Shmups aren't known for how easy they are to complete, if only because the genre's roots are based on a coin-op business model that relies heavily on player failure. Treasure's games take this philosophy to the extreme, putting equal importance on fun and hardcore psychological punishment. Yet even considering this pedigree, the company's Bangai-O series can't be pigeonholed that way. Its cruelty, its madness and the fires of its bullet hell cannot be restrained.

Such is the case with XBLA's Bangai-O HD: Missile Fury. Any illusion of narrative has been stripped away entirely and only pure, unadulterated shooter insanity remains.
Under the normal conditions of a shmup, surviving Missile Fury would be impossible. Thank God your mech can also freeze incoming bullets, dash and counter attack within a certain range. The latter is key to survival, as most levels are so preposterously overloaded with enemy fire it can be next to impossible to keep track of where you are. Essentially using your counter attack fires a ton of projectiles but leaves you vulnerable while a multiplier builds. Counters will clear the screen of whatever's closest to you, and if you're skilled you can use this brief window to dash away and plan your next attack, though doing so is easier said than done.

Despite its brutality, what really makes the game is a goofy sense of humor, like, for example, the odd, self-contained level design you might find in Mario Party or Super Smash Bros. There are plenty of "kill everything on-screen" levels, but interesting victory conditions are often incorporated into the design. One stage had me racing to the bottom of a level to detonate an item in a small underground compartment; if I didn't make it there in time the block would trap me underground, making it impossible to kill the swarm of enemies above. Other times you may have to clear a room using only your boost, or just using counters. It's rare that simply reaching the "end" of any challenge will actually complete the stage.

Treasure is at its best when it really gets unhinged, twisting the shooter tenets in some funny and unexpected ways. My particular favorite is a stage whose enemies can only be defeated by bouncing giant soccer balls into them. In another instance, you'll navigate a small, mazelink track completely covered in vicious but dormant enemies. (You can imagine what happens when you screw up. Think board game classic Operation.)

The developers like lulling you into a false sense of security as well -- if you're stuck at what you think is the final push of enemy assaults, chances are there's probably something even bigger and more ridiculous waiting to ambush you immediately afterward. Shmups are hardcore enough, but Bangai-O HD: Missile Fury somehow feels like a niche unto itself. At least death is served up à la carte, so you can move between stages at will if you die three times.

Just so we're clear: You'll be dying a lot more than that.

This review is based on the retail XBLA release of Bangai-O HD: Missile Fury purchased by the reviewer.

Steve Haske is a Portland, OR-based gun-for-hire journalist whose work can be found in Gamepro, Paste magazine and on
Eurogamer, among other places. You can follow him on Twitter @afraidtomerge or listen to him regularly co-hosting the "A Jumps B Shoots" podcast.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.

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