Baloo Episode 1, The Thunder Road

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Closer Look: Baloo Episode 1, The Thunder Road

What should be a generic edgy TaleSpin parody turns out to be a well-written game you can't help but love

Authored By: Dr. Dos
Published: Jun 1, 2020

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So when I write these things, the speed at which I get through them varies drastically with how fun the game itself is. A lot of ZZT worlds, even ones I have positive memories of, unfortunately don't really hold up too well today. (It's why I'm always a fan when a game is short.)

As somebody who never learns my lesson and keeps picking games I know nothing about, I am really pleased to say that Baloo Episode 1, The Thunder Road turned out to actually be an incredible experience. It showed up in the upload queue a few days before writing, and I was immediately curious. Were we talking about a game starring Baloo the bear from The Jungle Book? A cursory glance through some of the boards in the file viewer revealed that this was something greater, a game starring Baloo the bear from the Disney TV series TaleSpin. Like Sonic The Hedgehog Part 1, these sort of ZZT worlds typically are a mess to play, but thanks to their frequently bizarre stories and depictions of popular characters, make for some great livestream material.

When I hit "P", and decided to play for a minute to see if this might be a good game to stream I was immediately hooked and just started taking screenshots. I haven't wanted to play a ZZT world so strongly in some time. As a young child I saw a reasonable amount of TaleSpin, but was never really a fan. I saw so much primarily because of an older sibling who enjoyed it more than I did. The good news is that Baloo certainly doesn't require you to have a deep understanding of the cartoon. It is something wonderful in the way it bends these characters' personalities.

A lot of ZZT games would take this in an edgy direction, and to some degree that is what's happening here. Baloo is going to be swearing a lot, sure, yet the writing has a lot more to it than "what if I made Disney characters say 'ass'" that so many parodies of children's entertainment seems to think is enough to be clever. This is less TaleSpin with naughty words, and honestly if there's anything to compare its tone to, it's probably the Grand Theft Auto series. (And I mean that in a good way.)


The title screen is very unassuming. A very nice pastel border surrounds a basic sky gradient with the basic information on the game. The title screen for Baloo starts things off very muted. This is a very straightforward title screen that doesn't do much to give any insight as to what sort of game you're looking at. The subtitle is meaningless, the author is unnamed until the credits, and the company "Gin Software" has no other known releases. (I can only hope there are more to be found later. This is like when I played The Cliff and immediately dedicated the next several streams to playing more John Shipley games.) You really have little to go by until you start playing.


As soon as you press "P", you're immediately put into a dark room with a passage a mere two steps away. There are no torches. This is a cold open and I was instantly curious as to how this game was going to begin. This is not how ZZT games start.


Instantly, instantly I am invested in this game. Baloo lost a bet about how much beer he could drink, and lost his plane because he didn't have any money.

So now Baloo is going to rob a bank.

Do you want to play this yet? I know you do.


The opening text gives the player a few torches. Baloo has parked his car (he has one?) and it's a pretty good representation of one. The line characters for tires is pretty clever.

Attempting to enter the vehicle will result in being blocked by a stealthy object that blends in with the parking lot revealing that Baloo can't leave until he has the money.

The torchlight also illuminates nearby rock which Baloo will pick up in case he "wants to break glass".


For a parking lot that's only depicted in the dark, there's quite a bit of details that you wouldn't usually see. I'm assuming this bank is in some plaza with other stores for these shopping cart corrals. I honestly think this is the first time I've ever seen one in ZZT.


I think it enhances the game significantly if you're reading all of Baloo's lines with his voice.


Wandering through the parking lot, Baloo eventually reaches the bank which is locked up by a... glass pane? This should really be a big window.


Once inside, the torches are no longer needed and we can get a look at how Ellis makes his graphics in a better light. Visually this is mostly in the vein of STK light games, which make use of special colors provided by Super Tool Kit, but not really combining them to do any sort of lighting or going for realism by making everything brown and gray. What Ellis does do that impresses me, is that velvet rope and the posts that form an area for folks to queue up.


