If you think of shooters, then the names like Ikaruga, Gunstar Heroes, and Radiant Silvergun among others probably come to mind. All of these games were developed by the company Treasure.  They also developed the rare Bangai-O that showed up on the Dreamcast.  This game is hard to find, and it has its own touch of weirdness typically found in Japanese games.  Treasure has now decided to follow up that game with a sequel on the Nintendo DS called Bangai-O Spirits.


When you take a look at the box, this looks like a shooter with a giant robot.  However, this would be selling Bangai-O Spirits short shrift.  Once you actually get to play the game you see the multitude of weapons, how each can be used, and how you actually need to strategize to complete the level.  Does this make a good game though?

When you take a look at Spirits, you’ll notice that the sprites are rather small.  There isn’t any real detail as far as the exteriors of the small mecha go, but part of me wonders what they could have done with bigger sprites.  While the sprites are small, that doesn’t mean that they don’t have some good animations.  When firing a gun, you can see the kickback of the gun.  When swinging a bat or sword, you see the mecha swing it and the swords even has that trailing light behind it.


The backgrounds of Spirits are varied, which is much nicer than the black backgrounds of the Dreamcast version.  They don’t distract from the game itself, but they don’t add anything either.  Since there really isn’t any story behind the game, there isn’t any reason for one stage to have a bright background while others are darker and more foreboding.


There are multiple weapons in Spirits, and with that comes multiple kinds of projectiles.  The bounce projectiles are spherical, while homing missiles are sleek.  The napalm missiles are fat and have a lot of power.  All of the projectiles and enemies have little trailing lines behind them to show you where they have been and the direction they are going.  However, you can get a lot of projectiles on the screen and it can cause some major slowdown and flashing reminiscent of some old NES games.

If you have ever watched an anime mecha series like Robotech, then you have a good idea of the main music.  It has high energy with a trumpet melody in the background sounding off its importance.  The percussion in the background drives the sound.


The weapons are all different, but their impact sounds the same.  The bounce, napalm, homing, and break missiles all sound like they have the same hit sound.  An large explosion from the EX special attacks sound harder with a bit more punch, but it still sounds a bit weak and doesn’t have the impact they should.


If you fail a level, then you do hear a short evil laugh.  While there isn’t a single enemy entity, it is a nice little touch.

Controlling your mecha in Spirits is simple.  The touch screen really isn’t utilized except for menu screens.  You move with the D-pad, and the Y and B buttons attack with the weapon assigned to that button.  Hitting A gives you a boost through the area.  The L and R buttons attack with the EX special attacks, and holding them down charges it for a longer time.


The controls do the job well.  You can move around quickly in the direction you want to, which is very important in Spirits.  The attacks come after you quickly, so movement is very important.  Moving diagonally can be challenging in the heat of battle though.  Hitting both the L and R buttons for the EX attack, as well as using the D-pad to direct the attack can be a bit frustrating and cramped.  Otherwise the controls are fine.

The original Bangai-O featured two different pilots who piloted a mecha that fired different weapons, one firing homing missiles with the other firing blue lasers that bounce off walls.  A special attack shot around the mecha 360 degrees.  While Spirits has similar elements, there are some distinct differences.


Before you enter each level, you select four different weapons. Two of the slots are for your regular attacks, while the other two are for your EX attacks.  The regular attacks can use projectile attacks or melee attacks.  If you use two different projectile attacks, you can link the weapons together.  These attacks combine the properties of both weapons.  This can lead to homing bouncing projectiles, or you can combine break with bounce and you get projectiles that bounce around and don’t get destroyed until it gets hit twice.  While these are good, sometimes having a bat or sword is more advantageous, as the bat can knock back enemies and their shots, while the sword slices through enemies and their shots.


The EX attacks use up a bar in the EX gauge.  One EX attack freezes enemies and their missiles, while another knocks everything back.  The direct attack can shoot at enemies in all directions, but it can be directed to concentrate an attack in a specific direction.  These attacks can be joined together with another weapon, giving them the possibility to bounce or hit on impact like the Napalm projectiles.  Choosing your weapons for each stage will take a lot of thought.


When you enter into a level, there are several different enemies.  Some are turrets, while other mecha may attack you.  Some may be the same size as you, while others are five times your size.  You also have objects that can impede your progress unless you destroy them by firing through them, slashing through them, or boosting through them.  You’ll need to have a quick trigger finger, as you can be attacked almost instantly when the level starts.  Some areas will be closed off, but you usually find exploding fruit the get you to the next area.


The EX gauge is used for the EX attacks.  This gauge is filled by collecting fruit from destroyed enemies.  Yeah, it sounds strange, and it is, but that’s how the game works.  Your EX attacks can be charged up.  Not only that, but if you have attacks coming towards you, the EX attack will actually be more powerful with even larger projectiles.  These attacks can be truly devastating.  However, if they are bounced back towards you by an enemy with a bat, you can be the one in big trouble.


This all may seem to be a bit confusing, and it is at first.  There is a Tutorial that helps you understand the weapons a bit better, but it will still be a bit confusing until you actually spend several hours with the game.  Not until then will you get the hang of it.


There are a few issues with Spirits that really bring down the game.  First of all, there is a lot of trial and error with Spirits.  If you aren’t the patient type, then you’ll want to stay far away from this title.  You will change your weapons after each try to see if you can pass through the level.  Once you get the right combination of weapons, the stages can be very short, often taking less than a minute.


Finally, there isn’t any story to join the levels.  While I don’t expect Shakespeare in my games, or even voice acting, something to join the levels together and give you a reason for fighting would be nice.

There are over 150 levels.  While some are in the Tutorial, Treasure has created over 130 levels.  Some are in their batch of their best stages, while others are specifically called puzzle stages.  If that wasn’t enough, you can even create your own custom stages.  You can even trade these levels with other people who have the game.


One feature that I haven’t seen in other games is the ability to load sounds.  You can even transfer them from DS to DS or DS to PC.  It depends on how adventurous you are, but at least it is something that some adventurous types might want to use.


Finally, you can play Spirits multiplayer with up to four people.  Unfortunately the slowdown issues that plagued the single player are more prominent here, so it isn’t as practical to play multiplayer.

Bangai-O Spirits feels like it’s a shooter at first glance, but there is a large puzzle element, even in the non-puzzle levels.  Something like Bangai-O Spirits does have an old-school charm to it, but that might be detrimental because of the difficulty of some of the levels.  The more I played it though, the more I couldn’t put it down.  If you like a little bit of puzzle in your shooter and have a high patience level, then be on the lookout for Bangai-O Spirits.

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