were vertical scrolling to allow for a double sized playing field, as well as improved animations and more stage layouts.
- Video Game Cruelty Potential: When you pop an enemy fighter's balloon, you can have them slowly parachute down to the sea below where the giant fish waits instead of giving them a swifter end (and getting extra points).
- Video Game Flight: Though the screen does not scroll for you, you can fly anywhere on it otherwise, your only limits being hazards and other players.
- Wrap Around: Happens in the main battle mode, and the bonus stage contained within.
- X-Ray Sparks: Should you hit an electrical hazard.