Bangai-O Spirits
Reviewed by Brandy Shaul
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2008-09-03 Nintendo DS Fighting E10 (Everyone 10+) D3P / Treasure

I have to admit that I was completely oblivious to the Bangai-O franchise before playing Bangai-O Spirits on the DS. Since I never had a Nintendo 64, and my experience with the Dreamcast has been limited to the past two or three years, my oversight should come as understandable, but either way, I was excited to make up for lost time with Bangai-O Spirits on the DS.

Bangai-O Spirits is the sequel to the first Bangai-O pair of games released on the 64 in Japan and the Dreamcast in North America from 1999-2001, depending on the country. In the game, players followed a pair of kid mecha pilots as they sought the destruction of a group of nefarious fruit thieves (no, that's not a joke).

The sequel then follows another pair of young pilots, this time named Ruri and Masato, through over 150 levels of very intense mecha action. Unfortunately, that's essentially it in terms of the story that this sequel gives you, other than brief glimpses into the hasty qualities of both pilots as compared to the reserved nature of their professor, whom also serves as your teacher through the game's 17 tutorial levels.

These tutorial levels teach you basically everything you would want to know about the game, and contain incredibly simply gameplay, when compared to the real stages of the title.

Through these tutorials you'll learn that movement is controlled with the d-pad, and is incredibly fluid. A simple tap in any one direction sends your Bangai-O (the mecha itself) soaring gracefully in that direction, with gravity as the only force acting against said movement. Luckily, since each level tends to have a lot going on at once, a simple tap of the B button will cause your Bangai-O to hover in midair, allowing you to concentrate all your efforts on eliminating each level's targets, thus clearing the level.

Your Bangai-O has a large variety of weapons at its disposal, in both the projectile and melee categories, with firing being controlled by the Y and B buttons. Projectiles range from "Bounce" missiles that literally bounce off of surfaces and continue on to "Napalm" missiles that explode upon impact. Melee weapons then are things like a standard sword that slices through enemy projectiles, a shield that protects your Bangai-O from incoming attacks, and even a bat, which treats bullets like baseballs, sending them back in the direction from which they came.

The most powerful weapons in the game, however, aren't simple missiles or swords. These are the EX attacks, which have a power gauge completely separate from your life gauge, with said power gauge being replenished by collecting the fruit contraband that your enemies have previously stolen.

These EX attacks are so impressive because of their sheer size. If you are surrounded by enemies, you can easily hold down the R button to send out anywhere from 1 to 100 missiles at once. These missiles can be basic rounds that attack in all directions, or have specialty effects such as paralyzing enemies and their bullets or knocking those enemies away from you altogether.

The interesting thing to note about the weapons system in the game is that weapon types can be combined. That is, your Bangai-O has two open slots for attacks. While you could choose to equip only one type of missile, say the Bounce missile, you could also equip a second type like the Homing missile to then create a homing, bouncing missile that will rebound off of surfaces and continually seek out targets.

No matter which weapon you choose, each level contains the same goal of eliminating all enemies on screen. The action takes place on the touch screen, while the top screen displays a map of the level plus the life bars of the level's targets. While some stages may be small enough to be displayed in their entirety on the touch screen, you'll be happy the map is there, as, in true Treasure fashion (think Astro Boy: Omega Factor), the touch screen is frequently completely covered with bullets, explosions, fruit, and other content, making visibility quite difficult.

To put this into prospective, you are told in one of the tutorial levels that at some points during the game, like when firing off 100 missiles at once via an EX attack, that the game won?t be able to display everything properly, because there is too much going on at once in terms of the DS's system limitations.

Even when the game tries its best to display things as quickly as possible, lag is unfortunately (although not surprisingly) a major factor here, creating a sort of "slow-motion" feel to most of the more intense levels. And while some players might enjoy this slow-motion action, I have yet to find a game in which I actually welcome lag, making this a pretty big negative in my book.

Even if lag doesn't bother you, the game's massive difficulty level probably will. While the game's controls are incredibly intuitive, there are oftentimes so many enemies on the screen that random button mashing is the farthest thing from a good strategy and will get you killed within just a few seconds. This makes forethought vital to your success, and also means that many players would rather pass on this one that take the time to master the difficult gameplay here.

Yet another two-sided aspect to the game comes in the title's graphics. With so much going on at once, detail is often neglected in favor of massive explosions. An understandable choice sure, but definitely a "quantity over quality" situation nonetheless. Now, that's not to say that the game is ugly, as it's not. Level backgrounds can be a bit blurry, but the rest of the game is covered in bright, primarily primary colors, and is of what many would consider acceptable quality for a DS title.

The soundtrack and sound effects of the game luckily pick up any slack left behind by the game's not-so-thrilling graphics. Each fast-paced techno / electronica track is of fantastic quality when played through the DS's small speakers, and does a terrific job of conveying the sense of urgency and tension throughout each level. Likewise, the combat sound effects themselves are intense, which is fitting, seeing as how the entire theme of the game seems to be intensity.

Speaking of the sound department, Bangai-O Spirits contains a level-editor system that offers players a virtually endless playground on which to create levels of varying designs and difficulty, and then allows them to save their created levels and transfer them not only to other DS's, but also to their PC's through the DS's microphone.

Call me old-fashioned, but this is a transfer system that's completely new to me, so I was instantly amazed by how it worked. When transferring a level to the DS from a PC, you simply plug in a set of earphones (recommended) to your PC's speakers, and place one ear bud on the DS's microphone. You then simply play the file on your PC and the DS records it. Voila, you've just downloaded a level.

Likewise, when transferring from one DS to another, you simply hold the DS?s speaker above the other's microphone and transfer that way. Transferring to a PC is more complicated, as one would probably guess, as you need some sort of recording program and a jack plug to connect to the input jack on your PC.

However, even if you choose to never upload your own levels to the PC, the literally limitless amount of gameplay created by having such a file sharing system is downright mind-boggling.

In the end, while the level editor is one of the neatest things I've ever seen in a game, I can also see that the challenge that comes along with most of those levels and the game as a whole will be enough to deter most players from this intense experience. All in all, while some aspects of the game may be readily playable by every kind of gamer, my recommendation for Bangai-O Spirits must be reserved solely for shooter fanatics who enjoy such an extreme difficulty level in their games.