In the lower right corner is an animated security camera that cycles between pointing up or left. It's simple, but definitely gets across what it's supposed to be even before the player opts to interact with it.


It's too early to really know, but the fact that Baloo can't destroy the camera is rather unusual for a game which is full of Baloo destroying anything that might prevent him from accomplishing his goals.


A box behind the teller windows may seem like it would have some cash, but it's a box of emergency supplies.


Emergency supplies like, you know, bullets. For Baloo's gun. So he can shoot someone.


Walking into the back Baloo encounters his first resistance, two guards behind a corner. The positioning means that one guard will very quickly shoot the other before Baloo ever gets anywhere near them. Scattered throughout the room are what appear to be yellow bears, but are in fact sacks full of gems. They each give ten gems helping Baloo get closer to buying back his plane.


In the corner is another box, not with bullets, but with infrared goggles. Take a moment to imagine Baloo wearing infrared goggles and pointing a gun at somebody.


On the next board, Baloo actually puts on his goggles and the red objects reveal themselves. One of the guards makes an attack, and is a lot more aggressive than the previous two.

A lot of ZZT games have done some kind of security laser system. This one is a little too punishing as merely standing next to the beam is enough to begin rapidly draining Baloo's health. Generally I'd expect that you'd have to touch them directly to be harmed, and I ended up just loading my save to get the health back since it depleted so quickly. You can probably be quick and squeeze between the narrower gaps and be okay, but the proper thing to do is find the wider gaps and not take any damage.


In the back corner is the last guard who didn't attack because he's been sleeping through this shootout.


This leads to the first "puzzle". A lot of times throughout this game the player will need to pick from a set of options. It's a little inconsistent about the penalty for an incorrect choice. Sometimes there's no penalty, sometimes the player gets a second chance before committing to the wrong choice, and other times the game will become unwinnable (sometimes with Baloo being killed and sometimes not).

In this case, the first choice results in the guard "arresting" Baloo which translates to endlessly firing bullets. The second choice has Baloo have a rare change of heart (he is going to kill many people on this adventure) and nothing else happens.


The correct third answer is the only way to open the safe and proceed.

This causes the guard to walk over and input the combination which has some incredibly good sound effects. Like I stopped and made a note to make sure I went back and recorded this, it's the perfect PC speaker combination-entering sound.


Finally, Baloo can complete his heist and get out of there. In addition to the sacks of cash, what appears to be another gun in the corner is quickly revealed to be something else.


The gun animates by placing a normal wall and erasing it repeatedly to create an effect of gas being sprayed. The player's health will slowly drop while they're in this room so it's important to keep your health up in order to hit the required amount of gems. It's pretty generous, so even if Baloo's been hurt a bit, you can grab enough cash (and if you're in good health, all of it) and get out. In my case grabbing every last one took away 18 health.


Afterwards Baloo does have to walk all the way back to his car and leave. I was surprised nothing else happened on the walk back. Later scenes will do a lot more with Baloo's exploits having further consequences even after obtaining his goal.


I still don't get why Baloo is parked here. This is not where a car goes.


The outside of Louie's bar is one of the nicer looking boards. It reminds me quite a bit of the combination of bright colors on starry skies we saw back in Village, though without the font.

Strangely, the vast majority of the game spells the orangutan Louie as "Loey". Normally I wouldn't focus on a spelling error, but the game's opening scroll spells it correctly. I wonder what's up with it.


Louie's bar opens up a lot of interactivity. Ellis does a good job communicating whether objects are important or not by making all the generic patrons at the tables look identical to one another. The seats at the bar itself offer more color and are full of characters from TaleSpin.

The dance floor is notable just because it's not using blinking colored fake walls like most ZZT dance floors tend to do after STK gave access to blinking fakes.

