Bangai-O Spirits has a lot to live up to. Gunstar Heroes, Ikaruga, Radiant Silvergun, and the 1994 original Bangai-O all precede it, and with those games Treasure built up a reputation for creating unique and challenging shooters with a fun and unexpected twist. For Gunstar Heroes that twist was combining different weapon types, for Ikaruga it was mixing and matching weapon and enemy color, and for Bangai-O Spirits the hook is taking everything you know and love about shmups and turning it up to 11 while giving you the tools to deal with it. The masochist in you will revel at the mind-boggling number of enemies and bullets on screen at any one time. It’s not enough for Treasure to make a challenging game. They’ve been doing that for years. Bangai-O Spirits delights in your frustration, and it literally laughs at you when you die.
At first glance Bangai-O Spirits doesn’t feature a single player campaign. Don’t let the menu label fool you. Tutorial is where you want to start, and you’ll be there for a good long while. The tutorial is where Bangai-O Spirits hides its 17 levels and nearly 150 mission campaign mode. It’s lengthy, it’s challenging, and it is the only game mode to feature characters or narrative.
After the tutorial you’ll most likely land in Free Play mode where each of Bangai-O Spirits‘s levels is available to you. Freedom must be carefully managed. In some games it is welcome and makes the environment feel more alive (e.g., Grand Theft Auto IV, Saint’s Row), but here freedom is daunting and a bit unnerving. Shooters need a linear progression with a steady difficulty ramp-up.
Despite the open-ended nature of Free Play mode Bangai-O Spirits still manages to be fun thanks to great level design and play mechanics. Bangai-O Spirits, like many shooters out there, revels in filling the screen to capacity with enemies and their bullet spray. The difference lies in your defense against the enemy hoards. Both sets of weapons can be customized before each level. Each set can be used separately or combined. Combining weapons drains ammo faster, but their effects are combined allowing you to use homing lasers instead of just homing shots or just lasers.
Bangai-O Spirits sets itself apart in terms of multiplayer and level creation. Not only does Bangai-O Spirits support four player cooperative play (multi-chip) and a robust set of level-editing tools. Any level can be played in multiplayer, and any level can be tweaked in the level editor. If editing stock levels is unappealing the tool set also allows new levels to be created from scratch. Treasure even came up with an ingenious way of distributing user-created content. Edited levels are stored as sound files that can be recorded from the DS onto your PC for easy uploading to the Internet.
Bangai-O Spirits is not for the casual shooter fan. It is for the grizzled veteran who can play classic shmups by memory. Bangai-O Spirits is a spiritual successor to the N64’s Bangai-O so if that struck you as a rare gem then Bangai-O Spirits will satisfy you. For those that may not be sure I would advise you to check out some of Treasure’s other works before picking this one up (Ikaruga, for example, has a free demo available on XBLA).
ESRB: E10+ for Mild Fantasy Violence – this game is appropriate for any that won’t be frustrated by it.
Pros: Robust level editor, clever level distribution scheme, fun weapon customization
Cons: extremely difficult, too open for its own good
Plays like: Bangai-O, Gunstar Heroes