Founded by ex-Konami employees back in 1992, Japanese software house Treasure have been making strange, incredible games ever since. In an occasional series, I’ll look back over some of their best releases – starting off with the incredible Bangaio…
Back in the nineties, Treasure were well known for pushing gaming platforms to their limit; from the insanely fast platform shooter Gunstar Heroes on the Sega Megadrive to the bullet hell of Radiant Silvergun on the Sega Saturn, Treasure made consoles do things never before thought possible.
Their biggest achievement though, had to be the mind-boggling number of sprites and explosions they managed to squeeze out of the Dreamcast with 1999’s barking mad Bangai-o (in truth, Bangai-o was initially available for the N64 about six months earlier with only 10,000 copies made, so I’m concentrating on the largely identical, and far less rare, Dreamcast version).Bangai-o is a multi-directional shoot-em-up, and like all great games of the genre, its plot is complete nonsense – from what I can gather, it has something to do with a gang of villains stealing giant space fruit. In any case, you have to pilot your Gundam-style robot around a series of cities (44 in all), destroy everything you see and collect the fruit left behind.
Arcade veterans who remember Robotron or Smash TV will immediately recognise Bangai-o’s control system, where the direction of fire can be controlled independently of movement – it does takes a little getting used to, but once learned it’s instinctive and a vital part of the game.
Treasure’s reason for making the sprites so small becomes apparent within minutes of play; the smaller the characters, the more you can cram on the screen – Bangai-o throws hundreds and hundreds of them at you, and before you know it, there are bullets and explosions everywhere.
To even the score a little, a tap of the left trigger allows you to switch between two characters, each with their own weapons systems – Riki, who can fire a constant stream of homing missiles, and Mami, who fires lasers that bounce around in all directions. There’s also a fabulous ‘smart bomb’ attack, which can only be activated by destroying things – each object or enemy destroyed fills the gauge at the top of the screen. Once full, a tap of the right trigger sends dozens of missiles or lasers flying around the play area. The more enemies or bullets you have close to you, the more devastation you can create – time it right, and the destruction fills up your gauge again, allowing for a truly exhilarating Burnout-style chain of explosions.
Despite the level of carnage, the Dreamcast’s frame rate rarely slows down, and when it does it only makes the gigantic explosions seem all the more momentous. Bangai-o really is a game that must be played to be appreciated – it borrows the best bits from a huge and eclectic range of sources, but somehow it all feels incredibly fresh and original. As with all the best Treasure titles, you really get the feeling that Bangai-o was created by a team that love gaming – that every play element and every level was given careful consideration.
Some die-hard FPS fanatics will probably squint at Bangai-o’s tiny, quirky sprites and wonder what all the fuss is about – but believe me, Bangai-o’s gameplay is more satisfying and addictive than a dozen Quake clones. Yes, it’s a tough game – there are few easy Treasure games after all – but the manic pace and the inspired weapon system will keep you playing for hour after hour.
Although an upcoming port to the Nintendo DS (Bangai-o Spirits) is welcome news, it’s questionable whether the game will have quite the same impact on such a small screen. My advice? Buy a Dreamcast and then search online for a copy of Bangai-o (incredibly, it was officially released in Europe, making it comparatively easy – and cheap – to get hold of). Plug the Dreamcast into the largest television you can find, and prepare to play what is very nearly the perfect game.
For more of Ryan’s thoughts on games and things, why not visit his lovely blog at ryanlambie.blog.co.uk?