IGN Review of Bangai O Spirits
Treasure's 1999 Nintendo 64 shooter Bangai-O holds a special place in many a gamer's heart. The developer was already beloved for titles like Gunstar Heroes and Radiant Silvergun. Bangai-O was one of the quirkier offerings from Treasure, featuring an insane amount of enemies and bullets onscreen. Almost a decade later the game has finally been updated for the 2D-friendly Nintendo DS. Not really a port and not exactly a sequel, Bangai-O Spirits includes a mix of old and new levels. But significant new features have been added, like four-player co-op and a robust level editor. It needs to be said, though: this game is for the hardcore only. A sinister voice laughs at you when you die, for Pete's sake. Unless you're a masochist shooter fan that enjoys a real challenge, Bangai-O Spirits is likely to frustrate you.
Even if the above description does fit you, you'll want to start out with the tutorial. These 17 levels will prepare you for the 150-ish regular missions ahead. The tutorial is fun on its own and very helpful. This is the only area of the game with characters or narrative. It's presented in a slick anime style with lots of self-referential humor. The professor explains to us that sometimes all of your bullets won't be displayed on screen because of the DS's limitations. Our character's response: "Hey, that sounds like a bug!" Once you complete the tutorial, though, and the credits roll, you start to see some of the holes in Bangai-O Spirits' design.
The game lacks structure. Post-tutorial, you're set loose in Free Play mode where all of the game's levels are unlocked from the start. I tend to think of freedom as a good thing, but games are usually heavily structured environments that lead players through objectives of increasing difficulty. Here, even level one is punishingly brutal. Sure, when you're having trouble with a stage you can skip to any of the 150 other areas. But I think a linear progression with a smooth difficulty curve would have been more satisfying.
Not all is lost, though, because Bangai-O is still fun and it's a unique entry in a genre that doesn't see a lot of innovation. Filling the entire screen with a torrent of bullet spray never gets old. There's also the fact that more challenging games tend to reward us with a greater sense of accomplishment. When you complete a level your high score and time are saved, which does provide a sense of progress if you want to return and try to best your performance.
Bangai-O could perhaps best be described as a shooter with puzzle elements. There is a lot of blasting and dodging, but your weapons can be customized for each level. Before a mission, you can select two regular guns and two special EX weapons to use in battle. Your regular and EX weapons can be used on their own, or each pair can be combined so that your bullets possess properties of both. Sometimes passing a level is merely a matter of finding the right combination of weapons to arm yourself with. But some levels don't even require weaponry, like an early puzzle level where you push blocks onto targets around a maze.
Four-player multicard co-op and the level editor push Bangai-O Spirits' longevity far beyond that of most shooters. Any level in the game can be tweaked, or you can create your own blast-a-thons. The game employs a very clever method of sharing your creations called Sound Load. Edited levels are stored as audio files. These files can then be played on your DS for either direct transfer to another system via its microphone or for recording and distribution over the internet. Very cool stuff.
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