Out of all the concepts for an action flight-simulator, that of a flying insect it perhaps the most inspired. Released in 1996 by Grolier Interactive, Banzai Bug took the gameplay from the likes of X-Wing or Wing Commander and plonked it into the miniature, colourful surroundings of a bug's adventurous life.
Banzai is more American than his name suggests, though the Japanese warcry is pretty apt for a creature that can off a huge number of robotic clones of his kind using spit alone. Told via flashback from the white-whiskered mouth of our hero, it charts the daring escape from the home of a professional, tech-savvy exterminator - enemy territory for any six-legged exoskeletal creature.
Robobugs will spawn from these red contraptions mounted on the walls.
Be careful as they can easily overwhelm you.
The house isn't all noxious gasses and electric zappers though. There's an entire criminal underbelly that's formed a resistance to the humans above them. In this bug-eat-bug world, even Natasha the spider has joined forces with her natural prey. This plot, however, is just a means to an end for Banzai - in order to get out, he needs an in. To do that, we first need food for payment and that's your mission on the first level. Scattered around the large, well-designed garage are a number of seeds which will get you an audience with Sluggo, the kingpin of the creepy crawlies living in the basement. He has a plan to rid the house of the humans they call 'Biggies' but you'll first be recruited for a number of missions.
The game plays like a fairly simple flight sim, with keys assign to altitude, acceleration and shooting. Beyond that, the variety comes in the form of the levels themselves. Whether it be the treasure hunt of the first level, the tunnelled maze of the second or the capture-the-flag scenario of the third, the game does a good job of keeping things fresh and interesting throughout the somewhat-meagre 7 levels. There's even a secret in the first stage that changes things up even more. I'll leave you to discover what it is, but it's a shame there are no other hidden easter eggs or bonuses to be found in the other stages.
Blue Robobugs (left) are the simplest enemy while yellow ones (right)
will spread poisonous gas. The red ones are even more difficult still.
While the visuals and level design are enticing, the difficulty can turn away a lot of players no matter what setting you're playing on. While I do not consider it unfair, the respawning Robobugs created by the humans can easily overwhelm. Most of them go down in one hit of your spit, but it takes a lot of practice to aim, especially when the frame rate dips when there's chaos on screen. There are a number of texture and lighting options which can speed things up, and thanks to the art design none of them really look terrible, but I found that emulating a higher Pentium was the best for my system. I know not all desktops can handle emulating these, so I believe the CC package is the best compromise (you can still tinker with the PCEm options if you want to).
Enemies come in a number of varieties, each requiring different tactics. The light blue Robobugs are the easiest, requiring just a single hit before it explodes in flames. The yellow ones take just as many hits, though they will explode poisonous gas if you don't get them quickly enough. The red ones are much more of a pain. Your spitballs will bounce right off them, so only a punch will or zap will finish them off. The problem is that all three attacks (and context-sensitive actions) are mapped to the same key so you never know what your flying insect will do. Generally speaking, you will punch if you're on top of them, spit from a distance or zap if your antennas pulse with electricity.
Finding a grain of food in the first stage (left). Only 4 more to go.
There are several context-sensitive hotspots such as this matchbox that needs opening (right)
Thankfully, the bad guys don't do damage on touch, but only through their own attacks. They will shoot red pellets at you and if they hit you'll be in a 'goobered' state. Basically, this dries up your spit and ties up your legs, slowing you down and rendering you defenceless for a brief period. You can get power-ups to help you. Zings, spiky purple pellets dropped by the red guys, will be your shield and grant you an extra hit. Zaps, lightning bolts dropped by the yellow bugs, will grant you the special zap attacks which are best used if you're surrounded as it will hit all of them. Then there are seeds and doughnuts which will increase your lives.
Unlike something like Mario, lives here mean hitpoints. Reach zero and you'll have to start the level again from the beginning (continues are unlimited). You can collect up to 9 of each, giving you a maximum of 18 hits if you fill up both your lives and Zings, which are boldly displayed on the right side of the screen.
The highest and lowest graphics settings. Thanks to the cartoony art design,
both look pretty decent to me.
There are some nicely directed (though incredibly, incredibly outdated) CGI animations before each mission. While the ugly, blobby visuals and pun-filled humour may put you off, I recommend you don't skip them. Beyond providing details about the mission ahead with a nice stick-it-to-the-man storyline, the clips will also feature some great quips from Banzai himself. I've no doubt gems like "don't get swamped by my butt-wave" and "smooth as mucus" will feature heavily in my own every-day lexicon.
While there are certainly better flight-sims out there, I think developer Gravity, Inc did a pretty fine job. Few have the charm and style of Banzai Bug. If you can stick with it to get past its steep difficulty curve, you'll find a very good action game that flew under the radar for too long. It deserves a second chance.
To download the game, follow the link below. This exclusive installer uses PCem running Windows '95. Press Ctrl-Alt-PgDown to toggle fullscreen. Press Ctrl-End or middle mouse button to release the mouse. Manual included. Tested on Windows 10.
IMPORTANT - Remember to shut down the emulated version of Windows before exiting PCem. This could potentially result in errors, lost saves and corrupt data. Close the program only when it is safe to do so.
File Size: 357 Mb. Install Size: 601 Mb. Need help? Consult the Collection Chamber FAQ
Banzai Bug is © Grolier Interactive
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me