Game Description: An interstellar crime syndicate is financing their nefarious schemes by smuggling space fruits throughout the galaxy. You take the role of Riki and Mami, two members of an elite force sent to stop the illegal activities. Your task is to get into the powerful Bangai-O suit, infiltrate the syndicate's bases, and confiscate the fruit. Naturally, the gangsters will not sit by and let you do this; you will have to take out swarms of enemies along the way. Luckily, the suit has two different firing modes that you can choose from: homing missiles and reflecting laser shots. When the going gets tough, you can also use the super bomb, which destroys every foe on the screen. You are also free to move around the environment, and you can fire in any direction. All of the action takes place in more than 40 levels that will put your fruit-busting skills to the test. Only you can protect the galaxy from the perils of bad fruit in Bangai-O.
Bangai-O is the latest game from the action auteurs at Treasure to make it to North America. Originally released two years ago in Japan for the Nintendo 64 under the title, Bakuretsu Muteki Bangaioh, the U.S. Dreamcast release of Bangai-O continues a long and excellent Treasure tradition of fast and furious arcade thrills that began with the Sega Genesis game Gunstar Heroes and culminated with Treasures magnum opus, the Sega Saturn import Radiant Silvergun. Bangai-O reunites Treasure with Silvergun collaborator ESP, and not surprisingly, it marks a triumphant return to hardcore shooting madness.
Considering how recent efforts like Mischief Makers on Nintendo 64 and Silhouette Mirage on PlayStation were more experimentation with platform gaming than straight action, its great to see the masters of disaster at Treasure back in top form. Bangai-O isn't quite the shooting masterpiece that Silvergun was, but it's filled with high-octane action, wacky characters and totally bizarre and hilarious dialogue. In short, it has that magic that characterizes all of Treasures games. With Bangai-O, Treasure fans have a reason to pick up a Dreamcast, and Dreamcast finally has a fun 2D action game.
Riki and Mami Makishi are a goofy brother and sister crime-fighting duo and co-pilots of Bangai-O—a flying, Gundam-like, fighting space robot. Their mission (and yours) is to blast through 40-plus levels of explosive mayhem. That's pretty much how it reads on the back cover of the CD case, anyway. Theres always something else going on in a Treasure game, something just different enough to keep it from being standard shooter stuff.
For starters, the robot in Bangai-O isnt a hulking behemoth—its a teeny little speck on the screen. Why? To make room for all of the explosions of course! Bangai-O is perhaps the first game Ive played in which the objective is to create as many simultaneous explosions as possible—no doubt a natural progression in game design given Treasures track record. However, this is also a case in which the game plays up to a consoles strengths.
The graphics are nicely detailed and very colorful, but they're strictly of the 32-bit variety. But that's perfectly OK. The graphics dont have to be composed of 128-bit polygons to be effective. Where Bangai-O takes advantage of the Dreamcast hardware is in how it handles all of the destructive on-screen commotion. There's nary a slow down, hiccup or stutter during the hectic action in Bangai-O, even though there are thousands of things buzzing around on the screen at any one time. Hordes of enemy robots and gun turrets surround you and spit countless missiles and lasers in several directions; objects of varying size and description line the floors and ceilings of the levels and simultaneously burst into flame; your Bangai-O robot unleashes an all-out attack of about 10,000 missiles (give or take a few)—throughout all of this, the screen thumps and shakes with every tiny detonation, and the game still maintains its composure. Something like this probably couldn't have been done as well on PlayStation or even the late, super 2D friendly Sega Saturn. It takes the extra available RAM on Dreamcast to allow for such smoothly running chaos.
Bangai-O plays like a cross between the little-known Sega Genesis gem, Subterrania, and the very well-known, classic arcade game, Robotron: 2084. Bangai-O's gameplay is much more simplified and action-oriented than the slower, more cerebral approach taken by Subterrania, but the free-roaming levels are similarly enormous and clever in their puzzle-like design. I like how the game doesn't force you in a particular direction. Since you can fly where you please within the confines of the levels, you can form your own strategies and make your own discoveries. In the more difficult stages, more thinking is required in finding a levels boss character, but the game nicely balances this with just as many levels that require nothing more than mad shooting skills.
