Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Bangai-O (Treasure)

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Up to this point, we’ve had a relatively small number of shmups that don’t fit into a simple criteria: either vertical or horizontal raster arcade shmups.  Sure there was some discussion about on-rails titles with Silpheed and even the mention of old school vector graphics in our introductory shmup article, but there are some games technically called shmups that fit a different category.  These are games where you control a single character or duo and battle large numbers of enemies in rudimentary level designs.  The actual size and shape of the level is irrelevant, the point is that you are getting bombarded on all sides and must survive against a mass of trigger-happy enemies.  From a certain perspective, this is considered a shmup and I definitely agree with that sentiment.

It’s important to note that the title originally started as a remake of Hover Attack, a Sharp X1 type-in game from 1983.  For those not familiar, a “type-in” game was a program you purchased in book form for a few dollars, you would type in the (often times) hundreds of lines of code.  Usually the program didn’t run the first time, various syntax errors would claim responsibility, and it was always because of a single character issue on literally thousands of lines of code.  This was before floppy disks, it was a different time.  Anyway, Hover Attack was a game that allowed a ship or and carrier to move in all different directions and fire independent of its movement.  It was one of the first games to do so and for comparison is a very basic version of a twin stick shooter.  This is why the game/level design seems a bit dated for a game that released in 1999 at the end of the N64’s life.  It eventually became its own property and remains a unique independent title, although certain concepts like the streaking of bullet patterns remain from Hover Attack.

Bangai-O comes from the pioneering team of Japanese shmups over the last few days, Treasure, and premiered on the N64 as Bakuretsu Muteki Bangaiō (translated: Explosive, Invincible Bangaio).  In the game the character controls either Riki or Mami as they control the mech Bangai-O and take on the Cosmo Gang.  Each of them has a special attack, Riki fires homing missiles and Mami has wall-bouncing blue laser beams, that can be unleashed at any time.  You control Bangai-O with the directional pad, there is a single jump button, and four face buttons determine the direction of the shot – this is really an ideal control scheme for the N64 when you think about it, which shows Treasure plays to the system’s strengths, an unfortunately uncommon practice.  You get two special shots at the beginning and you can unlock more for doing different tasks within the level.  Each level is a brief (2-5 minutes) rush of enemies that you attempt to survive; don’t worry, the game features 44 levels so you won’t run out of things to do for a while.  Those that are better at the game attempt to wait until the last possible moment, when Bangai-O is about to be coated in enemies, and unleash the special attack that can kill as many as hundreds of enemies.  If you’re into explosions, this game will make you smile.

Like many first releases by Treasure, the N64 game that came first had a limited 10,000 copy print run only in Japan and thus fetches hundreds online.  The more abundant Dreamcast port was not only released in higher numbers and worldwide, but featured many changes.  In the N64 version you get a combo number telling you how many enemies you took out and an upgrade window would open to assist you.  Your available upgrades would be based on the size of the kill combo (some could be more than 300) and each special attack had to be charged up to be the most effective.  On Dreamcast the game was given a facelift and the kill count was removed as was the upgrade window in lieu of dropped power-ups after a combo is performed.  There was no need to charge your special attack, it was based on proximity now, but the max number of attacks was halved from 10 to 5.  A few new enemies and level layout changes were made, but it’s basically the same game.  In addition the four face button control scheme, while it was an option with the four Dreamcast face buttons, was replaced by a front/back shooting option that only uses A and B.  I prefer the four button scheme personally, it gives much more versatility, and most hardcore fans seem to feel the same.

Succession

In a surprising update, Treasure decided to return to development on a sequel, Bangai-O Spirits that released on the Nintendo DS (and can be picked up for $5 used or $20 new, highly recommended).  Released in 2008 worldwide, this title adds the ability to fly and now has melee attacks with weapons.  In addition there is a whopping 160 levels with the option to create more with a level editor.  It marks the next update to the series and with the ingenious concept can give way to endless gameplay thanks to the level editor and the hardcore community.  I’m just shocked that the DS suffers little to no slowdown with the literally hundreds of explosions that happen.  An even more amusing throwback to old times, especially for a retro geek like me, is that the levels are all audio files.  The way you share the levels is that your DS plays an audio file that you record with a computer microphone and you can download new levels by having your DS listen to the audio file out of your speakers.  It harkens back to the days that audio cassettes were alternatives to disk drives and held program data.

Bangai-O HD: Missile Fury is an HD remake on Xbox Live that updates the control scheme to a twin stick shmup, which is a great design choice for contemporary gamers.  It integrated online co-op and online competitive multiplayer on the various levels, plus the integration of level editing and sharing has lots of potential on Microsoft’s online platform.  I have yet to try this version but I hear it’s absolutely frantic and dazzling, especially for the low $10 price tag.

For those looking for a little change-up on your shmups and want to try a more arcade-style shooter that harkens back to the days of 80s microcomputers, I highly recommend giving Bangai-O a try in one way shape or form.  I mean, c’mon, what other series on this line-up can you get both titles, one console version and one portable version, both with level editors and online integration for a mere $15 combined?  Nowhere.  Be smart, give Bangai-O a try to learn why Treasure is much more than the same old song and dance.

Written by Fred Rojas

March 16, 2012 at 12:00 pm

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