Bakuretsu Muteki Bangaioh (which translates as Explosive, Invincible Bangaioh — you might know it as Bangai-O) is a relatively obscure Japanese exclusive for Nintendo 64 that holds a rather interesting history. Released in 1999 and developed by Treasure — the same team that produced the Sin & Punishment games — it is said that only 10,000 copies of the game were ever made. Why it was released in such limited quantities is a mystery, and although the game is very Japanese in its presentation and themes, it did nevertheless see an international release in the form of a Dreamcast port the next year. Despite its rather quiet release, the N64 version is still a very entertaining experience that bears all the hallmarks of a great Treasure title.
The game is a multi-directional 2D shooter in which you control a giant humanoid mecha called Bangai-O. Interestingly, this powerful robot, with the ability to annihilate everything from other buildings to other robots, is left in the supposedly responsible hands of two children known as Riki and Mami. The story is absolutely bonkers: Bangai-O must battle against the Cosmo Gang, who are guilty of a wealth of horrendous crimes against humanity, the most serious of these being — wait for it — fruit contraband. What's even stranger is that it's two children who are unhappy about not having fruit.
Much like its storyline, Bakuretsu Muteki Bangaioh's gameplay is also pure madness. The goal in each stage is to reach the boss and put it out of its misery, whilst destroying as much as you deem necessary along the way. The gameplay is absolutely frantic and the sheer amount of mecha, turrets, missiles and enemy fire on the screen at any one point is staggering. Although it's only a 2D game, Bakuretsu Muteki Bangaioh truly is a testament to the N64's power. It's also one of the few N64 games that makes effective use of the D-Pad.
What makes the game so enthralling is that the gameplay is surprisingly in-depth for a shoot 'em up. Simply flying into the middle of an open area will more often than not get you killed and, therefore, you have to play quite strategically. The Bangai-O has a reasonable amount of health, but this is somewhat misleading in a way. That's because there's no brief invulnerability period after getting hit, as per most other games. Therefore, if you get hit by 20 enemy projectiles at the same time (and yes, it's possible), you'll die instantly.
This is where your weaponry comes in, with the game mechanics playing on the old adage that the best defence is a great offence. The shots you fire are just as important for destroying enemies as they are for countering incoming shots. The Bangai-O can fire in eight directions, allowing you to cover yourself from most angles. Nevertheless, you'll often find yourself surrounded by enemies due to the frantic nature of the game, and you'll usually always be outgunned. To counter these instances, you can take advantage of a super shot ability, provided you've collected enough fruit, which is found by blowing things up. This move can be charged and can release up to 100 shots when unleashed. What's even more impressive is that it can fire even more shots than that if you use the move as you're just about to get hit by incoming fire — which in itself is quite a dangerous trade-off due to the hectic nature of the game.
Using this move is essentially the defining moment of Bakuretsu Muteki Bangaioh; it's one of the N64's most visually stunning moments. Seeing a full barrage of missiles flood the screen isn't incredible because it causes so much destruction, but rather it brings the game's frame rate to its knees. Seeing the almighty N64 slow to a crawl during a 2D game seems incomprehensible, but it really does allow you to enjoy all the little details of this title. Slowdown is a nuisance in most games, but its deliberate implementation in Bakuretsu Muteki Bangaioh is genius and never grows old.
Giving your N64 a hard time isn't the only reason for using this special move though. The super shot is actually vital for racking up combos, which in turn give you upgrades. To qualify for an upgrade, you need to hit at least 100 objects. Doing so makes a small portal appear that gives you a few upgrade options to choose from, such as improved shot damage and shot penetration. This aspect of the game is much more strategic than you might think; do you opt for small powerful shots early on but face the risk of being overwhelmed by enemy fire, or do you choose better shot penetration to rack up more combos but potentially not enough damage? It's a fine balancing act and one which becomes crucial in the game's later stages.
Another neat feature is the ability to instantly switch between the two characters during a stage. Each has their own advantages: Riki fires homing missiles and is better in large, open spaces, while Mami's shots bounce off walls, making them ideal for narrow, smaller areas. At first, switching between the two doesn't seem overly important, but you soon realise that in some situations one of the characters won't be up to task. Moreover, the Bangai-O is capable of flight, but it can't hover. As a result, gravity is always in effect, meaning that you have to contend with both that and incoming enemy fire. This, combined with all the other features, makes Bakuretsu Muteki Bangaioh quite a hardcore experience. Although the levels aren't especially long, they do get incredibly hard as you progress. The frantic nature of the game may turn some players off, as you really need to be paying attention throughout. A second's difference when firing a shot can be game-changing.
Despite all the razzmatazz, Bakuretsu Muteki Bangaioh is otherwise a fairly simple-looking game. The Bangai-O and most other assets are very small, making it quite difficult to see what is going on at times. The music is fairly forgettable, although it does at least become more fast-paced during a boss battle.
Bakuretsu Muteki Bangaioh is an experience like no other on the N64. The sheer amount of objects on-screen at any one time is an impressive feat for a system of its time, not to mention that the game offers up a hardcore challenge. In fact, one of the game's strongest elements is that it isn't a mindless shoot fest, and your success depends not only on skill, but also on strategically using power-ups and abilities. The overwhelming amount of action might not be to everyone's tastes, and the small character sprites make it hard to tell what is going at times. Nevertheless, if you're an N64 fan looking for a incredibly fun experience, then Bakuretsu Muteki Bangaioh should definitely be in your collection.