Games time forgot: Bangai-O

While I know you pirates of less-than-stellar moral uprighteousness have probably already NOT pirated the hell out of the Japanese version of this game’s DS remake, it’s important to remember where you come from.

While Bangai-O Spirits might seem like a merely above-average space shooter in these days of dual monitors and touch screens, those gamers who were active during the salad days of the Dreamcast and Nintendo 64 can attest to how truly goddamn cool and unique the original Bangai-O was during its initial release.

Combine the multidirectional firing of SMASH TV with some cleverly-designed levels and a combo mechanic based on the number of goddamn explosions onscreen, and you’ve got yourself the makings of one badass forgotten game.

Hit the jump for more.

Story:

While I guess there’s some actual logic behind the game’s narrative if you read the instruction manual and look up the backstory on Wikipedia, it has to be said that the story bits in the actual game are some of the most pleasantly nonsensical, unapologetically confusing pieces of narrative I’ve gotten from a game in quite a while.

As far as I can tell, two pilots (Riki and Mami, though it’s not like it matters) pilot a ship known as the Bangai-O in an effort to destroy space pirates who steal fruit or something. They’re “aided” on their mission by someone who is either a living person communicating via satellite or a robot projecting a humanoid image through the airwaves. Either way, that bitch charges the main characters 50,000 dollars for every piece of small advice she gives…yet even this minor story point, like so many others, is completely irrelevant to the gameplay (you can’t actually earn money, so you don’t lose anything by getting hints from the Robo-Bitch).

All I know is that the victory screen for each level consists of a poorly drawn robot (which does not resemble the Bangai-O in the slightest) punching a poorly drawn dinosaur (which does not resemble a single one of you renemies) in a poorly drawn city. I know that the dialogue is horribly translated, that the character portraits make no sense, and that one character talks entirely through kindergarten-level doodles.

So, the story is either totally awesome or completely irrelevant, depending on your tastes.

Gameplay:

Bangai-O is sort of like SMASH TV mixed with R-Type mixed with Super Mario, mixed with one game that doesn’t actually exist where all the player’s bullets bounce off walls and stuff.

You basically control the Bangai-O in much the same way you control the protagonists of SMASH TV or Geometry Wars, except with fewer analog sticks: the D-pad moves the Bangai-O, while the face buttons fire in their respective directions — A fires downward, B to the right, and so on. However, while SMASH TV and Geometry Wars take place in enclosed, rectangular arenas, Bangai-O requires the player to move around some decently sizable levels, flying and shooting all the way.

The speed with which the ship moves, and the number of enemies the player will face, reminds me of a side-scrolling shmup. Yet the nonlinear map exploration seems more fitting with a side scroller. Added to that, the multidirectional firing makes everything feel even more tactile and explosive.

Speaking of explosive, the player only has one special attack in the game: the bulletgasm. Granted, I dunno what it’s really called, but it basically fires bullets or missiles in every single direction. Pretty standard in and of itself, until you consider the explosion-projectile combo system. The number of bullets onscreen determine how many of your own projectiles you’ll launch outward once activating the bulletgasm; the number of actual explosions onscreen, whether caused bt your blowing up enemies or random buildings, determines how fast your bulletgasm recharges and how much fruit your defeated enemy would drop.

Rather than focus on a time-based combo system, as the original N64 version did, the Dreamcast version courageously and wisely chose to reward the player for causing simultaneous damage rather than stringing up a bunch of kills over a protracted amount of time. With the explosion-projectile combo system, the player can view every single threat as a potential tool. A bunch of turrets shooting at you? No problem — wait until they fire a bunch of bullets at you, then fire your bulletgasm and destroy all of them at once, using the number of simultaneous explosions to recharge your bulletgasm-o-meter but quickly.

As one might imagine, this results in some pretty intense fights. Add the fact that the Bangai-O has two different kinds of attacks (homing missiles, or reflecting lasers), and that many of the later levels are literally filled with explosives, and you’ve got the makings of an unusual, but totally satisfying sort-of-oldschool shooter.

Why you’re probably not playing it:

The original N64 version never came stateside, and the Dreamcast version was…well, it was on the Dreamcast.

Oddly, though, I don’t really hear about Bangai-O much even within retro gaming circles; perhaps Ikaruga is far too satisfyingly badass and overshadows what weird pleasures Bangai-O has to offer, or maybe the game’s short-ass levels (there are 44 of them in all, most of them no longer than ten minutes) distanced people. I dunno.

All I know is that the gameplay was evidently popular enough to warrant a DS sequel, and that given the nature of the game’s visuals — as you can see in the YouTube videos, the camera is pretty zoomed out and you can see a lot of stuff at once — we really, really, really need an HD version on XBLA.

God, we need it so bad.

Anthony Burch