Review by Jee
Reviewed: 06/24/01 | Updated: 06/24/01
To appreciate Bangai-O you need a bit of a sense of humour, and the ability to appreciate gameplay in its finest form. However appreciation of the game doesn't come instantly. It's not one of those games that will jump out and get you hooked right from the first level. However, once you do actually ''get'' Bangai-O, you'll see that's one of the most ingenious games ever created. But given it's a 2d shooter from the gods at Treasure, one wouldn't expect any less.
You see the first few levels of Bangai-O are a little slow. There are not all that many enemies. What few there are don't seem to be too intent on killing you in a hurry. There's some pretty easy bosses, and a fair few houses (on the walls, roof, and floor of the level) to blow up. Sure the control is great, the graphics are nice, the gameplay seems solid enough. It might appear that Treasure have come up with a pretty good shooter, but haven't really done anything amazing. You're a little disappointed, you know. I mean everyone's been giving this game high praise, what's it all about then? It doesn't seem THAT good. Then, when you least expect it, it will hit you.
For me, it was about at level 9 that I first ''got'' Bangai-O. Your mech, the Bangai-O, can shoot in 8 directions. It's quite good at blowing stuff up. But it also has a screen clearing superbomb, which is where the heart of the gameplay lies. You see when you tap the bomb button and there's not many enemies around, 40 shots (either homing missiles or lazers - more on that later) will come out of your Mech. Sure, it looks pretty cool. However, the power of your superbomb is directly related to how much danger you're in. So try getting your mech into a rather compromising situation, where there's say, about 200 enemy bullets approaching your ship from all sides. When there's no way out, you're as good as dead, it's game over for you bub. Time to start the level again. Or . . . .
You can press the bomb button. Brace yourself for one of the single most amazing sites ever seen in a videogame. The whole screen goes white for a second as 400 separate shots burst out of the Bangai-O, blowing the absolute bejesus out of every last thing on the screen. Each and every enemy shot that was only a split second away from killing you is exploded. Each and every enemy on screen (and beyond) is obliterated. All of the houses that line the boundaries of the current area meet a firey death. The counter at the top of the screen that keeps track of how many explosions are onscreen at once grows to about 5 times it's normal size and proudly displays ''400''. Words can't really describe how much of an unbelievably cool feeling you get from doing this. I think the first time I did it I actually had to put the controller down because I was laughing so much. It's basically the biggest ''Bang'' you've ever seen in your life. So what's left to do after the big bang?
Collect fruit, of course! Bangai-O is very much a score orientated game, and for everything you blow up, you get a piece of ''space fruit''. The quality of this fruit depends on how many explosions were on screen at time when the item in question blew up. If you get 400 odd explosions, the screen will be littered with fruits like pineapples that give you an amazing score boost (and maybe a few health top-ups). If there's only 10 or so, chances are you'll get a measly apple, granting you only 50 or so points. There's something just not right about collecting apples and bananas after blowing the hell out of everything and anything on screen with a single click of your bomb button. It's just so damn cool.
So Bangai-O has lots of explosions eh? Why's it such a good game then?! Well the main thing that rocks so hard about Bangai-O is that it encourages reckless play. The whole fact that your superbomb power is dependant on the amount of danger you're in (measured by the number of enemy bullets onscreen and their distance from your mech) should hint at this. But it goes further than that. The Bangai-O can hold up to 5 of these ''superbombs'' at any one time. When you blow stuff up, a ''bomb bar'' down the bottom of the screen fills up. When it's full, you get the use of another superbomb. This means that if you time your bombs right, and blow up enough stuff, using the superbomb becomes a self-sufficient process. The carnage caused from one bomb may give you even more bombs than you started with than when you pressed the bomb button. If you time it right, you don't even need to use normal fire in some of the more intense levels. Watching a Bangai-O pro in action is an awe-inspiring sight indeed.
