I'm surprised it took until 1998 for someone to give a videogame about shooting things the straightforward and to-the-point title of Bang!, but apparently the name was unused until Spanish developer Gaelco slapped it on this arcade lightgun game. It's a fair enough title, although I have a problem with it: it does nothing to convey that this is a lightgun game with a Western theme, where you shoot cowboys, Indians, playing cards with pictures of cowboys on them and sometimes birds that might be chickens.
There's an Old West bandit now, brandishing his comically oversized pistols while standing in the splay-legged manner of a man who needs to ride a smaller horse. Also, the background is hurting my eyes, and I'm going to need my eyesight to be working with full laser-like clarity if I'm going to become the most feared gunslinger in town, so let's get straight into it.
Rather than having a series of stages or anything like a story, Bang! falls into the "carnival" category of lightgun shooters. Each course consists of a number of randomly chosen, bite-sized shooting minigame that mostly adhere to the Wild West theme, with the harder courses having stricter limits for success but not, sadly, a different array of minigames. Before we get started, I'll come out and say what I'm sure you'll all be thinking about this game at the end of the article: yes, it's a lot like Namco's multi-event shooter Point Blank, but less charming and without playable characters that look like rejected designs for explorer-themed Muppets. In fact, you're never shown what the star of Bang! looks like, so let your imagination run free, I guess? I'm going to pretend that you're playing as no human but rather a sentient, floating revolver that travels the wild frontier looking for the ultimate test of its shooting prowess. I call him Colt Steelflint, and he wears a tiny Stetson.
The random selection of the games you'll be playing is presented through the medium of this old-timey slot machine. I'd call it a one-armed bandit, but that seems liable to cause offence when there's a strong chance that an actual bandit with one arm could be standing nearby. Sometimes you can figure out what a game entails by its icon, but not often - for example, the icon on the left is obviously a firing-range target, so you can guess how that one's going to work, but aside from that? The feather indicates you will be shooting feathers, which isn't much to go on. The word "Hotel" leads me to think that game will take place in a hotel but doesn't reveal any more than that. As for the box on the far right, your guess is as good as mine. I sort of feel like the box is looking at me, though, a sure sign that today's eighth cup of coffee was the one that took me over the edge.
Before each game you're given a set of instructions, even when they aren't needed. I suspect the command "SHOOT!" is going to appear a lot in these tutorials. In this case, everything's fairly straightforward - you get six bullets to score as many points as possible by shooting the target in the centre. Personally I would have rewarded groin shots with more than 10 measly points, but then I am one for creating rich and diverse gameplay experiences.
Here is the game itself. Sorry I didn't have a more graphically interesting one to start with, but I was at the mercy of the random game selector / fruit machine. It's simplicity does at least allow for solid baseline of gameplay enjoyability to be found, and I can say that shooting this target offered a reasonable amount of fun, as these things go. The problem with writing about lightgun games is that holding a physical "gun" is so integral to the enjoyment of the game, and obviously I don't have a Bang! arcade cabinet handy. Therefore all I can say about the game's quality is that it's still fun when played with a mouse, via emulation, and so is probably even better when you're holding a lump of plastic shaped like a six-shooter.
I did it, passing the score quota through a combination of excellent marksmanship and the mental fortitude required to overcome decades of videogame training, allowing me to not automatically aim for the target's head. Your score is displayed over the state flag of Texas. I cannot think of a more fitting backdrop for gunfire statistics.
From there, Bang! proceeds along the same path of brief explanation - shooting action - statistics, penalising the player if they fail to reach the target score for that game by docking them a life. You can also lose a life if you mess up in other ways, such as accidentally shooting Chief Big Nose here instead of delicately blasting the feathers from his headdress. Chief Big Nose endures this insult with the solemn dignity that only a cardboard cut-out of a Native American can convey.
Bang! contains about thirty or so minigames, so I'm not going to go through each one: several of them are slightly different variations on a theme, while others are just boring, so instead I'm going to show you a selection of the more interesting ones. Don't worry, I'll explain what that "box with a target on it" game is all about.
First, the hotel. It's simple enough - bandits appear in the windows, and you have to shoot them. Sometimes babies appear instead, babies with heads the size a grown man's torso, and those you're not supposed to shoot. Of course, Gaelco guaranteed that I'd shoot plenty of babies by having them stand out from the bandits by flapping their arms around and being bright pink. It's okay, they're not real babies... which makes it odd that I'm being penalised for shooting them. Am I currently taking my Cowboy License Test? Is there an instructor standing somewhere off-screen, grading my efforts? "Minor faults: spurs don't jingle-jangle correctly, didn't call anyone "pardner". Major Faults: shot a baby."
