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.