• Bangai-O Review - Sega Dreamcast

    Treasure continue their laudable campaign to preserve original thinking in gaming with this Dreamcast conversion of the 1999 N64 game Bakuretsu Muteki Bangioh. Not the kind of title which you would normally peg for a release outside Japan, it's one of very few opportunities which novelty-starved Western gamers have to experience the kind of games which the Japanese have always enjoyed, but have never been ported to other territories due to hesitant publishers' fears of poor sales. This is one of the few, released for the Western market as Bangai-O.

    On the face of it, there's nothing particularly outlandish about Bangai-O; we've seen all the gameplay features before. Two-dimensional shooting action? Check, from the likes of Mars Matrix right back to Space Invaders - nothing new here. The ability to fire in a different direction to the way you're moving? Check; hoary old classics like Robotron, Smash TV and Ikari Warriors featured this kind of gameplay. Gigantic robot suits? Collecting fruit? Blowing up as much as you possibly can at once? None of these things are original to Bangai-O, but it somehow manages to combine these tried-and-tested elements to create something staggeringly new and fresh, which feels like nothing you've ever played before (unless, of course, you've played the original N64 game).

    The 'story' is best forgotten; even with the benefit of an English translation, it doesn't make a great deal of sense. Suffice to say, it revolves around a brother and sister, an evil gang, and, of course, giant space fruit... which has… um… naturally... been stolen. Or something. Along with the strange scene-setting intro, the nonsensical but entertaining in-game information, and the continue screen featuring a naked Riki running through a garden, pursued by camera wielding KKK look-alikes, with the somewhat enigmatic subtitle, "Hey, I can still…", this all adds immensely to the authentically peculiar Japanese atmosphere of the title; it feels a lot like the translation job done on Mystical Ninja on the N64, and makes you think that perhaps it's not such a bad thing that you can't understand the storyline of most of the games you import - all that time you were wondering what was going on in those cutscenes in Gigawing 2, it was probably no more coherent than the 'tale' (if you can call it that) which unfolds in this game.

    Of course, the storyline isn't what this kind of game is all about. The more time that Treasure wasted on the storyline for their game, the less time they would have had to ensure that the playability was up to scratch; this clearly wasn't an issue, as the playability of this title is almost unmatched in the genre, and to be honest, there haven't been many more enjoyable games of any genre in the last few years. The premise is simple; guide Bangai-O around the 44 levels and destroy everything which can be destroyed. There are two pilots, Riki and Mami, one of which uses homing missiles and the other of which uses R-Type style bouncing shots to destroy things, which can be switched with the left trigger button. It might take a while to get used to the principle of moving in one direction and shooting in another, but after a while it becomes second nature. There are several configurations for the controller, but the easiest one to use is the d-pad to control movement and the A,B,X and Y buttons to control direction of fire. Most of the structures dotted around the stages can be destroyed, and the presence of "enemy generators" means that you'll not run short of enemy robots to destroy until all the generators have been taken care of. So far, so familiar. The differences start to appear when you appreciate the way the stages are structured - although some stages are 'channelled' for you to take a specific path through them, for the most part, you can choose your own route through the levels, and if you want to head straight for the bosses, then vast tracts of stage will be left undiscovered. The nature of the game means that the more you play it in pursuit of higher scores (or "Maximise Record" as Treasure would have it), the more of the levels you'll discover.

    The other great innovation in this game is its use of a 'combo' system. Early in the game, you discover that pressing the right trigger button will launch a standard attack of 40 shots in a circle around Bangai-O. After a while, you'll come to realise that some of these super shots are a good deal more impressive than others, and after a little bit longer, you'll work out that the number of shots which you put out is related to how many enemy bullets are closing in on you when you press the launch button. If you time it right, when the screen is full of enemy projectiles closing in on you, you can launch up to 400 shots at the enemy, which leads to huge scores and a magnificent pyrotechnical display on the screen as vast number of enemies and structures are destroyed simultaneously. Later in the game, pressing the right trigger at the correct time becomes almost the preferred method of play to directing your shots. This system is what sets Bangai-O apart from other shooters, and what will keep people coming back to it long after its completion - player satisfaction at producing 400 shots and destroying a screenful of baddies is overwhelming.

    If you're sufficiently interested in gaming to still believe in the ancient art of high-score chasing, the structure of the levels and the feverish chasing of ever-higher explosion counts will be enough to keep you coming back to the game, although it has to be said, if you're the kind of gamer who is only interested in the completion of a game, Bangai-O will be a disappointingly short experience - although things start to get very tough around level 20, with a little perseverance, the game could be clocked inside a few hours to a couple of days, depending on your ability. Added to this is the fact that some of the levels are rather "gimmicky", and some are virtual clones of others - again, something which will put off those who are looking for a more lasting experience than the pursuit of high scores. When the game is completed, there's nothing to unlock but a fairly unexciting extra options menu - no hidden levels, no additional firepower. What Bangai-O is missing most of all, though, is a two player mode; whether co-operative or competitive, a two player mode would have made this game almost perfect, and it's a shame that the feature couldn't have been included somehow.

