Normally when someone says you're "full of hot air", them's fightin' words. I say normally, because if they're talking about Nitrome's Hot Air series, it's actually a compliment because they mean to say you're full of vibrant whimsy, colour, and fun. Hot Air Jr. is the latest installment in the rubbery action avoidance adventure series about a relentlessly cheerful balloon adrift in a relentlessly dangerous world. This time, you're chasing after the evil giant spiky villain who has absconded with the family balloon dog. You have no choice but to journey across a wide variety of hazardous levels, featuring everything from malicious fans to enormous swords, in search of the pilfered pooch.
To play, click and hold on the screen to start your propeller cursor whirling, which you can then use to direct our blue hero around the screen and (hopefully) safely around hazards. Your goal is to collect the stars in each level and make it to the landing pad at the end without being popped, stomped, thwomped, or otherwise deflated... which is harder than you might think, since all manner of malicious baddies are out to make life difficult to you, with the scenery itself often being hazardous to boot. Take it slow and steady, plot your course, and make sure you activate any checkpoints you see scattered throughout the levels! Since you can only withstand a single hit, checkpoints will save you from having to restart the entire stage over if disaster strikes. Each level is unique and accessed from a central hub where you can take care of other important business... like the latest in unlockable balloon fashion!
While Hot Air Jr. represents another gorgeous chapter in Nitrome's long history of top-notch releases, it's also a fantastic and welcome example of a developer opening their ears to feedback from the most important people... their fans. For a lot of people, checkpoints are the difference between ragequitting and another try, making Hot Air Jr. much more accessible and less frustrating. More than that, however, it just feels better. Control is tighter and altogether more responsive compared to the originals, allowing you to be able to really soak in the clever stage designs and quirks that make the game great. That said, you shouldn't expect the game to be easy, since even with the checkpoints and more responsive controls you'll still need steady hands and quick reflexes, as well as a keen eye to spot patterns in the stages. If you're looking for a challenge with a lot of style and variety, and have the patience to master it, however, Hot Air Jr. is a great way to spend your afternoon soaring among the not-particularly-relaxing clouds.