Why not flight and fight?
Walking into D3 Publisher's GDC space at the Saint Regis Hotel in San Francisco last week was a little strange. It was so quiet! Surely the publisher had something that was worthy of the hour-long time slot given on my schedule. When I spoke to a rep and asked what they had to show me, I was directed to three different stations. Sorry that I could not travel all three paths and be one gamer, long I stood. But ultimately, I settled on Bangai-O HD: Missile Fury.
You might be familiar with the previous Bangai-O outing on the Nintendo DS, but I was not. I needed everything explained to me. The D3 rep began by explaining that Bangai-O HD: Missile Fury was developed by Treasure, a Japanese studio renowned for their shooters. In the same breath, the D3 rep mentioned the first Bangai-O game, Spirits, developed for Nintendo DS. That game pushed the DS to its limits and Missile Fury promises to do the same on Xbox Live Arcade by including co-op multiplayer.
Before we could get into that, I had to figure out what Bangai-O was for myself. Despite looking like another bullet-hell shooter that's more about muscle-memory and pixel-sized-hitboxes, Bangai-O feels more like a puzzle game than a scrolling schmup. Each level can be defined as a relatively open, yet defined, space in which enemies can line the walls or float freely. As the player progresses through each level, they'll have to clear out enemies by the load and survive an onslaught of missiles, lasers, and bullets. All of this is accomplished by a relatively light arsenal.
There are several weapons to choose from, but this preview build only afforded me the bouncing laser and the homing missile. At the beginning of each level. the player chooses two weapons and you can switch between them at any time, but most skilled players will rely on two standard abilities: dashing and the chargeable counter-attack, which is mapped to the left trigger. The longer you hold the trigger down, the more powerful your counter-attack will be, while the size of your counter-attack is determined by the number of enemy projectiles within the small yellow circle around your character. This generates a volley between 1 and 1500 missiles, so holding the trigger down for the appropriate amount of time and waiting for the right moment to strike is key.
Meanwhile, the dash ability has a partial shield deflection, beyond getting you out of trouble quickly. This means that successfully completing a level will most likely involve dashing into peril only to unleash hell on the enemy units within the massive radius of your counter-attack.
The D3 rep is correct in pointing out that the action Missile Fury is highly counterintuitive to what you'll instinctively do when you see the number of bullets on screen. During the times that I let my "avoid fire, shoot while retreating" mentality take over, I found myself with zero counter-attack power left and a ton of enemies on the one side of the screen I hadn't dashed into yet. You'll have to destroy enemies continuously in order to retain your counter-attack abilities, and actually wish for a lot of missiles to follow you so that your counter-attack has impact.
Co-op play meant that even more bullets, missiles, and lasers took up the screen. When I completed an exceptionally large counter-attack maneuver, my partner followed suit. The astounding part was that all of my counter-attack missiles only added to his counter, exponentially increasing the number of missiles on screen. This is the only kind of action I would permit frame-rate slow-down with. Seeing massive attacks like those go by in milliseconds would have been kind of disappointing, but zooming into our characters and slowing down the action only made the gameplay awe-inspiring.
I left the Bangai-O HD: Missile Fury event with a goofy look on my face. Sometimes, it's great knowing you get to review most of the downloadable games. I spent the full hour playing Missile Fury. If I failed a level, I had to give it one more go, even if I hadn't yet understood the puzzle-aspect that was tripping me up after the first section of a level. Get your online co-op buddies together for this when it releases later this spring.