At last, the mystery of the target boxes is revealed. You shoot the boxes, and they either throw out a green ball or a bundle of dynamite. Shoot the balls, don't shoot the dynamite. It's a good job that sticks of dynamite are Wild West-ish, otherwise we'd have veered from the cowboy theme pretty early on. Shooting plain green balls is not as engaging as shooting cattle rustlers and babies, that's for sure.
In this game, waves of Indians travel toward the player, some of them blocked from view by the fence in the middle of the screen. Not particularly interesting from a gameplay perspective, granted, but I do very much like the setting. I think Bang! is still supposed to be set in Wild West times, but someone went to the trouble of building a shooting gallery with paper targets on rails, hanging paintings of scenery on the walls to produce a certain ambience, often in a wonderfully half-hearted manner. I mean, just look at the totem pole in the background, the canvas doesn't even cover the whole wall. Imagine the embarrassment of this shooting gallery's owner as he returned from Ezekiel Calhoun's Frontier Signwriting Emporium, new backdrop clutched proudly under his arm, only to realise that he'd messed up a unit conversion somewhere.
The saloon stage is the same as the hotel stage but without any babies. Of course there are no babies, what kind of idiot would bring their baby to a Wild West saloon? Think it through.
I have no idea why this crazed farmer is throwing bombs at me, and having seen the glimmer of madness in his eyes I'm not sure he does either. Does he think I'm going to ransack his barn? Calm down, old-timer, I'm not interested in your barn or your admittedly diverse collection of crates. You lose points for shooting the farmer, which seems counter-intuitive considering he's throwing bombs at me, although that's less of a worry than you might think because these bombs detonate with all the explosive force of a dropped tub of talcum powder. This is probably why I can get away with shooting the bombs, despite them being right next to me. Did I mention that the bombs have shiny golden coins inside them? Because they do. As I said, I have no idea what the hell is going on.
Ahh, this is much easier to decipher: birds want to steal my tomatoes. All the birds. Every bird from the surrounding ten states, converging on my tomato plants in a whirling, flapping maelstrom of sharp beaks and purloined vegetables, the squawking hive mind happy to sacrifice ten, a hundred, a thousand avian lives if it means just one of them gets a tomato. My only recourse in this situation is to grab my gun and fire wildly into the densest parts of the flock, hoping to thin out the birds before I'm left with nothing but empty stalks and newly-developed carpal tunnel syndrome in my trigger finger.
This is all your fault, scarecrow! You had one job. One job! Do these birds look scared to you? Well, obviously they do now that I've been shooting at them but you know that's not what I meant. And don't give me that "hey, I'm a scarecrow and these aren't crows" crap again, you know it's just a name... Oh, I'm sorry, Mr. Scarecrow. You know I can't stay angry at you, with your big pumpkin head. Maybe it's my fault for not dangling CDs from your arms or giving you a more menacing hat. This hat that my mum bought for her cousin's wedding just isn't cutting it.
Honestly, I think these bird-shooting stages are some of my favourites in the game. There's definitely a place for the challenge of precision shooting, but every now and then it's fun to just go demented on the trigger in an orgy of feather-pluckin' carnage.
Okay, this is a weird one: cowboys carrying big pink sacks leap onto a stage where some chorus girls are doing the can-can. Let them get to close to the dancers and they'll abduct them: lose all the dancers and you fail. The other girls take their motto of "the show must go on" to great extremes, kicking away even as their numbers dwindle thanks to the predations of the bandit hordes lurking in the wings. You can also shoot the girls clothes off. A real classy feature, that one.
"Don't shoot," says Bang!, negating the entire point of the game. I guess I'll just go home then, shall I? No, of course not. What we have here is the real reason that anyone would get excited about a Wild West-themed lightgun game, and that's the ability to have quick-draw gunfights! You have two bullets and two targets, and you're only allowed to shoot them once they draw their shootin' irons. Do you have the reflexes to put these varmints down before they can take you down? On the lower difficulties the answer is almost certainly "yes" because they seem to forget what they're supposed to be doing between drawing their guns and pulling the trigger. I put this down to them being cardboard cut-outs. This is another of Bang!'s more enjoyable stages, and the one that is best served by the game's Western setting. Even in this cartoony style and against paper opponents, there's still an undeniable feeling of coolness that comes from momentarily pretending to be Clint Eastwood, and it's always the final stage so no matter what course you select or the vagaries of the random game selector, you'll always get to play it (assuming you make it that far).
