If there are fanciful anime characters on your TV screen dodging hundreds of bullets that are nearly covering the whole playing field, chances are, you’re playing one of Japanese developer Treasure’s bullet-hell shmups. D3 Publisher has brought the latest and greatest edition of one of Treasure’s most enduring franchises, Bangai-O, to Xbox Live Arcade in HD.
While there are the obligatory copious flying projectiles (in this case, missiles), swarming around the screen, Bangai-O offers something different from the usual vertical- or horizontal scrolling shmup fare. In Bangai-O, you’re in command of an armored mecha and must use your missiles to destroy the buildings, guns, and vehicles scattered throughout the playing field, particularly around the edges. You can move and shoot in eight directions, utilizing both analog sticks for movement and shooting in the same way as classic shooters like Robotron and Smash TV. The arenas in Bangai-O are fenced in, and typically as you destroy enemies, barriers will open to allow you to explore more of the playing field. The dual stick controls are very responsive and executing special moves is kept fairly simple.
In addition to the moving and shooting, Bangai-O give the player a number of special attacks. The Dash attack allows you to ram enemies. The Freeze Attack freezes enemies in the immediate vicinity. The Counter Attack allows you to unleash a devastating barrage of missiles, either directed if you tilt the right stick while using it, or in all directions if the right stick is left in neutral. The ability to use these attacks is tied in with how much destruction you’re causing, as higher multipliers yields better HP and EX gauge recovery items, so be sure and take the fight to the enemies! You are also rewarded if you maintain a steady stream of destruction (a combo).
Though Bangai-O HD sports Treasure’s infamous difficulty, it is also somewhat forgiving. If you’re having trouble with a certain stage, the game will eventually allow you to skip that stage and come back to it later, keeping you from becoming frustrated at being stuck on a certain stage. Bangai-O HD also offers two-player co-op via Xbox Live, where the players both help each other and compete for the highest score.
As with all Treasure games, Bangai-O sports a unique aesthetic. The stages are very detailed, even if they don’t always make sense within the context of the game, as is true of most Treasure games. The explosions and sheer amount of projectiles flying around on the screen is impressive, and would cause terrible slowdown on a less powerful system, and the game makes good use of the 360′s HD capabilities. Soundwise, Bangai-O features a lot of explosions and music that’s largely interchangeable with every other shmup ever made, not impressive but pleasant and unobtrusive. You won’t feel the need to play Bangai-O with the TV muted.
Bangai-O is one of the rare Treasure games that offers the challenge the Treasure faithful expect, yet is accessible to newcomers who are otherwise intimidated by bullet hell shooters. And at 800 Microsoft Points ($10), it’s an excellent value for your gaming dollar. Don’t miss this one.