However there's a fine balance between being not reckless enough and a little too reckless. Getting into a difficult situation in Bangai-O is easy enough. Once you clear the first few levels (which are rather sedate), there's lots and lots of enemies, and thus enemy bullets. You don't have to go far to find a little danger. However, if you press the bomb button too early, you don't get all that many explosions at all. If you press it too late, you die. You have to get it just right, and this is what is so ingenious about the game. There's not much time at all between getting a measly 100 or so shots from your superbomb, and being overwhelmed by enemy fire. Finding the right time, just in the middle, is what playing Bangai-O is all about.
Now we can get down to the nitty gritty. Bangai-O controls very, very well. It's not a scrolling shooter at all. You're free to move at your own pace, and do so via the dpad. You can fly in all 8 directions, but your ship is affected by gravity, and thus will fall if you don't keep those upwards thrusters on. You can fire in all 8 directions independently of moving, using the four buttons on the face of the dreamcast pad. Unless you've got extremely small fingers, in which case hitting 2 buttons at once for the diagonals might be a bit tricky, this works perfectly.
One of the analogue triggers is used for the bomb, and the other switches between firing styles. You have a choice of homing missiles, which are good if you've got a situation where you want to move around a lot and still keep your fire concentrated on an enemy. Or a lazer shot, which is great for enclosed areas since it bounces off walls, but has no kind of homing capabilities at all. Figuring out which weapon to use in which situation adds a little more strategy to the game. There are no problems in the control department, Bangai-O is brilliant.
The graphics are deceptively good. You need to be able to appreciate the beauty of a good 2d game though. At first glance they may seem a little simplistic since everything is so tiny. However there's so much action onscreen at any time, that any other graphical style wouldn't really do the game justice. As it stands, watching 400 missiles, each with their own curving trail, is one of the most graphically impressive things I've ever seen in a game. The explosions are also very nicely done, and there are a lot of them. The game only slows down when you get the amazing maximum superbomb to go off, the big 400. Even so, all this does is give the moment even more impact. Everything is very colourful, and there's quite a few layers of parallax. I was very impressed by Bangai-O's graphical prowess.
I liked the music too. I mean it's not going to win any awards or anything. It's fast and upbeat, and suits the frantic pace of the game to a tee. Like the graphics, it couldn't have suited the whole Bangai-O style any better. The sound effects are also pretty well done, especially the explosions, which is good thing since you'll be hearing a hell of a lot of them.
Yet another area in which Bangai-O excels is the dialogue. This game has some of the most amusing dialogue I've ever seen. Most of it doesn't make any sense at all, but that's what's so funny about it. Conversations occur between Riki (the ''self-proclaimed man of all men'') and Mami (''his quiet but alert'' little sister) and various other characters. Most of the conversations will probably leave you a little confused. However you'll also be laughing uncontrollably, and that's really what Bangai-O is about. It's good clean fun, and never takes itself seriously at all.
Bangai-O has a fair bit of meat to it's bones too. It's no short game, being a massive 44 levels in size. It saves your progress after each level, and you can go back and challenge your high score on any of the stages you've already cleared. The later levels get quite difficult, so provided you pace yourself, Bangai-O should last you a little while. There's not really any extra modes or anything. You get the single player game, and that's about it. The actual game itself is so damn good though, it doesn't matter in the least. A two player option would have been nice, but I guess the slowdown would be increased dramatically with two Bangai-Os onscreen at once, and double the firepower. The frantic and fun nature of the game is what gives it it's replay value though. When a game has such ingenious core play mechanics as Bangai-O, you don't need gimmicks. Just play to have fun, that's the way it should be.
So should you buy Bangai-O? If it hasn't been already obvious from this review, the answer is an overwhelming yes. It's one of the finest games on the dreamcast, and the most fun I've had all year. With all the uninspired games that come out these days, you owe it to yourself to kick back, relax, and blow the living hell out of anything that moves, or even looks like it might move one day. Bangai-O is pure genius.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
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