Baloo Episode 1, The Thunder Road

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Closer Look: Baloo Episode 1, The Thunder Road

By: Dr. Dos
Published: June 1, 2020

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

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Ah, but it's never that easy. The cops are aware that Baloo made it onto this particular plane and are going to have the plane land to arrest him.

The solution is to hijack the plane.

The other passengers are of no help, and just repeat the same two messages.

The two attendants in the back are specifically a "clerk" and a "waiter". The clerk cleans messes. The waiter offers some dialog choices where Baloo can say there's a "bathroom problem" which reveals that there's a bell in there to ring to summon the clerk.


Ringing the bell bring up a lot of choices once the clerk arrives. Most of the options are pretty unhelpful. The clerk can't do anything about a lack of toilet paper or a bad smell.


This one doesn't do anything, but I like that the clerk doesn't intend to clean up Baloo's own mess.


Here we go. Progress is made through violence. Now Baloo can leave the cabin and venture into restricted areas on the plane.


Up top is the radio room. Down below is... the armory. It says as much on the door.

In the various boxes scattered around the armory are ten torches, twenty bullets, a first aid kit that restores ten health, and a "Super High Score Giving Box" that's empty. The attention to detail here is quite apparent, this is just what you'd expect an airplane's armory to contain no doubt.


Of course the radio room is the true objective. Baloo is confronted and things get messy.


Despite the dialog option, you're required to actually fire the bullet yourself. The radio operator dies a bloody death and Baloo can figure out what to do with the radio.


No point in fiddling with the controls. The plan is to prevent contact with the outside world and that's accomplished with one solid kick.


Disney's Tale Spin everyone.

Luckily the pilot and co-pilot are more cooperative than the radio operator and the threat of violence is enough to get them to hand the controls to Baloo.


Baloo pilots on instinct. Instruments are unnecessary.


There's one last puzzle to change the flight-path, which is just picking some correct choices from a menu. Any wrong answers just have Baloo say it's getting too complicated and restarts the prompts.


The course is adjusted and Baloo has the pilot explain the situation to everybody on board. Once they land at Louie's, they're free to take the plane back and continue on like nothing happened. The autopilot beeps to indicate that the destination has been reached and it's time to land.


Truthfully by this point I fully expected for crashing the plane to be the correct choice and also to result in the deaths of everyone onboard that isn't Baloo.

It's a bit odd for Ellis to acknowledge that having a dialog choice end the game might be annoying when that was a common occurence with the cops at the airport.


Ellis draws a good plane. I suppose as a cargo plane the Sea Duck isn't exactly tiny, but I can't help but imagine how silly a commercial airliner would look parked on a dock like this. That's a very impressive landing and I'm assuming the plane wasn't meant to do a water landing.


All the passengers have temporarily disembarked. I love this lady who calls Baloo out on his shit.


Also a huge fan of the pilot's reaction to the news about the death of the radio man. It's probably a good call to not say anything that might upset Baloo.


It's been an exciting day, but it's back to normalcy as Baloo return to Louie's bar.


The plan is still on of course.


The bar is copied from its earlier incarnation. Baloo can actually play and win the slots again if he chooses. The customers however are all talking about how exciting it will be to get a Sea-Doo.


The heist is still on and Louie offers Baloo a chance to make the same mistake that led to a life of crime in the first place. It's yet another false choice though, with the first two options resulting in Baloo explaining how he's been shot and imprisoned and won't take anything other than five gallons of beer.

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"Give me the five gallon 'Baloo Special'
"Baloo, are you sure?"
"Hell Yea!"
"Okay, here is five gallons."

"That's one ga- ga- gallons."

That's two."

"Th- Th- three."

"F- F- Free plus one!"

"Fi... Fi..."
"Fi... Uhhhhnn."

You fall asleep.

"Baloo! Baloo, wake up!"
"Yea, it's midnight. Ready to got going?"
"Yea, I guess so."
"Okay, here is the plan. We get in the
Sea Duck and-"
"Oh shit! Loey, I forgot!"
"The Sea Duck is in Walla Walla!"
"Son of a god damn bitch."
"Hey, Ace London was bragging about his
new plane. We could steal Ace's plane,
fly it to Walla Walla, get back the
Sea Duck, then fly to the bank and rob
the place."
"Damn it Baloo, this really puts a damper
on my master plan, but it's the only way.
Okay, Ace's plane is out back. Come on,
I'll take you to it."
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Baloo drinks excessively again and passes out. When he awakens the bar is closed and it's time to make a move.

