Banzai Bug

a game by Groove Games
Platform: PC
Editor Rating: 5/10, based on 1 review
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Overview

You play Banzai, an insect of unknown species, who, we're told as the game begins, has quite a reputation as a hellraiser. The game opens with a movie of sorts in which an octogenarian Banzai -- complete with a big old bushy gray mustache -- recounts the story of how he was once whisked away to the countryside after getting caught on the front grill of a car. The youthful Banzai rode the car to the end of the trip, which terminated in the garage of the local exterminator's home. Curse fate!

Your mission, now that you're trapped in the exterminator's home -- do I have to tell you this is the worst possible place for a bug to be trapped? -- is to find an escape, though there's more to it than just escaping. As you progress through the various levels of the game, which take you to different parts of the house, you encounter other bugs and slugs and things and a revolution begins to form around you. As Banzai Bug, you lead your ragtag band of insectoids in an insurgence against the humans in the house. In the final battle, your resourceful band of six-leggeds unleashes a horrible super stink bomb, called the Stinkulator, to drive the humans from the house and bring about the golden age of insectism.

Gameplay

Sounds like a pretty exciting story, don't you think? Clever too, huh? I thought so. Unfortunately I learned most of the story by reading the web site and the jewel case documentation, 'cause the game itself is so boring I couldn't make it through. This is just proof of how difficult it is to make a high quality game: so many factors have to be considered, so many things have to be done well. Banzai Bug makes me appreciate the achievement in the really successfully innovative games even more.

That's not to say that I hated Banzai Bug; I was just very disappointed. The first thing I heard about the game was that it was a flight simulator from a bug's eye view. When I heard that, I thought, "Cool, a flight simulator from a bug's eye view!" It sounded sufficiently weird enough to be fun. But of course there's more to a good game than a weird or funny story. If Banzai Bug is a flight simulator, then it's a kite flight simulator, or maybe a hot air balloon simulator. It's slow.

The game gives you the option to play in one of several window sizes, from a full-screen view to a large or a small windowed view. Depending on what size you choose, the speed of the graphics, the smoothness of the game, is dramatically different. There are times when you need to steer Banzai through some really intricate maneuvers. I found that in full-screen view the display was so slow that I often would oversteer Banzai and fail. In the smallest window view things move at a better pace, but your vision is then so constricted that it's difficult to avoid hazards and adversaries -- they seem to be on you before you even know they're around. Also, it's hard to lose yourself in the illusion of the game when the window is only 6 inches wide and you can still see your Windows 95 desktop behind it.

Banzai himself, even when the graphics are smooth and the game is going at top speed, flies so slowly you begin to suspect that maybe the story doesn't take place in flashback. Maybe this really is the old, withered Banzai from the opening movie. When I heard this game was going to be a flight simulator where you controlled a bug, I envisioned the bug flying like a bug. Not to get too much into insectology here, but consider the way a housefly can outmaneuver even the fastest fly swatter; think of the times you've seen a bee kick it into high gear to get back to the hive with news of some big fat flower patch waiting to be suckled. Bugs book, man. Banzai Bug moseys.

Graphics

The graphics in Banzai Bug are disappointing in some respects, too. Banzai himself is pretty well detailed; he's a cute little fella with a personality of sorts and the characters that he meets along the way are all fairly well done. But the environment around the characters is, at worst, bad; at best, it's uninspired. Most of the environments are flat, with sharp, right angles, not a lot of detailing, and that can lead to some real difficulties in playing the game. In the second level you're supposed to wind your way through the air ducts of the house to the basement, where you'll meet Slugo, who can help you get out of the house. The only problem is that the air ducts are so dark and so uniform in their appearance, it's impossible to tell whether you're going up or down, whether you're flying in circles or making progress. Chances are you'll get frustrated and give up before you ever find Slugo. Other areas of the game aren't as confusing, but they aren't interesting to look at either.

Audio

The audio in Banzai Bug is of good quality. That is, it's clear and distinct when characters speak. The various characters you meet during the game all have unique and sometimes very entertaining voices -- my favorite is Poolio, the fat little lightning bug kinda thing you meet in the second level. He sounds a lot like Cheech Marin and he gets off some pretty good lines: "Aaay, Banzai, you fly like a moe-skeee-toe, man." Unfortunately, beyond the voices of the characters, the audio is pretty lackluster. Music is repetitive, as are the sounds of the adversaries. Whether it's the whirring of a robobug's little engine, or the spitting sound of a goober cannon, most of the sounds in Banzai Bug sound like they're on an endless loop and they do little to add excitement to the gameplay.

Documentation

The jewel case insert is quite thorough and does a good job of explaining the various controls you'll need to know to play Banzai. It might even be more than necessary, since learning this game isn't terribly difficult. But it's nice to see a company err on the side of too much documentation for a change. There's also a pretty extensive help system on the CD itself and a hints feature to get you through whatever trouble spots you might encounter.

System Requirements

Windows: Windows 95, Pentium 90 or higher, 8 MB RAM, 8 MB hard drive space, SVGA 256 color monitor, 2X CD-ROM Drive or higher. Audio: Windows 95-supported; 16-bit mono. Supporting

Software: DirectX, Smacker (supplied with product)

Bottom Line

Banzai Bug is a good idea without the support needed to make it work. A really good story is wasted here because the gameplay isn't interesting enough to draw you in. Banzai himself is difficult to control, whether you're using a joystick or the keyboard, and the game follows an outdated save model: if you quit before you finish the entire game, you must return to the beginning of the last level you played without completion. So it's frustratingly difficult to feel as though you're making progress. The graphics in the movie segments that run at the game's start and before each new level are well-done -- they have a nice 3D look to them -- but overall, the game is not very compelling to look at. Grolier bills Banzai Bug as "the flight-sim with an attitude." In the end, because the basic infrastructure of the game -- the graphics, the gameplay, the display -- can't match the quality of the clever storyline, attitude is all Banzai Bug has got. I give it a 62.

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