Bangai-O has got its priorities exactly right. It's delivered fantastic shooting action to platforms since the Nintendo 64, and has evolved each time into what we have now: a fast, pick-up-and-play shooter with joystick snapping challenges and screen breaking special effects. I loved (until I lost) Bangai-O Spirits on the DS, so when D3 dropped Bangai-O HD onto Xbox Live last week, I felt like my life had once again taken a turn for the big robot.
And while it's true it did, there's just a little more that needs to be said before giving this excellent title the Henshin Seal Of Approval.
Bangai-O HD: Missile Fury comes with some great promises: Niiice HD graphics with that traditional Bangai-O slow motion from hundreds of onscreen enemies and bullets, that great level editor they introduced in Spirits, Co-op online play and over a hundred levels built in. Not a bad deal at all! I was sold when I played it at GDC, the system was there for the Bangai-O that I remember and love.
Here's the brief: Bangai-O is a 2D twin-stick shooter. Flying around the stages you must take out all marked targets as fast as possible, with new enemies spawning in at any time/gigantic bosses/waves of bullets to dodge and all sorts of nasty tricks. Bangai-O can use a few different weapons (including Bounce, Homing, Break and Napalm shots...to name some), and has a special Counter Attack move that gains power the more enemy bullets are near you when it's activated. Levels can take anywhere from mere seconds to multiple minutes, and the game encourages multiple attempts. Overall, you'll spend some serious time trying to best the games many stages.
The bite-sized robot with his monster-sized ambition takes to the Xbox with glee. The graphics deliver, the controls are responsive and tight; a testament to the little features that had been added over the game's history to allow for fine control. Gone are some features from Spirits (Choosing your weapon pre-stage, for instance), but in are some nice UI additions for keeping track of Counters and Dash power. Also, for the fans, Freeze is no longer a weapon but a Dash gauge based move, sharing its power with the Dash move. It recharges over time, and makes the Freeze power (once sorta useless feeling) a tactic you have in your pocket at anytime. Great idea!
Now here's where it sours, but only a little. I have two major gripes with Bangai-O:
1) The tutorial/story was so...SO non-existent that it makes other Bangai-O games look like the Shawshank Redemption. The drawing of your mentor Dr. Ban looks horrific. It's a loosely colored still image, with zero emotion and a generally shitty look. In Spirits there was light banter between the three characters, the two pilots of Bangai-O Riki and Mami and Dr. Ban, and the banter went further than the game. We got arguments, we got jokes, we even got different images for various emotions. It was a basic, but effective way to explain "Hey, there's these two kids fighting space pirates and they use a large robot to do it." Bangai-O HD's story scenes may not be nessescary to play the game, but the lack of grace in delivery is noticeable.
2) The online multiplayer is just a little too thin. I play during on and off hours on Xbox Live, and finding a game in Bangai-O can be a difficult. I don't have the numbers on the release sales, but I get lonely in the search sometimes and wonder if anyone's playing. It's the same issue I had with Castlevania HD before I met some dedicated players (Which, by the way, made that game a freaking fantastic experience). And my custom search only contains two options. Give me a live, updated list of players searching for a game. Show me how many players are online. Come on, keep up with some of the basics!
Those two aside, the game is a steal at 800 Microsoft Points. Bangai-O HD is the game honed to perfection in the hands of designers who loved the series, and knew what to do to evolve it. Find a friend who owns it, play it together. The online Co-Op, when you get it going, truly takes the game a step further. From the pick-up and play style, to the new innovations, Bangai-O HD has pulled off yet another reason to get excited about Treasure's work. You'll be blowing them up for hours with Bangai-O HD.
This author purchased Bangai-O HD, and played through the first 12 stages of single player, about three sessions of online multi-player. The game costs 800 Microsoft Points ($10), and is available only on the Xbox Live Arcade.