Whatever course you choose, clearing it always "rewards" you with the same scene of the fruit machine paying out a pile of gold coins. And I didn't even have to shoot them out of a bomb! How wonderful. I like the very subtle detailing on the coins, even if you're extremely unlikely to actually catch a glimpse of it in-game as they cascade out of the machine.
With that, all that's left is to enter you name on the high score table, the background of which looks like this:
If you were looking for a truly awful seduction line to use on someone after you've taken them back to your house / a motel / your mum's spare room, I think "Welcome to Bang City" would be an excellent choice.
But wait, I've got a few more minigames to show you, including this one. The game tells you that your mission is to "smash the cartel," which makes it sound as though you're going to be blowing away drug lords on Miami Beach or something, but all you actually have to do is shoot that wanted poster enough times to destroy it. That strikes me as an extremely inefficient way to destroy a cartel, unless the cartel makes a lot of money on the side by bringing in bounties and you're just trying to cut off their revenue streams. According to one inflation calculator I saw, $25,000 in 1860 would be equivalent to over $700,000 dollars today, so this outlaw must have been into some serious shit.
"Shoot the balloons," it said, but like any right-minded citizen I immediately turned my gun on the clowns. Alas, I should have known that my gun was loaded with regular ammo and not rounds carved from the bones of a saint and doused in make-up remover - the only sure-fire way of killing a clown - but nonetheless I'm sure the President will be sending me a medal to honour my bravery soon enough.
I must confess, I did manage to fail this game despite it being one of the easier ones thanks to wasting time at the beginning, staring at the clown on the left and trying to figure out what was going on with its arm.
Welcome to the inside of the saloon, where the wallpaper is admirably clean, there are men in bath towels trying to shoot you (which reduces your health despite them not being real) and the hookers wear clerical dog collars.
Don't like that saloon? Try this one instead, where the bartender is so beaten down by the misery of living in frontier America that he doesn't even glance in your direction as you shoot all his stock off the shelves. What an absolute dick move on the player's part, so dickish that I've been forced to come up with some possible explanations for this rampage. The player character is either trying to protect the public's health by getting rid of this clearly-tainted booze - god knows what's in those greeny-yellow bottles, it looks like rancid cooking oil - or he's dedicated himself to extreme temperance.
Here in the world's most profitable mine, where hundreds of carts laden with gold and fist-sized precious gems rumble past every hour, some poor woman has found herself chained up right in the path of said carts. She's panicking because that cart is about to run her over, and also because as she is clearly part-octopus she is not meant to be out of salt water for this long and she's starting to dry out. The aim here is to shoot as many carts as possible and also to protect the squid-lady. My first thought was to try to shoot the chain and set her free, but apparently that was a little too logical and instead I had to destroy hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of gold and jewels. I'm beginning to suspect the player character may only have gotten involved as an excuse to engage in yet more wanton destruction.
The wanton destruction continues as two cowboys - who look a lot like famous Belgian comic character Lucky Luke - throw their hats into the air, where our hero blasts them to pieces. The hats, not the cowboys. Don't worry, the cowboys looks pretty happy about it, possibly having invented a machine that can create an infinite number of identical duplicate hats.
I'll be honest, I'm only including a picture of the otherwise very standard bank robbery stage because I love that picture of Abraham Lincoln so much. He looks so disapproving. He must have seen what I did to that poor bartender's booze.
Finally for today, here's a lady having a bath. Your mission - to shoot as many bubbles as you can. This may seem like an utterly bizarre set-up for a gunslinging challenge, but think about it: this is a videogame, and time and again bubbles have been shown to hurt videogame characters. They hurt Megaman, for pity's sake, and he's a robot. You'd think he could stand up to a small film of soap filled with air. So, there is method to our hero's madness. He knowns he cannot let these bubbles get loose. They could kill hundreds of people if they floated into a densely populated area, and if this woman gets upset at the collateral damage caused by my bubble eradication - I did manage to smash her water jug and her mirror - then all I can say is that she should have known better than to propagate the bubble menace.
That's Bang!, then. I didn't talk much about the gameplay because there's nothing to talk about. There were no moments that made me wonder what the developers were thinking, not on the gameplay side anyway, but then there were no moments that made me think "hey, that was cool" either. It is a Shooting Game where you point your gun at things and pull the trigger, and as such it was a jolly enough way to spend half an hour of your time. If you like cartoon cowboys then you'll enjoy it a bit more than those to whom historical accuracy is all-important. You could argue that time is fleeting and precious and could be better spent on other things, and you'd be right, but that makes no difference to me. I know I would have just spent those thirty minutes reading Spider-Man comics anyway.