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LK4O4 avatar 6:58 PM on 09.08.2010  (server time)
PAX 2010: Dying and Smiling w/ Super Meat Boy and Bangai-O

Posted by: Ryan

Instead of doing one huge PAX Cblog, I'm gonna try to write one smaller post every day for maybe an entire week,
if I can. And I didn't take many pictures, so bear with me.

The show floor at PAX is completely covered in game demos, so even if you burned all your money on a flight and hotel and you barely have enough to eat with, there's more than plenty of things to do at PAX, both on the show floor and off. And Noelani must think I'm some kind of masochistic maniac, because the two games that made me smile more than anything else involved me dying over and over and over with a 360 controller in my hands.

My total love of Super Meat Boy probably shows that I'm a man of simple tastes: it's a game about a guy made of meat running through a box filled with buzzsaws trying to save a girl made of bandaids. The entire game is only played with two buttons and a D-pad and the level map doesn't have any branching paths, but for its simplicity, what is there is nearly perfect. Especially the controls, which I initially assumed would have some problems due to the 360's D-pad, but it somehow still played incredibly. I cannot stress enough how great the controls, the jumping, and the collisions feel.

And there are also collectables in the game. Levels have bandaids, which are generally difficult to get and seem to go towards unlocking new characters. And in addition to that, beating a level under a certain time unlocks a more difficult, "dark world" version of that level. And this is where things get fun.

So I was just blasting through a few levels in World 1, occasionally talking with the dude at the booth, when he tells me that I've unlocked the dark world version of the level that I'm on. So he shows me how to change between the main game and the dark world, and I fire up the dark world version of the level I was just on. I beat two or three dark world stages pretty quickly, but then I get to this one that I just keep dying on over and over. Now I've got a couple people watching, including my girlfriend, and I'm playing this level that's just killing me over and over and... I'm happy. Like really happy. There's a big smile on my face, and I don't think Noelani quite understands how I can be so gleeful with each continuous death, but she finds it cute nevertheless.

After enough deaths, the booth dude offered to switch the game back to the normal mode, and I had to shoo him away once or twice. No way booth person, I'm totally beating this level. I can do it. And about twenty deaths later, I finally did, after which I passed the controller off to someone else. And then I got to see about thirty meat boys (minus one) get slaughtered as they made their way through my glorious replay. If I had to choose, Super Meat Boy might have actually been my Game of the Show. Yes, it's that good.

Edit: And apparently, the Destructoid editors agree! Congrats Super Meat Boy on winning Game of the Show!

Now while the demo of Super Meat Boy I played was a polished, near-complete game, Bangai-O HD: Missle Fury, on the other hand, was very obviously a build and not even an actual demo. It had all the levels unlocked, and almost all of the menu and story text was in Japanese, though they had an English-translated GUI and pause menu. But even in what seems to be an early-ish state, the actual gameplay of Bangai-O HD is coming along beautifully.

So it's finally a proper twin-stick shooter again, with movement on the left analog stick and firing on the right, though the Bangai-O series definitely sets itself apart from other twin-stick shooters with a ton of crafty enemy types and ingenious, almost puzzle-style environments. But more than anything else, Bangai-O is known for exploding. Just hold down the left trigger to charge up you're EX Attack (the guy at the booth called them "counters"), and when you let go, your mech explodes missiles in every direction. And the more enemy missiles you have near you, the bigger your EX Attack is: you explode even more missiles when you're about to die. At any given time, the screen is generally filled with line trails of your missiles or your enemies missiles, and it's fucking amazing.

Though it should be noted that the mechanics are slightly different than the most recent (and my personal favorite) game in the series, Bangai-O Spirits. I know that certain people hate on the DS version, but it's clearly a better game than it's Dreamcast predecessor. (Don't get me started: I'll fill up a whole blog to defend that statement at some point.) But possibly influenced by fan outcry, the Bangai-O HD system attempts to strike a happy medium between fans of both old and new.

The story is back, though it seems to only be in text-form, with sketchy characters and speech bubbles appearing before each stage. As I mentioned before, I couldn't read it because it was in Japanese, so I can't say if it's as bat-shit crazy as fans expect. You no longer select weapons before each stage, which is a huge (again, huge) disappointment, but the weapons you start each stage with are not always the same. So there are still a few different weapon types in the game, but without the ability to choose or mix weapons, I just found myself leaning on the homing missile pretty hard. Also, in another return to the Dreamcast version, your EX meter is filled by destroying enemies and not by collecting fruit. Instead, fruit heals a small portion of your health and fruit even follows you if you get close enough to it, which is a weird design choice, and it's tough to tell this early on whether that'll make Bangai-O a slightly easier experience than it's been in the past.

In general, fans of the Dreamcast version will be happy with the changes and fans of the DS version (like me) will be slightly disappointed by them. But my biggest disappointment is that EX Attacks can no longer be directed, and now are only omnidirectional. It makes them a lot less useful and, combined with the lack of selectable weapons, means that you'll be exploding a bit less than you did in the DS iteration.

Edit: According to Kotaku, you can direct EX Attacks with the right analog stick! (I kept trying to do it with the left stick.) I really hope they're right!

I know it sounds like I'm being down on the game because it seems worse than the DS version, but being slightly worse than an amazing game is still amazing. If I say that Cave Story is better than Super Metroid, that certainly doesn't mean that I dislike Super Metroid or that it's a bad game, and it's the same idea here. Despite my concerns, I still loved the hell out of Bangai-O HD.

But what really kept me hooked on it was when the representative at the booth tried to take me off of a certain level because he claimed that it "was gonna be rebalanced" and that he didn't think the developers had even beaten it yet... oh, it's on now. Now, I had to try and beat it. I was gonna beat it, and then this guy is gonna tell the dudes at Treasure about this crazy American kid who actually beat the level and I was gonna be the most awesome kid at PAX. Man, I played that damned level so many times... and I died many, many times.

But I know it wasn't impossible! I kept getting closer and closer to actually killing the massive hordes of enemies in the level and making my way through, and then I even came back the next day, I picked that same level, and I tried again and tried again.

And try as I did, I still died again and again. I love Bangai-O.

Bonus: If you want to read even more about Bangai-O HD, fellow LA Dtoider Alex Barbastis wrote a piece on it for SEGA Addicts, where he claims that "others who played the game felt more strongly than I," and I can't help but think that he's partially referring to me. I did kind of geek out about Bangai-O in front of Alex and Cadtalfryn. And I also stole the images from his article, so thanks for that!


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