The plan immediately goes awry due to the lack of a plane. Some quick thinking from Louie leads to an additional step of stealing Ace's plane, flying back to Walla Walla, recovering the Sea Duck, and then proceeding to rob the bank.


The runway out back is dark but Louie has no problem finding the plane and requesting to be the one to pilot it.


Obviously it's a false choice.


I turned on the lights here because you won't get a good look at this board otherwise. Another good plane and some good runways. (The one empty tile and misplaced fake are from ZZT poorly handling passages that spawn the player on top of a fake wall.)


Again these vehicle segments are where Ellis shines the most. Ace's plane his an animated propeller and the cloud scroll by as usual. The propeller honestly adds so much over the Sea Duck segments.


But this scene really outdoes what's been shown so far. Baloo requests Louie speed it up and he obliges, causing the clouds to move down the screen significantly faster.

Walla Walla island appears shortly after and then in this same board Louie lands the plane by changing the blue fake and green normal walls into green breakables before turning them into green solids.


It's incredibly effective and does so much with so little.

After landing, the two head for the jail where Baloo assumes his plane will have been confiscated by the police by now. It's a good assumption, but I'm even more impressed that the plane survived being shot down in the first place.


Expecting Baloo to return, the Sea Duck is surrounded with cops. Louie makes a run for it to get the plane started and Baloo gets the job of shooting any resistance.


Turning on the lights reveals the trick to finding the secret room full of supplies earlier in the game.

Getting to the plane isn't that difficult, but Louie won't take off until the coast is clear so Baloo has to go back and finish off any cops still remaining. As usual, the cops shoot each other far more effectively than they shoot Baloo so it's mostly just picking off the last few.


The last bank was unprepared, but Shere Khan's is a lot more dangerous. Before a torch can even be lit (with Ellis still including his custom message to do so) the duo is stormed by a lot of cops.


The panic grows as the plan falls apart more and more. While some of the cops can quickly be made into red fakes, some of them are invulnerable. In the limited visibility of a dark room, it's tempting to fire blindly back when bullets pass your vision, but if you don't get close enough to see the cop you'll never be sure if you're missing or if they can't be killed.

Louie tries his best to help, but Ellis is well aware of the difficult in pulling off a useful object partner in ZZT. He stands still and fires randomly on occasion. This is probably better than having him go in guns blazing and shoot the player by mistake a bunch.


While I think the darkness improves the combat overall, I was happy to get inside and be able to see everything at once. The outside was really the cops' last stand and things get significantly quieter inside. Louie follows and really blends into the floor. I didn't even notice he was there until he spoke.


Louie gives Baloo the goal: 1000 gems and then runs off towards the back of the bank. Baloo gets to do some treasure hunting, but one last guard starts to attack and needs to be dealt with first.


Unlike the bank at the beginning of the game, this one doesn't just leave sacks of cash lying on the floor. Two lockers provide the final supplies with which to finish the heist. Supplies are low by this point, but nothing you're put up against is insurmountable.


Lastly there's this simple security system of some bullets that bounce between two ricochets. The gap is really wide so it's pretty safe if you go slowly, and even if you rush it, you'll still likely get through without being harmed.


After everything this game has thrown at the player, suddenly there's a final boss fight against a gigantic security guard.


Baloo wasn't kidding around, there's a massive smiley shooting an endless stream of bullets. A handful of regular guards are in the way as well along with a few more bouncing bullets, which might catch you off guard if you enter the board running, but are easily dealt with by luring them into the large guard's bullets.


To defeat the giant guard Baloo needs to throw two levers (in a specific order) and then hit a button. This involves waiting for gaps in the bullets in order to cross safely. Whether on purpose or not, the only reason there are gaps in the bullets is because the large guard fires so many that the stat limit gets hit and nothing else can spawn in.


Hitting the final button causes the vault's ceiling to collapse, turning the large guard into a bloody mess.


Louie appears, having missed the fight entirely. The vault itself is a bust, but Louie's got it covered and has found where the money's been moved to.


This room is originally loaded with bags of money that give 50 gems each. Once the goal has been met, the two pop open the emergency exit and return home from a successful heist.


Roll credits, which are displayed as Baloo rides across the ocean on the newly purchased Sea-Doo which dozens of people were killed for.

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"Hey, Loey got his Sea Doo. I got back
the Sea Duck, and I still don't know
what the Thunder Road is."

"If you really want to know how you did,
I made a ratings sheet."

900-1000 โ–’ "Average first time."
1000-1200โ–’ "Hey, you're pretty good!"
1200-1400โ–’ "True Baloo."
1400-3000โ–’ "Damn, you are a super player."
3000-????โ–’ "You found the secret, right?"