The large green structure next to the dance floor is a slot machine which doesn't cost any gems to play. Instead, it results in instantly winning 10 gems and the machine running out of money. It's merciful having a ZZT slot machine be a bonus and not some awful trick to softlock the game by losing money faster than you accumulate it.


Taking the only open seat at the bar Louie collects his cash and offers Baloo a place to stay for the night. At least there's no hard feelings between the two because in this game hard feelings are typically resolved with bullets.


My limited knowledge of the cartoon means I have no idea who these two are. Luckily it doesn't matter in the least.


A child drinks and swears.


Rebecca advances the plot by giving Baloo his next mission. It should just be a simple delivery. No stealing or killing on this one. (Spoilers: Baloo will steal and kill on this next mission.)


This other Patron has Baloo call him gay and then presents an option to punch him or kick his seat out from under him! I cannot find any character named Lynn on the show so I have no idea what this is even about. As shitty of a person as Baloo is in this game, these moments of homophobia are both rare and avoidable.


The last two patrons don't even get names and exist just to start a scene. Baloo encourages a fight and one shoots the other.


This causes a brawl to break out and all the folks sitting at tables will start shooting in all directions. None of them react to being shot or leave their seats. The one exception to this is Rebecca who wisely leaves her seat at the bar and moves out of the way of the one person who would end up shooting her.


There are a few places to go from Louie's, and I headed out the west exit first. This takes Baloo to more docks where two people are fishing.


There is nothing to do on this board but get insulted by these two.


On the opposite side of the bar is the freezer. Louie will tell Baloo to sit down if you speak with him directly rather than at the bar, but he doesn't comment on Baloo wandering in here. It contains a single torch and several barrels of Louie's beer. I suppose the torch is a safety measure in case you ran out of them during the bank sequence.


You'll definitely want a torch to head out the back towards the huts. In ZZT, the message about needing to light a torch in darkness only appears the first time you encounter a dark board. Ellis goes the extra mile and makes Baloo comment on the need for one every time. I mean, it's obvious that a torch would be a good idea, but I like that he made it an in-universe thing like this.


When Louie brought up staying overnight in a hut, I thought he was offering to host Baloo for free. You actually need to pay this guy to get a key. It only costs two gems, and the slot machine means that the player will definitely have the funds. It's a smart way to still have a monetary exchange without having to handle a scenario where Baloo only takes the minimum amount of money needed from the bank.


Turning on the lights, there's little to see other than learning exactly what kind of private rooms Louie is renting out.


I'm rather amazed at just how ugly this board is. Everything so far has been decent looking and the outside of Louie's looked really nice. This is pretty ugly. I suppose the text walls are meant to be wood? It doesn't look good at all.

What does look good though is the incense which has a visible odor in the form of an object animating between the two parenthesis characters. I'm on board for that one.


Stepping onto the bed will make Baloo get some sleep and allow him to leave the hut. The alarm clock in the corner even goes off!


One thing I really want to praise Baloo for, is it's very smart ways of advancing time. Most worlds would have a passage in the bed immediately take Baloo to a board on the next day. Ellis takes advantage of where the player spawns when traveling through a passage to actually make Baloo walk outside onto a new version of the "outside huts" board. Although I cheated to turn off darkness to show the board off, on this board, which is actually a new board, the lights are already on since it's supposed to be daytime. The way the game does this "backtracking" when it's really new boards that look near-identical goes a long way to making for a seamless transition from one chapter to the next.

Also good dialog.


This early in the morning the bar is completely empty except for Louie himself.

