Top 10 Gaming Balloons in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

To pretty much everyone’s surprise, it was recently officially announced that, despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will still be occurring today (Thankfully, attendance will be strictly limited and social distancing measures will be put in place).

While most GameLuster readers (and, let’s be honest, staff) will probably spend their Thanksgiving morning breaking in that new PlayStation 5, the Parade can be watched on NBC beginning at 9AM ET.

Unfortunately, video games have not been a well-represented field when it comes to giant Macy’s Parade balloons. This year, the only gaming-themed balloon appearing will be longtime parade mainstay Pikachu, who will be making his 20th appearance. In fact, there have been so few gaming balloons over the years that it was almost impossible to write a top ten list ranking them. Still, I’ve given it my best shot, so read on and Happy Thanksgiving!

10. The Bowling Balloonicle

That’s not even the regulation number of pins!

This “balloonicle” – hybrid of balloon and vehicle – could be a tribute to any number of bowling-themed video games: Wii Sports, Ten Pin Alley, Polar Bowler, that one minigame in Tekken. The list goes on. However, its design is so plain and generic that parade watchers can’t possibly tell which bowling game it is honoring. This obvious mistake earns it the last spot on this list.

9. Erupter from Skylanders

Erupter constantly looked like he was trying to attack his handlers

The third video game character to become a balloon in the Parade wasn’t Mario or Link or Kirby but this guy, a round, hot-tempered monster whose special talent is his ability to puke lava. This balloon was one of the most blatant attempts to sell a product in Parade history, as it debuted in 2014 to promote a new chapter in the Skylanders franchise, then was quietly retired in 2016 when nobody was talking about Skylanders anymore.

8. Sonic the Hedgehog (Version 1)

Watch out, Eggman, this is probably the most deadly version of Sonic

It’s a shame to rank “Classic Sonic” so low, as he was the first video game themed balloon to make an appearance in the Parade at all (in 1993). However, he was also one of their most deadly, injuring a child during his inaugural flight and then proceeding to malfunction two more times before his eventual retirement in 1997. Some fans say the balloon’s difficulties were foreshadowing for the eventual fate of the Sonic franchise.

7. Pikachu (Version 1)

He looks like he probably doesn’t fit in a Pokeball
Appearing in the Parade from 2001 until 2005, the first Pikachu balloon is mostly notable for its rounder, chubbier design, evocative of the character’s original design sometimes nicknamed “Fat Pikachu” by fans. He’s cute and pleasant to look at, but fairly generic when compared to the later incarnations of Pikachu. He was accompanied in the Parade by a custom Volkswagen Beetle known as the “Pikamobile,” which is pretty cool.

6. Red from Angry Birds

He’s using an egg as a football. Isn’t that one of his CHILDREN?

The Angry Birds have cute round designs which would be absolutely perfect for a Macy’s Parade balloon. However, when flagship character Red was actually made into a balloon in 2015, designers opted to use his longer, more oval-shaped look from Angry Birds: The Movie. The result is a generic balloon which leaves absolutely no impact on the viewer. Like Eruptor, Red appeared in only three Parades before being retired with zero fanfare in 2017.

5. Goku

Goku believes in the true meaning of Christmas

Goku is probably better known as a manga and anime character, but he’s been in enough video games to warrant inclusion on this list. He’s one of the largest and coolest looking balloons to ever appear, debuting in his Super Saiyan Blue form with his trademark spiky hair and orange attire. Goku was an instant hit with Parade fans – primarily because it was quickly revealed that the parade hosts had no idea how to pronounce words like “Saiyan” and “Broly,” and apparently neglected to look them up before going live.

4. Spider-Man

How many spiders could fit inside the Spider-Man balloon? TOO MANY.

With Spider-Man: Miles Morales making such a splash in the gaming world, how could this list be published without including one of the Parade’s most iconic balloons? The original Spider-Man balloon flew in the Parade from 1987 to 1998, giving him one of the longest consecutive runs of any character balloon. His remade version, which appeared from 2009 until 2014, is similar enough to the classic version that they’re both combined into a single entry here. Hopefully, we could see a Miles Morales-themed balloon in the future.

3. Pikachu (Version 2)

In a stunning reversal, this Pikachu is attempting to catch YOU in a Pokeball

The second Pikachu balloon debuted in 2006, and appeared every year until its replacement in 2013. This remade Pikachu was created to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Pokémon franchise. He was accompanied by a PokeBall, and his bright red cheeks lit up with flashing lights which caused him to stand out from the crowd. He would snag the first spot on this list, except that his replacement somehow managed to be even more adorable.

2. Sonic the Hedgehog (Version 2)

Unfortunately, Parade balloons only move at a pace best described as “extremely slow”

“Modern Sonic” dashed right out of the Uncanny Valley and emerged a surprisingly well-designed and functional balloon. He debuted in 2011 to celebrate the series’ 20th anniversary and, unlike his predecessor, he has never injured anybody and has made several successful flights with the Parade. Sonic was retired in 2013, but rumor has it that he’ll make another appearance when another great Sonic game needs hyping up. Which means, unfortunately, that he’ll probably never appear again.

1. Pikachu (Version 3)

Now THAT’S what I call adorable!

The modern version of Pikachu, who will be appearing in this year’s Parade, easily snags the top spot on this list. Inspired by a Pokémon Center plush toy, this Pikachu wears a scarf and carries an adorable miniature snow-version of himself. It’s absolutely precious, perfectly suited for the Parade’s winter holiday theme, and easily one of the most memorable balloons in the current lineup. Here’s hoping that Pikachu 3.0 will be making many more appearances in Parades to come!

Rumor has it that this year, the Pikachu balloon will be accompanied by a group of dancing Pikachus, and his appearance will be tied to an exciting Pokémon-related announcement – so make sure to tune in to the 2020 edition of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade!

Which gaming characters would you like to see appear as Parade balloons in the future? Let us know!

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