"See you later, perhapps in a new game.
It depends on you're comments. Send them
to: ("

"Tell Jerry what you thought of his
game, or ask for help. If you are a
skilled ZZT programmer, send your boards
to Jerry if you wanted them in the new
Baloo game. Don't write if you want to
get mad at Jerry."

"Oh, and if you're curious, us here at
Gin Software beat the game with AMMO: 85,
TORCHES: 20, GEMS: 2039, and a score of
1397 points!"
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"Don't write if you want to get mad at Jerry" is great.

Final Thoughts

Baloo Episode 1, The Thunder Road was quite the trip. It's exactly the kind of game that you go into expecting the worst, hoping maybe some stilted writing or bizarre non sequiturs. Compared with the Nintendo-themed Keesh's Quest series, where you get to meet various WWF-era wrestlers (which is honestly more what you'll find in ZZT fangames overall), Baloo is remarkably grounded. I mean, it's still very much out there. We're talking about a cartoon bear from a kid's show robbing multiple banks for the game's main plot.

Somehow though, it works quite well. This game feels less like a young child writing their fanfiction in an interactive medium and more like somebody well beyond TaleSpin's target demographic trying their hand at parody. While ZZT is loaded with parodies like the dozen Barney the Dinosaur worlds out there, most of them really fall flat today relying on the humor of taking something intended to be light and fluffy and turning it dark and violent. Ellis manages to instead create a game that has more effort put into it than merely taking the expectations of the source material and doing the opposite with the characters. A lesser game would have made its Baloo protagonist completely unlikable. He'd just go on a shooting spree and show no remorse as he guns down Louie, Kit, and Rebecca merely because they're friends on the show. The Baloo here defies expectations. His personality deviates from the show, but in a way that's not too far off. From his origins singing about only needing the bare necessities, this Baloo still wants the easy life, but now he's willing to take action to make it happen.

This Baloo is detached from responsibilities, but not emotionally distant. He's selfish and uncaring towards those who doesn't know, but still has a circle of friends he cares about. Baloo is more than willing to kill from the very beginning, but it's focused on bank guards keeping him from money, not at Louie who took his plane. He has some kind of personal morality, and as the woman on the plane he hijacked says, he is very much a scoundrel. Ellis makes the scoundrel into an interesting antihero. Baloo lies, cheats, and steals his way to money and does so in a way where you're rooting for him the whole time. I feel like an entire essay can be written on Baloo here and that's what makes Baloo the game so great. The character absolutely carries an otherwise mediocre title into something admirable in a way. This game constantly defied expectations and feels years ahead of its time.

Within a year of Baloo, the ZZT community would start leaning heavily into the sort of shock humor exemplified by Draco's Teen Priest. Having replayed that one in 2017, it was a bit miserable to go through. Johnny Danger, the teen-cop gone undercover is an asshole like Baloo but without the charm. The power fantasy of Teen Priest is that Johnny get to be an asshole and never suffer for it. The power fantasy for Baloo, is that his actions have consequences, and its through quick thinking that Baloo can stay one step ahead. Baloo beats the odds to escape a bad situation which gives gives you something to root for.

I need to stop talking about Baloo already sheesh.

Outside of the character that steals the show, Baloo Episode 1 is mostly straightforward adventure. It has some impressive visual design, particularly in how the game handles its vehicles. The action sequences definitely fall on the easy side as whatever objects are meant to be gunning down Baloo mostly gun down each other. In a game with lesser writing, this flaw would be more severe, but here it keeps the game moving. The writing does have its own unfortunate issues with a few casual homophobic jokes sprinkled in. They can be avoided, but when the strongest aspect of the game is the writing it means that these lines are scuffs on an otherwise pristine aspect of the game. The player actually being interested in this game's dialog means that if you're playing this game prior to reading about it here, you're almost certainly going to interact with every person you can ensuring their appearance.

Those blemishes are unfortunate, but overall Baloo is a rather unique ZZT game. Despite its 1997 release date, it has gone unpreserved on z2 and only acquired by the Museum shortly before this article's creation. Baloo has been nearly inaccessible for a good twenty years and potentially more and it's really a shame because while it's no top-tier ZZT world, it's definitely a fun enough journey that I'm sure it would have some positive reputation in the ZZT community throughout the 2000s had we known about it. It's not a recently rediscovered lost gem, but maybe a lost twenty dollar bill. It's not going to change your life, but you should think twice before passing this one by.

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