Dreamcasts controller adapts easily to the same dual-joypad set-up as the one introduced almost two decades ago in Robotron: 2084, and used later on in the spiritual follow-up, Smash T.V. It's proven to be an ideal configuration for a fast action game—its simple, and it gives the player complete control over the action. Despite the fact that you fly around in Bangai-O, this control scheme works just as brilliantly as it has in the Robotron games. The left hand uses the directional pad to move in eight directions, while the right hand uses the ABXY buttons to fire in eight directions. A set-up like this is perfect for laying waste to anything and everything, and thats pretty much what Bangai-O lets you do.
The similarity to Robotron ends with the controls however, as Bangai-O puts its own spin on old-school gameplay. In typical Treasure fashion, the weapons system is amazingly simple, yet different enough to distinguish it from more ordinary shoot-em-ups. There are no weapon power-ups in Bangai-O. What you start with is what you have for the rest of the game. The Bangai-O robot has two shooting modes, one for each co-pilot character. In Mami Mode, Bangai-O fires reflecting lasers, while in Riki Mode it can shoot homing rockets. Both modes get their fair share of use in the game. In tight spots, the lasers work best, while wide-open spaces are optimal for the rockets.
Both weapons feature the Scatter Bomb attack, which can be used if you have built up enough Scatter Bomb Energy. The more explosions you can create on-screen, the more of this energy you acquire. A Scatter Bomb attack is merely an all-out blast of the selected weapon that completely surrounds your little robot, sometimes filling the entire screen with thousands of lasers or rockets. However, a successful Scatter Bomb attack requires careful timing. How many lasers or rockets released during a Scatter Bomb attack depends solely on your robots proximity to enemy fire. The more enemy shots there are, the faster their speed, and the closer they are to you; the more powerful your Scatter Attack will be. As you can imagine, the game becomes filled with hundreds of fast-moving enemy projectiles, so the potential to create a devastating Scatter Attack is tremendous. Of course, there's a flip side to this as well, as it can turn into a dangerous game of chicken and possibly backfire. Trying to execute the perfect Scatter Attack can force you to wait too long before releasing it—at which point Mami or Riki yelps as your robot is blown to bits.
The reward for nailing a Scatter Attack can be well worth it, however. The more stuff you destroy with an attack, whether it be enemy robots, enemy homes, enemy small sedans, teddy bears, etc., the better the chance of them leaving behind life capsules and more valuable fruit. That's correct—the objective in Bangai-O isnt merely to see how long you can stay alive (though the end result isnt much different). Here we have a game that recalls the old days of arcade gaming by letting you shoot and destroy to collect fruit for points—as proven a formula for fun arcade action if there ever was one. Bangai-O makes the idea more interesting by imaginatively working it into its story. We're told that Riki's and Mami's mission is to end the SF Kosmo Gangs reign of terror by disrupting their illegal "Space Fruit" trade operation. Hence, every time you blow up a bad guy or a crate sitting on the ground, fruit is left behind.
But that's just the tip of the iceberg as far as Bangai-O's story in concerned. Treasure has yet to make an action game in which the characters don't stop to chat with each other via text boxes, usually containing outrageously written dialogue. Bangai-O is no different. Just as in other seminal Treasure games like Guardian Heroes and Silhouette Mirage, the characters in Bangai-O are so cute and weird that it's impossible not to be interested in what they have to say. It's a given in a Treasure game that the heroes can't fight the bosses before talking to them first, but also strewn throughout the levels in this game are "Information Satellites," which are run by a strange character called Mrs. M. The idea is that you go to the satellites for information on how to play the game, but most of the time what you learn is only useful for laughing your ass off.