    Graphically, the game is 'functional'. While it's not going to be the prettiest 2D shooter you've ever seen, the tiny graphics are more than adequate to do the job, and give the game a character all of its own. More impressive is the sheer number of sprites the game can move around at any one time - it takes a lot of onscreen action before the processor starts to slow down, and even then the slowdown can almost be taken as a intentional, unique quirk of the game, like the slowdown that accompanies a lot of great 2D games. Street Fighter 2's slowdown never put people off that game, and the more you live with it in Bangai-O, the more you actually come to like the fact that it slows down - it's almost like Segovia's pauses in classical guitar playing, it becomes part of the atmosphere of the game. Sonically, the game is also impressive: typically zippy and happy Japanese tunes accompany the carnage, and the spot effects of things blowing up and strange, disturbing noises that the bosses make suit the mood perfectly.

    In conclusion: Bangai-O is entertaining and different enough to satisfy anybody who can get around the tiny graphics and initially difficult controls, and might just inspire more gamers to start appreciating what they're missing in a great many Japanese games which will never appear in the West.

    Score: 9/10
    Text by Stephen Pringle
    Comments 15 Comments
    1. JazzFunk's Avatar
      JazzFunk -
      Bangai-O on DC was bloody brill. Deffo one of the funnest things on that machine. 2D exploding heaven.

      Still need to give the DS and 360 versions a proper go. Have had them both literally years and haven't bothered at all.

      That bothers me. Maybe it's this inner feeling of not wanting to ruin or replace the excellence of the original experience???
    1. shinobi7000's Avatar
      shinobi7000 -
      The translation was insane, just crazy. I bought the 360 one and never got to play it.
    1. JazzFunk's Avatar
      JazzFunk -
      This is a game to be PLAYED.

      I still think the DC has the perfect levels of satisfaction but I've never properly persisted with the 360 and DS versions...

      ...because I'm SCARED. I'm SCARED it won't be as good.
    1. JazzFunk's Avatar
      JazzFunk -
      Play it bud.

      You'll laaaaaarv it!!!
    1. JazzFunk's Avatar
      JazzFunk -
      (Apols, I am slightly intoxicated. My mate give us some sleepers. I'm very lucid and reasonable, tho. In fact, I'm pretty good today!).
    1. Team Andromeda's Avatar
      Team Andromeda -
      Nothing will beat the Radiant Sword when charged up with Pink blood in Radiant Slivergun
    1. JazzFunk's Avatar
      JazzFunk -
      Nah, you're wrong. It's when you explode all the bullets and enemies in this at EXACTLY THE RIGHT MOMENT.

      Serious. It's so satisfying. It's like setting an H-bomb off. And you have to time it JUST right.
    1. shinobi7000's Avatar
      shinobi7000 -
      Quote Originally Posted by JazzFunk View Post
      Play it bud.

      You'll laaaaaarv it!!!
      Dead 360, Jazz. That's why I never played it. Actually no 360 but still have the drive.
    1. JazzFunk's Avatar
      JazzFunk -
      Try and get DC version if you can, it's really lovely and my fave version. You could probably burn a self-booter of this but I had the PAL and it includes 60hz so I didn't need to
    1. shinobi7000's Avatar
      shinobi7000 -
      No, we've been talking about different games. I had the DC one when it came out, that's the one with the crazy translation. There was a sequel on the 360 which I bought and never played.
    1. JazzFunk's Avatar
      JazzFunk -
      Got that, still yet to proper play it, it's TOUGH. BC on Xbox One, I think.
    1. shinobi7000's Avatar
      shinobi7000 -
      They changed it up a bit from what little I saw of it. The DC one has some nice tunes, too.I liked it originally because the small sprites and space setting reminded me of 80s scrolling blasters, although the gameplay is quite different.
    1. JazzFunk's Avatar
      JazzFunk -
      Yeah mate, gonna install it tonite and have a blast in like 15-20 minutes. Might also dig my DS one out, I hear that's a great and different version, also!
    1. JazzFunk's Avatar
      JazzFunk -
      (never played the N64 one, btw)
    1. JazzFunk's Avatar
      JazzFunk -
      Mate, I tell a lie, the 360 vers *isnt* BC on Xbox One.

      Pah. Gutting news mate, I'd arrogantly assumed it was and I was gonna join in this thread by playing the game and reporting back.

      HOWEVER, all I REALLY need is a stable 360 pad. Even though I'm using AA batteries on an official chrome blood red Microsoft 360 controller, it seems to work like 60% of the time OK but it's like a loose battery cradle. But then some days it works 100% and fools me into thinking it's A-OK.

      Bloody infuriating, I love the red chrome as well, it's a bit battered but it's such a gorge pad.