Bangai-O Spirits

Bangai-O Spirits
Bangai-O Spirits Cover
Platforms Nintendo DS
Genre Missile-Rain Shooter
MtAMinutes to Action 1
Keep Playing? Yes
Buy from Amazon

It seems I've been on a bit of a Treasure fix lately. Last month, I finally got around to playing Gunstar Heroes, the first Virtual Console game I bought back in 2006 and Treasure's very first game. The Genesis cult classic set the niche developer's tone by throwing unprecedented amounts of enemies and projectiles at the player from start to finish. A few weeks ago, I tried out the VC release of N64 import darling Sin & Punishment, which warmed the heart of this old Star Fox 64 veteran. I've also begun playing that game's recent Wii sequel, Sin & Punishment: Star Successor, and should have my thoughts on that title up soon.

But today's subject is Bangai-O Spirits, a critically-praised title that didn't sell very much (as expected), though chalk up one more sale for Treasure: the $8.75 price tag on Amazon was an offer I couldn't refuse. This 2008 DS title is a sequel of sorts to the Dreamcast's Bangai-O (and its lesser-known, Japanese-exclusive N64 counterpart). True to Treasure's modus operandi, Bangai-O Spirits challenges the player to battle through 150+ stages filled with overwhelming swarms of enemy missiles and bullets on-screen. The game also features two- to four-player wireless cooperative and competitive battles and a robust set of stage editing and sharing features.

Treasure is a company known for making difficult games, and Bangai-O is noted as one of the developer's tougher titles. There's no question I'll crash and burn in my first thirty minutes with Bangai-O Spirits, but will I emerge from the wreckage seething or satisfied?

Bangai o Spirits Stage Start

Minute by Minute

(minutes are in bold)

00 - Poking around the menus, it seems there's no New Game option. Huh...Well why don't we try skipping the tutorial and just go straight into Free Play? Let's try the first of Treasure's Best stages, called Fireworks.

Bangai o Spirits Game Over

01 - I'm a small mech in the middle of the bottom screen. As soon as the mission starts, dozens of missiles launch and cover the screen. I am pummeled and killed. The timer in the top right of the screen says I lasted two seconds. I retry the mission, and get off a few shots before falling to the same fate, this time lasting just above three seconds. I try a few more times, to the same effect.

02 - Right then, to the tutorial! A pink-haired girl and blue-haired boy are greeted by an old professor. These tutorial missions will teach me how to pilot the robot Bangai-O. They can be tackled in any order, but let's start with learning how to move and shoot. Lesson 1: Give it a Try! The D-Pad moves, A boosts, and B shoots. I'm set loose in a small town against a black background and destroy a wall-mounted target. That wasn't much of a lesson... Lesson 2: Using Shots - Simply holding B will automatically aim my shots at the nearest enemy. That's handy.

03 - Lesson 3: Fixed Shots -  Pressing B twice holds Bangai-O in place and lets me shoot in whatever direction I want. I do this to shoot diagonally and light some kind of fuse, which then leads to a huge explosion. Looks like the top screen is a zoomed-out map of the whole stage.

04 - Lesson 4: Using Boosters - The A button dashes, which can be used to slam into enemies. You won't get stunned by enemy attacks, but you will take damage. Bangai-O seems to be able to dash infinitely and can send enemies flying into others with this body slam. This lesson has me dashing around the border of the stage, destroying missile installations.

05 - Lesson 5: Send 'em Flying! I'm let loose in an arena with a baseball, soccer ball, and a basketball. Boosting at them makes them fly around the room, destroying turrets.

06 - Lesson 6: Using EX Weapons Hold the R button to charge up this super attack and let go to fire. It can be focused in one direction with the D-pad. I do so, and dozens of missiles fire out from Bangai-O, taking out enemy rockets and the launchers themselves. It's like a super bar from Street Fighter and other fighting games in that it can be filled up to three times for multiple uses. This gauge is replenished by taking damage or grabbing fruit dropped from enemies.

