Here is my Jersey Devil story.
Actually, wait, I should probably explain that. See, I live in New Jersey, home of salt water taffy, the Jersey ShoreTM, and Fatteus Fatts, the fattiest fat in Fat Town. We’re also home to a local cryptid, the Jersey Devil, which, can’t stress this enough, is one single centuries-old demon that, surprisingly, really gets around. The tale of the Jersey Devil is an oddly enduring one, featuring poor Mother Leeds birthing twelve children, and then cursing the thirteenth to be a devil, because I guess every parent wants to see their child accomplish something, even if it’s just flight or goat mutilation. I encourage you, gentle reader, to research the Jersey Devil myth further, because the whole thing got going due to, apparently, almanac publishing feuds. New Jersey, everybody!
The origin of the Jersey Devil is unimportant, though, as what has endured is the fact that everybody has a Jersey Devil story. My school guidance counselor often weaved a tale of motorcycling down a local road around midnight and knowing, just knowing, that something was following him, matching his speed, from the woods. My first boss claimed he had seen the creature on a camping outing, when a… something came to join his troop fireside, and, yeah, all my buddies from the trip can confirm this, just give them a call. My own great aunt once even described a creature leaping above the tree line and temporarily shadowing the moon, and we don’t have any frogs that big around here, Bobby. I’m sure other regions have similar monsters and stories to accompany them, as legends like these are what make the world go ‘round.
Recently, I’ve concluded that your exact maturity may be measured by your reaction to these stories. As a child, you believe everything you hear, and Santa Claus, the Jersey Devil, and your friend’s uncle who works for Nintendo are all equally valid, tangible creatures. In your teenage years, every adult is trying to lie to you at all times, because of course they are, so nothing is real, it’s all bullshit, man, and a sense of wonder is for whiney babies. But as an adult, you begin to believe again, not because you’ve suddenly grown more trusting of your peers (if anything, you’re likely even more jaded, just wearing fishnets less), but because, after your wild early years, you’ve learned that there are more things in heaven and Earth than are dreamt of on Wikipedia. Everyone has a Jersey Devil story because, whether they’ve met the malcontent himself or not, everyone has experienced something completely inexplicable, and it doesn’t matter if Robert Stack never heard of it, it happened.
So, it was my freshman year of college. I deliberately “went away” to college, because, seriously, have you met my parents? They seem to have improved over the years, but when I was a teenager? Oh man, worst human beings on the planet. So I ran off a solid two hours from home to get some of that edumacating, and left my video game systems at home, because I am well aware of my addictions, and I kinda actually wanted to learn something. This lasted for a solid week before I decided to import my Dreamcast, which was ideal for the poor college student, as it was already in its death throes by that time, and the entire library was selling for less than ten bucks used at any one of the local mall’s three Electronics Boutiques. The Gamecube would be released that November, so it is practically synonymous with that year in my mind, and then the Playstation 2 would migrate in by the second semester, for, I believe, Metal Gear Solid 2. I at least stuck to my guns and never dragged a portable system to campus (I knew that would be the end of me), but, through it all, the Dreamcast was first.
My other educational safeguard was keeping my library not in my dorm, but the residence of my buddy Moko. This was, in retrospect, kind of an odd choice, as, while Moko had a TV, it had the same dimensions and fidelity as a cheeseburger. Marvel vs. Capcom 2, Grand Theft Auto 3, and even Super Smash Bros Melee are all games that I remember most fondly on a screen roughly the size of a chiclet. The Gamecube had component cables? That’s great, but I’m still trying to figure out if this pink mush is Kirby or Jigglypuff. Roy? Do you mean Red Link?
Possibly as a result of all this, Bangai-O was a godsend. On the surface, Bangai-O is just a fun shooter game, complete with Treasure’s signature weirdness and anime influence. Come to think of it, it would have probably been game of the year for College Goggle Bob for those reasons alone. Have you seen the latest DVD of Akira yet? It’s totally rad. Anyway, Bangai-O’s greatest strength, in my humble opinion, is that, at a time when polygons were king and the more screen space your characters dominated, the better the game, Bangai-O decided to buck trends and just stick a tiny little robot in a great big environment and sprinkle a lot of bullets all over the place. Also, thick in the era of “Game has 80 hours of gameplay and a save point every half hour”, Bangai-O featured a host of bite-sized challenges that meant the player could enjoy themselves and make progress even if only five minutes were available. Bangai-O may be forgotten by a number of gamers now, but its emphasis on packed gameplay over graphics and respecting the player’s time can still be seen in later generations with games like Dead Rising or a whole slew of DS games (which, amusingly, eventually saw Bangai-O again).
But I remember Bangai-O for something else entirely.