The humor in these conversations is always double-edged. Sure, the characters say funny things, but the game also makes fun of itself by intentionally screwing up the spelling and grammar and by allowing the characters to realize that theyre in videogame. When talking to Mrs. M, Riki and Mami lament the fact that they have to read so much text, while on another occasion they rejoice that theyre in a 2D game. ("We're prepared to live in the plain and die in the plain Three cheers for Bangai-O!") Conversations with boss characters are even sillier. Imagine talking to Montgomery, a sheep who speaks like a comic-book narrator, and Master Builder Hashioka, who hates Riki and Mami because they're blowing up all the levels hes constructed. Core Boy Koa-Zo, a boss that doesn't fight back, is the author of the immortal line, "I am a fox. I certainly don't like it, but you already know that."
Bangai-O is filled with colorful, functional visuals and truly inventive sound production. The excellent soundtrack and riotous background noise keeps the game as busy in the audio department as it is in the graphics department. The game also provides a challenge that only hardcore gamers will appreciate. It's classic Treasure stuff. Because Bangai-O is filled with that unique flavor weve all come to expect from Treasure, the game is twice as fun as it would have been otherwise. It's cool because it doesnt take itself seriously, and yet the gameplay is uncompromising in its simplicity and its honesty. Bangai-O is both funny and fun, and I, for one, am very happy that it has finally been released in America.
After playing a game like Bangai-O, it really puts a spotlight on the fact that there are some very different types of gamers out there. Extremely rare is the disc that can please all (or even most) gamers, and Bangai-O is a perfect example of the type of title which clearly tells you which type of player you are since it strikes me as a "love it or hate it" type of affair. While Im not attempting to label Ben in any way, I will categorically put myself into the "Does Not Like Bangai-O" column.
For starters, Id hesitate to place the graphics into the 32-bit realm. 16-bit hits closer to the mark if you ask me. While the amount of sprites onscreen simultaneously is truly amazing with very little slowdown, the game basically looks like something that would have been unimpressive even on the Super NES. I realize that being "old-school" is cool these days, but the tiny, microscopic visuals are taking it to an unwelcome extreme.
I definitely agree with Ben when he says that Bangai-O plays a lot like Robotron or even Smash T.V., but the control of either of those classic games is better due to the dual-stick setup. While it gets by using the Dreamcasts control pad buttons, another stick is badly needed to make the game as smooth and as natural as a fast shooter like this needs to be. Considering the fact that enemies can and do attack from every direction, I felt that using the face buttons just didnt cut it, and prevented the game from getting to that "natural, no thought required" level of control.
As far as the rest of the game goes, its pure and simple blasting action. While some gamers out there may crave this stuff, I lost interest extremely quick, and I dont see very many of todays gamers really getting into this unless theyre looking for super-super-retro action like something dredged up from the older days of videogaming. There are bombs, there are lasers, there is fruit to collect like something out of Pac-Man, and there are a massive amount of enemies, but so what? While I can and do enjoy something that is faster-paced and doesnt have the story content of an RPG, Bangai-O just did not click with me on any level at all.
I found the mistranslated-badly-on-purpose dialogue to be irritating and pointless, the gameplay was repetitive and boring, and there really wasnt anything here to keep me hooked enough or even vaguely interested to see more. Perhaps Im not "hardcore" enough, but I really have no clue why this game was brought over to the United States except to sell copies to people who heard misleading information from import fans.
In my opinion, nine out of 10 times when a game from Japan doesnt get released domestically theres an extremely good reason for it. Sure, once in a while a gem like Policenauts or something similar will be inexplicably left behind, but the majority of calls made by localization companies are good ones. Id be willing to bet that if Treasures name wasnt on this game, theres no way it would have ever had a snowballs chance of getting released over here. Treasure fanatics or people who crave nothing but button-pushing action might get a few yuks out of Bangai-O after rescuing it from a bargain bin somewhere, but the amount of enjoyment here for the average gamer is extremely low, and nil for me. Ill pass, thanks.
