There are very few game developers that have untarnished track records, and one of them is Treasure. Aptly named, Treasure has released plenty of hits in the past, and most of them are 2D platform shooters. Bangai-O Spirits is no different, aiming to please this generation of video gamers armed with Nintendo DS. This is a shoot 'em up game that is totally unconventional and yet cool, and if you have a weak heart, poor reflexes and shoddy eyesight, you will not survive the game easily. In most of the levels, you will find yourself facing insurmountable odds where only quick thinking (and quicker reflexes) will get you out of tight spot, one after another.
For those who are new to Bangai-O Spirits, the story is not the main point of the game. Bangai-O Spirits basically sees you take on the role of a robot fighter pilot, and no matter how big your robot is, it looks puny compared to the rest of the background. You will control your robot over a 2D map, carrying a carefully selected arsenal of weapons before each mission to annihilate just about everything in the vicinity. Treasure is a developer well known for unconventional controls, and Bangai-O Spirits is no exception, as you will need above average reflexes and patience in order to master the wide array of controls available. The learning curve is steeper than standard DS fare, but once you master the controls, the game is a joy to play.
In each level of Bangai-O Spirits, you will find that the average weak-minded person will all but give up. I must admit my first few attempts felt as though I was going through video gaming hell, but upon getting the knack of things, it got much more enjoyable (not necessarily easier, mind you) zapping down enemies while deflecting their non-stop hail of bullets. Most of the time you will find yourself thrown into a fight against impossible numbers of enemies. The choice of weapons is of utmost importance here, so the gameplay is mostly a mixture of experience as well as sixth sense to make through a level. Your robot, when used properly, is a deadly attacker that is able to cancel and deflect incoming missiles from just about any angle, but without the necessary experience and quick action the robot is just a hunk of metal that can be brought down very quickly.
Other than single player action that sees you through seemingly endless levels (over 160 levels), there are other modes to choose from. Among them are a simultaneous co-op mode, a level editor that lets you create your own hellish levels to share with friends (these created levels can be saved onto the cartridge itself), as well as the all important video replay feature that lets you record your most memorable victories in the hardest levels. Interestingly enough, saved levels via the level editor can be traded over to another DS through the microphone - a neat although useless gimmick.
Another good thing about the game structure is that you can skip a certain level and go on to the next if you find it too challenging for your tastes. This game mode is perfect for folks who want a game on the go and see many interruptions while playing the game.
Treasure does not fail in terms of controls, although as mentioned it does take a certain amount of patience to master all the controls before they become second nature. Mastering the controls is the key to completing the game, since different levels require you to employ a wide variety of strategies and movements to eliminate the enemies while preserving your robot. Not much use for the touch screen here save for the level-editing mode, as most of the gaming controls use the D-pad and all six buttons.
While the DS lacks the graphical firepower of Sony's PSP, Treasure, as usual, has lived up to expectations by churning out a graphical masterpiece. Just like how they managed to squeeze every ounce of performance out from the GBA with Gunstar Heroes. Only one thing that’s a little annoying: whenever there are tons of missiles and bullets flying around on the screen, you will find those moments to stutter like an ancient World War I plane that has flown too high beyond its limits.
Audio is superb – the soundtrack isn't epic in any way but sound effects in Bangai-O Spirits are magical enough to make you believe that every hit is very real – and lethal. Do wear a pair of earphones in order to appreciate the audio in all its glory.
This is very much a pick-up and play game, which is good since you are able to skip levels when they get the better of you. While there is very little story to concern yourself the hectic gameplay and complex game controls will keep you entertained. This is a game for purchase not for renting, as the replayability value is virtually unlimited with tons of levels to download and share with one another. A hearty thumbs-up for Bangai-O Spirits, but only for people who can stomach a tough shoot 'em up game.
Tips & Tricks
- Choose your weapons carefully before heading out to battle, as that will go a long way in tipping the battle in your favor. More often than not it’s a trial-and-error process.
Always save. Leaving Edit Mode prompts a Yes or No selection – there's a reason for that. You never want to quit without saving the progress you've made on your level. Oh, and don't forget to come up with a legendary name for your masterpiece.
Play around with the Other Options on the main menu of Edit Mode. You can change the background image, the music of the level or even the pattern that the BG Objects look like.
A lot of the stuff that happens in Bangai-O happens the same way every time. You can use this data to provide some tough areas in your levels:
Fuses explode affecting a 3x3 grid. These burn at roughly six fuses per second.
To speed up the burn rate Fuses burn at, put a BombBox on top of them. It'll explode when the Fuses reach it and set off everything close by.
Laser beams fire 12 blocks in length.
BombBoxes and Bombs explode to cover a 14x14 grid.
Mines make a 10x10 explosion when normal size; 6x6 when half size and 18x18 at 2X size.
The Ball object is a 2x2 sized object when normal-sized (about the size of Bangai-O); a 1x1 object when at half size, and a 4x4 object when 2X size.
The height and width of 1 unit of measure when creating a level is 32 units. So if you have a specific idea in mind, consider how much space you need. The screen itself is 32 units wide and 24 units tall (each 'unit' being the size of a 1x1 object like a Fuse).
Don't underestimate how much it's going to cost you to build your level. Every entity you place down in the OBJ Tab will cost you a Build Point. Fuses and other BG Objects do not. So that WoodBox maze like the one you saw in Falling Rock may cost you more than half your Build Points – ration accordingly.
Consider starting from a level that is like the one you have in mind. There are more than 150 levels in the game, certainly one of them is at least somewhat like the level you had in mind. You can cut and copy accordingly, change the background image, and soon enough the level will be all yours with nothing from the original level intact.
Try making interesting combinations or puzzles unlike the ones you saw in the levels of Bangai-O. A Core has no defenses by itself, and a Cannon is easy pickings, but if you place them on top of one another you offer a pretty unique challenge that requires the player to close the gap to deal with the Cannon underneath the Core or get his shots reflected back at him.
Try placing things in weird positions and places. If you put an enemy that doesn't move, like a Spawner or a Building on top of a few pieces of Square Block walls they'll become invincible. Use this to create interesting problems for the player, like a Spawner that is invincible, or a Building that you can't destroy, but is allowing all your enemies to fire at the player unimpeded.
Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):
Superb. Although the game does have slow-downs at times when too many missiles and projectiles flying around, the graphics look gorgeous on the NDS.
Enough audio effects to get you absorbed into the game, but nothing long lasting to keep you humming long after you have turned the DS off. Explosions are realistic and loud enough to be enjoyed without a pair of headphones, although wearing one will greatly enhance the gaming experience.
Folks who love shoot 'em ups with impossible odds will definitely fall in love with Bangai-O Spirits, since each level is somewhat like a last boss level for an ordinary shooter. It can also be frustrating for the non-hardcore players. Good thing you can skip between levels.
The true shoot ‘em up gamers will cherish the opportunities of completing the game and even design and share more levels, but for the casual gamers Bangai-O Spirits' difficulty level might prove too much to bear. If you can get into the game though this is a game you won’t put down for a long while.