It was… I want to say March. It had to be past February, thanks to the games involved, and I remember it being kind of cold out, so March sounds right. I was alone in Moko’s dorm, attempting to conquer Master Mode in Gitaroo-Man, an excellent rhythm game for the PS2. For those of you that are unaware, Gitaroo-Man has a pretty casual Normal Mode, which then unlocks a Master Mode that expects you to have reflexes on par with particularly gifted cheetahs. As a result, I attempted to conquer the same (second) level repeatedly, failed continually, and, upon my eventual hard-won victory, decided I needed a break, so I switched over to Bangai-O.
As previously stated, Bangai-O is a shooter, and it’s a surprisingly complicated one. You are, in any stage past about Level 4, expected to, at all times, keep an eye on the terrain, fruit spawns, explosion meter, and, most importantly, an infinite hail of bullets and lasers. This, luckily, isn’t a game where one stray shot will immolate all your hard earned watermelons, but you do have to pay careful attention to all threats, whether they are overt blasts or debris falling from the sky. Speaking of debris, you’re also expected to manage that explosion meter effectively enough to unleash gigantic explosions of your own to demolish anything and anyone in your surrounding area. A well timed blast is, frankly, exhilarating, and its inclusion actually makes this one of the very, very few games where I don’t even care if my digital avatar survives the battle. Sure, I’d like to get that high score, but the actual minute-to-minute is just so much fun that I don’t care if I crash and burn.
Er-hem. I’m deviating from my original story of how Bangai-O granted me superpowers.
For some indeterminate timeframe, I played Bangai-O shortly after Master Mode Gitaroo-Man. It was… probably a period of no greater than an hour? Believe me, I’ve tried to duplicate this experiment, and I’m afraid the forgotten minutes involved are a factor. It may have been the time, it may have been the games, or it may even have been something to do with the teeny tiny television, but when I finally powered down the Dreamcast, I had been gifted with powers far beyond that of mortal man.
Ladies and gentlemen, for a scant half hour or so, time slowed down only for me.
It was, literally, the oddest experience of my life. I’ve never been a fan of drugs, and alcohol doesn’t thrill me at all, so perhaps this experience is standard for those that frequently indulge in mind-altering substances, but for me, perceiving reality at double slow speed was easily the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen. It was almost exactly like someone hit the “slow” button on everything around me: humans, animals, and elevators alike, and I was operating like some kind of Bangai-O fueled Barry Allen. It was simultaneously amazing and wildly disconcerting, and it only ceased when, in a bout of just wanting the world to just go back to normal, I laid down on the floor for a little bit. Bad trip, man.
In a way, that’s my greatest regret from the experience: that I just panicked and gave up before I could do something actually interesting, like save some orphans from a burning building, or eat eleven tacos. Bangai-O literally temporarily altered my brain, and, with great power comes a great need to lie down. Lame.
So, sorry, I never encountered the Jersey Devil, and I don’t have any tall tales to tell around the campfire. But one day, thanks to one video game, I experienced something completely outside of reality, and maybe, just maybe, that’s good enough for a blog post.
FGC #61 Bangai-O
- System: Originally it was on the N64, but only in limited quantities in Japan. Then it was on the Dreamcast, which is my jam. There was apparently a HD Xbox 360 version, too, but I seem to have missed it because… Huh… I’m going to blame this on Xbox 360 digital games being advertised poorly.
- Number of Players: 1, right? There isn’t some crazy two player mode I’m missing? I mean, that does sound like it would be fun.
- Weren’t you just complaining about N64 Treasure games? Yes, but this game does everything right. It actually has a use for its buttons, the cinematics are unobtrusive, and the graphics aren’t just programmers trying to play with their new toys. It’s a fine dichotomy of a company making a game at the start of a system versus its end.
- Don’t watch anime: BEAT, this is a game starring Japanese high school students. Just so you’re aware.
- It’s Thinking: Is this the first Dreamcast game I’m hitting for the site? Man, I loved that little system, just seemed like there was the exact right number of great games for it. Heck, I want to say that this was the system that finally perfectly emulated the arcade experience… just in time for arcades to die. And for Sega to leave consoles forever. Dreamcast: The best little pale rider.
- Did you know? The manual itself says to change the default A/B/X/Y control configuration. How does that work? Like, couldn’t they have just made the recommended version the default, or was the instruction manual just made by a different department that actually realized how to play the game?
- Would I play again: I am going to go find that Xbox 360 version right now!… Or soon, at least. My biggest gripe about this game is that it isn’t more readily available. A WiiU version for playing on screen and off? That would be amazing.
What’s Next? Nathan M, who I’m pretty sure is comments all-star Metal Man Master has chosen… Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts! I will admit, this one got up at the top of the list because I wanted another excuse to revisit that Rare Xbone collection, and I seem to be on a subliminal N64 kick anyway. So, it’s time for birds, bears, and automobiles. Please look forward to it!