According to ESRB, this game contains: Animated Violence, Mild Language
If you're a fan of 3D action and adventure, and you think 2D games are Stone Age, then Bangai-O definitely isn't for you.
However, fans of fast arcade action now have a truly great one for Dreamcast. Bangai-O is a shooter with personality and charm, and that's pretty rare these days. As a 2D game alone, it humbles Capcoms Giga Wing—the only other 2D shooter for Dreamcast that I can think of—without even trying.
Treasure fans should add this one to their collection immediately. If you liked Gunstar Heroes, Guardian Heroes, Radiant Silvergun or Silhouette Mirage, you'll love Bangai-O (one of the levels in the game even pays tribute to Gunstar Heroes).
Parents need not worry too much about their kids playing this game. It's harmless arcade action, though there are tiny screams when you blow up enemy households, and there's some adult innuendo during a few of the conversations.
I recently hooked up my beloved Dreamcast to my entertainment center. It always sits on the shelf, but due to limited room and A/V hookup options thanks to my multi-console collection, it isn't actively jacked in. At any rate, multiplayer Power Stone, Project Justice and Looney Tunes Space Race (don't laugh, it's a fun game) still provided a lot of entertainment value. The Worms (World Party) fest is on its way. But then I revisited one of my favorite games, both on Dreamcast and in general: Bangai-O.
Bangai-O is an unabashed "shmup" arcade-style game, full of frenetic action, Japanese weirdness and unfettered Engrish goodness. It was developed by Treasure, also known for games like Gunstar Heroes and Astro Boy (GBA). This insures a fast-pace game with a scoring system, and guarantees a certain level of quality
I enjoy Bangai-O for its strangeness as much as its gameplay. Riki and Mami are brother and sister piloting a strange mech suit with a mouthful of a name that Riki thinks is silly. They are after a notorious space gang that litters the universe with space fruits (which ties into the scoring system of earning better fruit through chained explosions). Each level they learn information by speaking with M, a strange female entity wearing what appears to be a rooted oak tree over her head and neck and who overcharges them for every informational transaction. The dialog is either poorly localised, or (my guess) intended to keep the original language flavor with the above-referenced "Engrish" -- either way, it works wonderfully. The villains are lovingly drawn portraits, and from a big-chinned, pomade-haired man to a parrot lawyer, they each ooze with character.
The game is filled with bright, flashy bullets and loud explosions, chirpy Japanese background music and lots of various sound effects, including stadium cheering whenever blowing up the terrain. The gameplay centers on shooting a lot of things to build an explosion meter; which is used for potentially devastating all-around shots. These shots provide the most rewarding gameplay aspect: get close as possible to as many enemy bullets or projectiles as possible, in a nice balance between suicide or getting a good special attack; because the proximity to enemy fire increases the strength of your special attack. The levels are fun, providing a lot of variety and some ingenious challenges.
Finally, if the player dies (and die the player will), there is a strange interlude screen that posits a dream, with a stylized baby Riki frolicking in a French countryside (I'm sure it's French), with bats and a strange castle in the distance, and strange robot-controlled dinosaurs sharing the revelry and taking a photograph. Yes, all this in a still shot, accompanied by a lone pipe playing a melancholy little ditty!
All this is why I love this game. The most damning evidence of its addictive qualities for me? After playing, even several hours later, I can close my eyes and see various patterns of pink bullets filling the dark screen in my mind... Day or night, whatever I was doing, it was effortless and unsought, those bright and beautiful geometric patterns of explosions. And I remember having the same experience when I last played this game.
I'm glad I revisited this game, it provided just the right dose of gaming goodness that I needed. If you get a chance, check out our official review. If you enjoyed this game, feel free to give a shout-out in the comments for this entry. If you hated it (and I'm sure someone did), you can share that too.