  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
"Hey Baloo, whats going down?"
"Hey Loey, where is everyone?"
"It's six o'clock in the morning cuz. I
ain't open yet."
"So where is my plane?"
"I had my guys bring it up here last
night. Say Baloo I was thinking."
"Baloo, this bank robbing thing looks
real easy."
"It is Loey, it is."
"I think we should rob a bank tonight."
"What for Loey?"
"I want to buy a sea-doo for the bar, and
I'm short 1000 gems."
"Well sure Loey, I'll rob a bank with
you tonight. For now I got to get to
Hire for Hire for a delivery."
"Okay, the plane is out front."
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

What began as a crime of desperation has quickly made Baloo and Louie realize how lucrative it could be. If you thought there was only going to be one bank robbed in this game, I'm afraid you were incorrect. Now the boys are teaming up to acquire the funds for a Sea-Doo. The next heist isn't until tonight, so Baloo has to do his regular job and make it through the day first.


The docks are empty this morning, though the fishing poles remain. There's a single misplaced tile meant to serve as a hint that there's a secret on this board. Far beyond this point, turning on the lights or looking in the editor on a certain board reveals that shooting one of the rods will open up a massive secret room filled entirely with ammo and gems. I didn't know about it and played through the game just fine without them, but it's a great way to put the game on easy mode and not have to slow down for any action scenes.


The old man out front is still there and provides a good summary of the game so far.

The sign out front about Louie winning Baloo's plane has been updated saying that he had to give it back. It would've been a good tourist attraction I think.


The plane has indeed been parked on the dock, and not exactly facing a good direction for a take-off, but no matter.


This interior shot of "The Sea Duck" is pretty solid. Most ZZT games that do vehicle shots like this do some kind of moving objects in the background to give the appearance that the vehicle is in motion. Ellis takes a different approach showing Baloo above the clouds with Louie's bar as just a tiny building down on the surface. It's a very striking board to look at.


There's very little to interact with in the plane. Some navigation gear belonging to Kit, a tiki mask that was a gift from Louie, and the plane's controls which let Baloo set the craft on autopilot.


The back of the plane offers a bit of humor. It looks like Baloo has a passenger!


I'm very much amused at this Beth lady here just hanging out on the plane and it taking off with her inside it, entirely unaware it's back in Baloo's possession.


Lastly is a fridge with some food to eat. The player only gets to pick one of these before Baloo is too full to eat, and it acts as a way to restore some health, although it's a guessing game as to what food will have the most benefit.


I was really expecting this option to outright kill Baloo or actively harm him at the very least. Instead it restores five health, so I suppose Baloo is right.


In the very back of the plane is Baloo's hammock, which like the bed in Louie's Love Hut causes an object to react once Baloo is on it. All it does is let Baloo nap and allow him to exit to the north, having arrived at Hire for Hire.


Ellis again does this double backing technique where leaving the back of the plane results in arriving on a new board for the front of the plane over Hire for Hire.


I'm surprised Baloo isn't abandoning his job as a courier to dedicate himself to his life's calling of armed robbery.


After the crowd at Louie's the previous night I was a little let down to find Hire for Hire completely empty. No Kit, No Rebecca, no nothing. Luckily, Baloo can take advantage of this and start going places he shouldn't be, like Kit's room.


This nets Baloo a mysterious pair of keys which will end up being essential later.


Also a pornographic magazine. What a good game.


The other room is Baloo's, so it's not all sneaking into places he doesn't belong. Firstly there's a box of ammo for his gun, and then his dresser which doesn't contain any smut.


Instead it contains another one of these one-time choices. Here the outcome is straightforward. I went with the torches since it's easy to get a lot of health from cheating and my ammo supply seemed decent enough. If I ran out of torches, it would still be easy to cheat, but so far things were legit so I went with the resource I was most lacking in.


The "business area" as it's called when Baloo enters is more lacking. There are a few things to examine, but they don't really get any depth to them like raiding the bedrooms did.


The cargo area contains a pile of boxes that Baloo isn't supposed to deliver, and one already placed next to the chute that he is. I really like that you get to watch the cargo move through the chute and not just have Baloo pick it up and take it with him. After the cargo is loaded via chute, Baloo can take off to his next destination to deliver it.

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