In ancient times, long before any of us can remember, the N64 was graced with two of the weirder titles in the entire catalogue of Treasure games. One of those was Bangai-O, a stage based shooter where you piloted a large robot capable of firing hundreds of retaliatory missiles towards anyone foolish enough to challenge it in battle. For Treasure, it also contained a surprising amount of character dialogue although plenty of it was fantastically non-sensical. The fourth release in the series, Bangai-O HD: Missile Fury has just been released on XBLA. Can revisiting the series again improve on the already celebrated formula?Bangai-O HD explains itself during the opening tutorial stages as controlling similar to a Dual Stick shooter. This isn’t exactly wrong, but going into it with that expectation will leave you utterly bewildered by all the various systems on top of your usual ‘LS – Move. RS – Shoot’ gameplay. While you fly around with the left stick, you’ll actually start to descend due to gravity unless you’re holding the Right Bumper to hover which slows you down but stops you from falling. The right stick fires in the direction you push it, but it actually fires more powerful and much larger projectiles the closer you are to the enemy when you fire. The idea then is not to pick the enemy off at the safest distance, but rather to close in and strike with perfect timing. In Bangai-O HD, nothing is every quite as simple as it first appears.
One of the earliest stages is an all-out brawl against hordes of enemies, and chances are your deaths will come quickly and often without warning. Your damage tolerance in Bangai-O is very low, and placing yourself incorrectly at any point could cause you to erupt into an emasculating game over. The trick is to master the Right Trigger moves, which share a power gauge and achieve very different but complimentary maneuvers. Pulling it while moving sends you into a short dash, which makes you invulnerable, destroys bullets, deals damage and sends objects/enemies flying into each other to deal bonus attacks or create a chain reaction of machines being thrown about.
Creating a wave of fifty enemies colliding into each other into a flaming mass is not an uncommon sight. If you pull it while stationary however you can freeze enemies and bullets still, which lets you fire hugely damaging projectiles in relative safety and maximizes the number of targets you can hit at once. Using the two together lets you drill into a formation and then hold it steady for a massive attack, and this encapsulates a final technique to make up the bread and butter of Bangai-O tactics.
By pulling the Left Trigger, you will unleash a lot of missiles. The amount you fire depends on how long you charge the attack and the amount of enemies and bullets in lock-on range at the time that you pull it, with higher numbers building the charge attack almost instantly. You can further boost this by pulling the Right Trigger while charging, consuming double/triple/quadruple the usual gauge requirement to launch just as many bullets in every direction. The first time you pull this off is an unforgettable moment, and I really mean no exaggeration by that. Just one robot against a whole army seems a far more favourable circumstances when there are a thousand missiles being thrown out of it. Not only that, but successfully firing your missile barrage instantly recharges your Dash/Freeze attacks, allowing you to continue the chain and rip through the rest of the stage.
If I now tell you the game is hard, I’m sure you can understand why. The systems in play here more closely resemble a 2D fighter than a dual-stick shooter, and it’s these complex mechanics that really kept me interested as I played through Bangai-O. It takes a hell of a while to get used to, but once you do you’ll find yourself feeling in control in the most obscenely hostile environments. The gameplay also managed to stay fresh thanks to the incredibly varied stages available to play through, with each one possibly being a grand departure from the last.
Some are epic battles whereas others take away your ability to perform a missile barrage, lower your health to a quarter and have you stealth your way across a field of hundreds of enemies to acquire a power-up of immense power to destroy the lot of them in only seven seconds. Sometimes the goofy Treasure humour comes into play and you need to fight an army of sword wielding mechs with nothing but a dash attack and a few hundred footballs. It’s that kind of game, and you can never really predict what will be required from you going from one stage to the next. Besides patience.
It’s a damn good looking game too, in parts. The overall look of the stages is a little basic, so parts of the aesthetic don’t appear to be vastly improved from even the DS sequel. However the power of the system has been put to great use by keeping up the frame-rate despite thousands of missiles/bullets/lasers/napalm bombs/cannons being thrown about all of the stage, and the enemy designs are undoubtedly cool, especially when they’re scaled up a hundred times for a massive boss encounter. The music isn’t quite as catchy as say Gunstar Heroes nor as sophisticated as Ikaruga but it’s generally chosen to suit the theme of the stage well.
The difficulty curve is terrifyingly high, and hopefully not everyone will be put off by the insane difficulty of the demo version, which throws you in at stage 37 when you’re only onto your third level. What really compounds this problem though is that your narrative lead Dr. Ban is intended to guide you from stage to stage, and yet it’s not consistently clear what he even wants you to do, especially as his hints appear before you even see the stage. Sometimes it is informative, telling you to save your EX Gauge until the second half of the level for instance, but one particular level follows the alarmingly blunt ‘Beware of Ninjas’. Funny, true, but when said ninjas are busy killing you then you might find yourself wishing he’d told you how to blow them up instead.
It’s also an incredibly lengthy game with some stages lasting around five minutes if you actually survive it, although some can be completed in as little as thirty seconds. There are 47 of them in total, although the game does deal you an Inverted Castle moment on completion of the main campaign, throwing in an additional 56 bonus stages, knocking the total above 100. At any price it’s a very generous amount, but for an 800 MS point release is nothing short of incredible.
My experiences with the multi-player portion have been short at best. I had difficulty finding anyone to play with, and even when I did it was a fairly laggy experience, but if you’re able to convince a friend to turbo-missile your way through the campaign in co-op I could see it being an awful lot of fun. Avoiding the online however there is still a ridiculous amount of content here for the price, and while the presentation is sometimes lacking, the complex systems and impressive variety in the stages is more than enough to make returning to this farcically aggressive world a treat for any and all 360 owners and Treasure fans alike.
Yet another impressive display of fun, rewarding and admirably batshit crazy game design. Don’t get angry that PSN has been down for weeks. Get Missile Furious.