Bangai o Spirits Send Receive

07 - Lesson 7: Counterattacking - It seems the EX attack can be used to "counter" enemy attacks somehow. The more bullets on-screen, the more powerful and plentiful your missile payload is. I try fully-charging the attack, but am destroyed before the meter reaches 100.I try it again and wow, 98 enormous missiles emerge from my tiny robot and destroy everything. There was massive slowdown as all the missiles fired onto the screen.

08 - Lesson 8: MIXing Weapons - So the B and Y buttons each have a regular attack mapped to them, and the shoulder triggers each have an EX attack. If B and Y both have missile type attacks, they can be mixed. Thus far I've apparently been using Bounce and Homing missiles, the combined effect of which is homing missiles that rebound off walls towards enemies. The combined effect can be toggled on and off by hitting both attack buttons at once.

09 - This training stage didn't give me much of a chance to try out the toggling. I guess it worked, but it's hard to tell which missiles are which. The goal target in the corner was destroyed quickly either way.

10 - Lesson 9: Break and Napalm - The two other missile types are outlined here. Break missiles can pierce enemy shots and are useful for clearing your way around the stage. Napalm missiles explode on enemies for greater damage. I try to charge through a narrow corridor filled with missile turrets, but my combined break-napalm missiles eventually lose ground to the incoming barrage and I get pummeled.

11 - This time I try to just charge right into the turrets and get destroyed much faster. I die three more times trying to switch my missiles around and figure out which ones will break through the enemy rockets.

Bangai o Spirits Stage Creator

12 - Agh! What am I doing wrong here? I keep starting the mission and getting flattened within five seconds.

13 - Still having trouble here. I can't tell if my break missiles are being activated or not. It's also a little strange that the break-napalm combination isn't working, though I guess break alone may work better.

14 - This is kind of deflating...I've died maybe fifteen times in only four minutes. I'm pretty sure I've tried all the missile types...

15 - Well okay then, it seems I've been using the Napalm-only missiles when I've been trying to use the Break-only missiles. I finally broke through the first corridor of launchers, only to get swarmed by giant ants and killed!

Bangai o Spirits Insane

16 - Again! The corridor is easy now that I can switch to Break-only missiles quickly, but the ants are posing a challenge. I guess I have to napalm them?

17 - That doesn't seem to be helping, either...I've tried all three missile combinations and nothing seems to be helping.

18 - I get fed up and charge straight into the ant nests, releasing a few fully-charged EX attacks. That takes care of those damn bugs.

19 - Lesson 10: Using Swords - The sword weapon is, obviously, not a missile and cannot link with any other weapon. It can, however, destroy enemy bullets while charging forward and hit enemies up close. The training stage demonstrates this by having me charge down a narrow path of missile launchers while frantically swinging the blade. Seems to work well enough.

20 - Lesson 11: Using Bats - A sword is one thing, but a giant robot mech using a baseball bat? I'm not sure I get it, but I'm definitely on board with this wackiness. Swinging the bat works much like the sword, though the rate and range of attack are lower. Hit enemies are slammed into others and can pinball around for big damage. The training exercise has me slam a small enemy into larger ones. One swing takes out the half-dozen or so enemies.

21 - Lesson 12: Using Shields - The final standard weapon is the shield...which isn't really a weapon at all, I suppose. It can protect you from attacks at any angle you set it to. It's like a small satellite that sits near Bangai-O. The professor says it's a good combination with the sword: You can swipe forward and have the shield-ball sit at your backside to soak up missiles in your blind spot. Such a small shield doesn't seem very useful, though...

22 - Lesson 13: Direct Attacks - Apparently the Direct EX missile is omni-directional, and yet not omni-directional, according to the professor. The kids don't get it and neither do I. He explains it by using an obscure anime reference. The kids get it, but I still don't. Oh well. I find out in training that the missiles will automatically launch towards the highest concentration of enemies, so I guess that's what he meant in his befuddling description.

