Publisher: D3Publisher of America, Inc. / Developer: Treasure / Platform: XBLA

What do missiles, robots and assorted fruits have in common?  The super-obscure , super-hard Bangai-O.  With its newest release on the Xbox Live Arcade, this newest Bangai-O game might reach a larger audience than the previous two games (released on Dreamcast and the Nintendo DS).  The only problem is, will anyone want to play it?

The Bangai-O series has always kept itself within its own strange little genre.  It plays like a “bullet hell” shmup, but levels are brought to you in little isolated, bite-sized pieces, almost like a puzzle game.  You play as a tiny robot that can fly, shoot and dash in eight directions, as well as perform a screen-filling Counterattack, which is what the series is most well-known for.  When you activate a counterattack you have a brief moment of invulnerability that allows you to amass as many missiles and enemies onscreen as you can.  The more danger you’re in, the larger your counterattack is until eventually you can launch a full 360 degrees of gigantic missiles at everything around you.  This adds a higher level of risk than in most shmups, as you constantly have to throw yourself in front of enemies in order to succeed.

While Bangai-O‘s gameplay might seem a little complex at first, thanks to a vastly inadequate tutorial mode, once you get used to dashing and counterattacking it all seems to work pretty well.  It’s unfortunate, then, that the difficulty is incredibly sporadic, and there’s never any reliable way of telling what exactly the game wants you to do in a given level.  The first level literally throws you into a room of infinitely-spawning enemies, and it took me a few minutes to figure out that I had to go after the generators themselves rather than simply survive.  Thankfully, most of Bangai-O‘s levels have to do with either killing a specific enemy or every enemy, however there are some that just don’t make sense, for example a level that takes place in a very small room with an invincible enemy generator.

Thankfully, if you fail a level in Bangai-O three times you are given the ability to skip that level and move onto the next.  You can always revisit any level you’ve completed or skipped, however you may eventually find yourself purposefully dying three times in a level just to move on to the next one not out of boredom, but out of the game’s habit of throwing you a level that seems almost impossible.  This kind of made me feel like there was still something I wasn’t quite understanding about how to play the game, which makes the skimpy tutorial that much more frustrating.

This isn’t to say that Bangai-O doesn’t have anything fun in it.  There are some genuinely fun levels, such as a level that takes away your ability to counterattack and forces you to destroy enemies by punting soccer balls at them, or some of the many tight, labyrinthine trench puzzles.  Flying straight at a horde of enemies and unleashing a huge counterattack never gets old and the feeling of finally, finally completing a level is quite relieving.  Once you complete the initial 47 levels (which is nowhere near an easy task) you unlock three more sets of levels, each more specialized in a specific category than the “grab bag” assortment given to you at the beginning.  There is also a level editor mode and the ability to play with a friend online, however I was not able to try this out due to being unable to find anyone else online.

Overall, Bangai-O HD: Missile Fury will absolutely please fans of the series and shmup fans in general.  If you’ve never played a Bangai-O game before, trying out the demo wouldn’t hurt because the rest of the game is essentially more of what the demo has to offer.  I’ll admit this game kicked my ass, but I still had some fun doing it.  I’m just a little disappointed at how lost I felt.