Review: Bangai-O Spirits
Bang and the dirt is gone.
I’m probably one of the most conservative writers here at PEOWW. I knows what I likes and likes what I knows. It usually takes the encouragement of a more adventurous, knowledgeable or wealthy comrade, before I take a risk on a title that’s come from nowhere to middling reviews from the mainstream press. So what in hell am I doing reviewing Bangai-O Spirits at the behest of no-one but myself?
Bullet Hell, it’s Soft Cell!
Three things, actually. Firstly, my DS phat is wholly undernourished with a ‘collection’ of three games (inc. an unwrapped TWEWY). Secondly, the game is developed by ol’ reliable, Treasure; whose games have always been just the right side of Japanese for my tastes. Gunstar Heroes; Dynamite Headdy; Astro Boy… all classics. Last and by all means least – it was cheap. Well, only in comparison to the regular overpriced DS games the majority of which could justly appear on download services for fraction of the price. In fact, it’s on that very point where most of my issues with Bangai-O Spirits (BOS) rest.
Small breasted girls with pink hair – yep, it’s a Japanese game.
For those unfamiliar with the series, I’m in the same boat as you. From a cursory glance at Wikipedia, the original on Dreamcast had a story and was, quote, “dogshit”, whereas this one is simply a collection of levels with the campaign mode condensed as the tutorial. The three-way anime dialogue between two kids and mad scientist does a good job of explaining the move-set in an amusing fashion. Beyond the classroom there’s more than one hundred and fifty rooms to complete, ranging vastly in size and difficulty and the only common recurring requirement is the destruction of one or more targets. It’s like each level is another attack on another Death Star; each trench-run just keeps getting more bizarre and obtuse.
The sheer range of levels is amazing with stages as bizarre as boosting a dozen baseballs past a phalanx of bat wielding robots toward their intended target about fifty kilometres east. None should take you more than a minute to complete, but how many attempts that takes you is entirely dependent on you. There’s enough content here to last you longer than most story-driven games and it’s all laid out from the start.
His Power levels are >9000
Of course, none of it will appeal if the gameplay isn’t your bag, so I should probably get to explaining what it is exactly you do in BoS. If I suggested you go and watch some gameplay videos, I assure you’d come back none the wiser. Imagine a cross between Geometry Wars, Missile Command and Asteroids. Believe me, it all comes together in the mix. If you tried explaining Pac-Man to someone, they’d probably never want to play it and with good reason. You pilot the titular mech toward the target through labyrinthine levels, avoiding or battling the many hazards along the way. Both you and your enemies fire and inordinate amount of ordinance constantly, filling what little screen space there is. Most fire is either huge or homing or both, so your small stature and nimble flying works for you, though a choice of mechs would’ve been welcome. As it is you kit out your micro machine any way you see fit with four slots for either melee, shield, reflecting, homing, freezing, bouncing, etc attacks.
Given their track record of producing fast and furious shooters (the sublime Gunstar Heroes for example) I was hoping Treasure could release just such a game for the DS, drowning as it is under wave after wave of mediocre licensed tat and ‘non’ games like Brain Training. Well what we’ve got here is more akin to old school bubble buster Pang than Ikaruga or Radiant Silvergun.
Sure its got enough hostile projectiles coming for you that it could be described as a ‘bullet hell’ game but with the right combination of weapons and well timed moves you can clear an area in mere seconds before advancing to the next near identical area filled with fresh bullets and repeat to fadeâ€¦
The biggest problem the game has aside from the obvious lack of longevity and rigid gameplay template is just how the game plays. By forcing both movement and aiming on the d-pad you never fell 100% in control and in fact would have been better served with a twin stick configuration or even some sort of option using the DS stylus.
If you fell in love with Bangai-O back in the Dreamcast era I doubt this will matter much as just like many handheld sequels of late everything here can be classed as fan service. Those of us playing for the first time beware as the larks to be had here are strictly short term and belong as a cheap download rather than a full priced retail game.
Secondary Score: 5/10
Certain properties such as Homing and bouncing can be mixed so that one attack does both. Regular attacks stream constantly but are only useful for countering enemy strikes (if that), while special EX moves mapped to the shoulder buttons are where the real strategy (and fun) lies: the more shit you’re about to take, the bigger the multiplier to you own room-clearing attack, so a clever risk/reward mentality quickly enters. Do you hit-and-run from the sidelines and hope to slowly wear down the opposition, or do you blow a path for yourself into the nest of vipers and take them all down in a single, epic fireworks display? The latter option is usually the way to go, as defeating enemies is the only way to replenish the EX bar with dropped fruit. (preferably watermelon, om-nom-nom!)
Is there a minus scale for framerate?
This is where my biggest complaint comes in. Why am I not playing this on an HDTV? The screen simply needs to be bigger, given the amount of times I’ve paused just to see where the dozen of missiles heading my way are coming from. Sure, the second screen acts as a mini-map, but it’s the action I’d like to see and I’m not getting enough of it at once. Add to this the framerate, which I’m in two minds about, for when the games descends into the 9th circle of bullet hell, that extra reaction time is a godsend. Though, I doubt technical limitations are ever an intentional design choice. Speaking of technical limitations, the supposed ability to create levels randomly by playing music through headphones into the DS’ microphone never worked once for me, but as our own Colin Cassidy has said, ‘If I’m buying the game, why should be expected to create it?’
The best thing I can say about BoS is that I never once got angry with it. Most games that throw you in at the deep end and expect you to learn to swim, before you drown in boredom (looking at you, Geo Wars) earn my contempt. Here, I feel I’m being challenged rather than punished. Of course I can’t speak for everyone, so allow me to recommend Astro Boy on the GBA as a gateway to a land of Treasures.