Bangai o Spirits Burst Through

22 - Lesson 14: Freezing - The Freeze EX attack will stop enemies and their shots in their tracks. You can even move through frozen enemy shots without taking damage. My first few attempts at freezing end poorly, with Bangai-O scrapped by missiles within seconds.

23 - Further efforts prove ineffective as well. The freeze effect only lasts for about a second and a half, barely long enough to escape the screen-full of missiles.

24 - Finally! I use the Freeze EX to escape the danger and get behind the enemies, and then launch a regular EX missile attack to strike the group from behind. I guess I can see where Freeze would be useful.

25 - Lesson 15: Reflecting - The Reflect EX is like an omni-directional bat, reflecting enemy missiles back at their launchers and stunning smaller enemies. The training stage has me reflect a bunch of rocks, which then bounce around the small room and take out my attackers with ease.

26 - Lesson 16: Use 'em All! This lesson is actually a review of previous concepts as well as more advanced tips. You can cancel a charging EX attack by dashing or using a regular attack. Blue explosions, triggered by certain enemies when killed, can destroy nearby missiles and bullets, creating a safe zone.

27 - More tips! Cannons won't attack you while you're touching them, so dashing into them is a good way to destroy them. The professor also lets me in on some Edit Mode tips, which I don't understand. It seems quite permeating, though, and I get the feeling that the Edit Mode is the true star of this game. Finally, you can move boxes by dashing into them, and when they're put into a box-frame, they'll make a huge explosion.

28 - I'm put into a training level and have no idea if I'm supposed to use all that stuff I just learned. Oh well, I get through it by using my regular weapons and EX attacks every now and then.

29 - Lesson 17: Real Combat - After some breaking of the fourth wall, I'm set loose in a room with lots of little blue orbs. Dashing through them takes a bit of time, though I can see their purpose is to create pockets full of enemies so they don't all attack me at once. I can open up a pocket and do battle inside at my own leisure, but that takes longer than if I use an EX attack to free all the enemies at once and have one big shootout.

30 - I light a fuse at the top of the stage and destroy a huge target enemy. Mission complete! Fittingly, my first Handheld Half-Hour with Bangai-O Spirits ends with the final tutorial stage.

Bangai o Spirits Treasure Stage

Half-Hour Summary

Minutes to Action: 1. The game has no prologue, and doesn't seem to have a story at all. You'll be blown to bits as soon as you enter your five character name and choose a stage.

Video: Bangai-O Spirits' visuals are quite plain when its elements are put under the microscope, with only a few frames of animation per unit and some very basic explosion effects. Seeing it all at once is quite impressive until you notice how much the game needs to slow down in order to to process the madness on-screen.

Audio: The maniacal laughter that accompanies every failure will haunt me in my dreams. The rest of the sound effects and music aren't really worth noticing.

Story: There actually doesn't seem to be any narrative in the game, besides the professor's explanations to the eager, spastic girl and uninterested, devilish boy in the tutorial. It plays more like a series of level selections rather than an adventure.

Gameplay: It's a non-rails shooter, making for a unique yet familiar experience, especially for Treasure fans. The game balance appears to be based on the notion of evading and countering enemy missiles, though there seem to be plenty of variations on the formula from stage to stage.

Challenge: It's do or die in Bangai-O Spirits. Some stages give you a fraction of a second to escape the enemy's first missile volley, and it doesn't usually slow down after that.

Pacing: With no real narrative going on between the stages and quickly-navigated menus, Bangai-O Spirits keeps you immersed in the action at all times.

Fun Factor: It feels pretty damn good to get chased into a corner by a plethora of enemy rockets, only to reply in kind with your own ridiculous launch.

Would I keep playing? Yes. The Tutorial introduced me to a lot of concepts that I'm not entirely comfortable with, but with practice will come proficiency, I think.

Bangai o Spirits Logo