Bangai-O HD’s first level sets the stage perfectly for what’s to come.
It begins innocently enough, with the titular mech standing in the middle of what appears to be an empty environment, the bright blue sky adding surprising tranquility to the scene, unbefitting of a game with the subtitle “Missile Fury.”
This illusion of calm lasts for about two seconds. Suddenly, the screen begins to fill with hundreds of missiles from every angle! They all careen toward Bangai-O, leaving trails of white smoke in their wake. This is about the point where (in my experience) a player will either do one of the following:
1. The player, having never played a Bangai-O game before, will freak out, start cursing or exclaiming wildly in shock, attempt to use the right analog stick to fire their own missiles at the wall of explosives around them, and then die. (Kris’ note: if you’re going to convince a friend to download the game or demo, make sure you’re talking to them over party chat to get the full experience)
2. The player, having gone through the tutorial stages, played the series before, or already having attempted option 1, will calmly depress the left trigger to activate their EX counterattack, wait until the missiles are almost touching their mech, release a thousand missiles to counter the ones surrounding them, fly through the resulting chaos and eliminate the mounted missile-launchers, collecting the healing fruit that flies out of them before fighting off the robots that swoop in afterwards, and complete the level.
Why yes, this is level one.
These two reactions embody Bangai-O. In almost every stage, the player will have a moment where they look upon the chaos, slack-jawed with disbelief, before either being destroyed or deftly swooping through their foes and filling the screen with (even more) projectiles.
I don’t want to go too deep into the game’s mechanics specifically, since D3 Publisher has already done that for me. I do want to say though, that Bangai-O HD just feels good to play. Moving and shooting are (for the first time in the series’ history) both mapped to analog sticks, and it feels incredibly smooth to fly around and shoot. Bangai-O has also been given the ability to dash with the right trigger, which knocks enemies away and stuns them in exchange for the temporary inability to fire and the use of one of (usually) three constantly refilling gauges. There’s nothing like chaining three dashes together and using the invincibility to smash through a ton of missiles and send enemies flying away before picking them off as they try to recover.
Bangai-O can also freeze nearby projectiles by using one of its dash gauges without specifying a direction, which can be used to amplify the impact of EX counterattack, as it becomes more powerful as Bangai-O is surrounded by more missiles. Once you get a handle on everything that Bangai-O can do, you feel like an ace mech pilot, able to shoot, dash, hover in place, freeze missiles, and perform counterattacks with ease and grace. You’ll be dodging through waves of enemies, launching a thousand missiles at a time, and generally being a badass when you’re not dying (which, admittedly, happens a lot). It’s fast, empowering, and a little bit ridiculous, just the way it should be.
Part of the joy of Bangai-O HD is the variety and challenge within the game’s 100+ stages. While all of them are about destroying everything onscreen (including background elements like buildings, which is somewhat disturbingly accompanied by what sounds like a scream), they’re structured in really interesting ways, often giving Bangai-O less health, changing its two swappable weapons, or taking away some of its abilities. You may be freely soaring through the air, fighting off tons of ninja robots with counterattacks in one stage, trapped in a little box with bouncing lasers, an enemy generator and a respawning box containing a full-health power-up in the next, and navigating a giant, crooked maze in the one after that.
Because choosing a stage from the menu only shows you the starting area that you will be in, there’s no warning of what may happen as the stage progresses. While a stage might look innocuous at first, you may quickly discover that you have to complete it by ricocheting giant soccer balls into angry robots.
In my opinion, the game is at its best when it’s blindsiding the player. In one instance, I was dropped into a mostly empty area with a muted background . As I descended into the depths of the stage, I found a giant ant, trapped within four unconnected walls. The ant was too big to escape, and thinking that this must have been a glitch, I hovered (with the right bumper) just above and to the right of it and fired a barrage of missiles through the gap between the walls.
When the giant ant died, the room filled with hundreds of smaller ants, and they all closed in on me, annihilating me despite my best efforts to shoot through them. In the last second of my brief life, I realized that the giant ant had left a box in its wake.
I knew that I needed whatever that box contained.
For my next attempt, as the first ant exploded and the legion appeared, I dashed into the little space that contained the first ant. I shot open the box, and it rewarded me with the napalm weapon — an instrument of ungodly explosive destruction, which, despite its limited range, tears through hordes of enemies with a single shot — and then was killed because I was too slow to actually fire it. After numerous tries, I finally managed to snag the weapon, shoot and dash my way through the ants, and finish the stage without taking any damage. The combination of satisfaction and raw elation literally had me pumping my fist in the air and shouting "yes!" (before looking around in embarrassment to see if anyone had seen me)
As my testimonies may have indicated, Missile Fury seems to take a perverse pleasure in overwhelming the player with seemingly insurmountable odds. That said, it’s not completely merciless. At the beginning of each stage, you’re given what occasionally resembles a hint. Sometimes it will be as unhelpful as "watch out for ninjas," but the bits of wisdom the game gives you are sometimes the key to beating the stage. If the player dies three times in a single stage, the game will have mercy and unlock the next one for free. Frankly, it’s really refreshing to know that I’ll never get stuck on a stage for the rest of my natural life. Besides, sometimes returning to a stage later makes it feel a lot easier than it did an hour or two ago. The stages are also fun enough that even after multiple failures, you’ll still want to see them through to the end.
Bangai-O HD: Missile Fury is something special. It’s hard, but understanding. It’s not afraid to kill the player in a matter of seconds, but it lets them revel in their successes. And besides, how can you not love a game that can have up to 5000 missiles onscreen at once?
Food for Thought:
1. The giant ants reminded me of Earth Defense Force 2017, also published by D3. I’m going to assume that was a deliberate reference.
2. Despite how much I enjoy Bangai-O HD, I kind of miss some of the Dreamcast version’s cartoonish charm.