Bangai-O Spirits Review

If you are at all familiar with Treasure, the Japanese developer that over the years has come to be known as a gamer's game company, then you already know that for whatever reason, they are simply incapable of making a bad game. From the company's early days, when they brought the absolutely amazing Gunstar Heroes to the Sega Genesis, to the present, where they managed to make fighting games based on the dreadful "Bleach" anime/manga into must-play, wildly technical DS 2D fighters (which finally made it to the U.S. of their own accord, I couldn't wait that long, so I have the imports), Treasure just can't help themselves; everything they do is a hands-down amazing game that is a must-own before it ever hits store shelves.

It comes as no surprise, then, that Bangai-O Spirits, the Nintendo DS sequel to a lesser-known Sega Dreamcast/Sega Saturn shooter, is every bit as good as anything else they've managed to get to their fans, a group that I proudly count myself as a member of. But, before I go any further, it needs to be said that this latest opus has Treasure fans divided. Some feel it is more a puzzle game than a shooter, and therefore, isn't as good as past efforts. Those people are nuts. Bangai-O Spirits is not only a great addition to Treasure's ever-growing catalog of classics, its mix of twitchy shooting and strategy, coupled with the most bizarre and ingenious level editor in recent memory, make it one of the top five DS games of 2008 so far. And get this it is a budget title that retails for only $19.99!

To understand Bangai-O Spirits, you'll probably need to be at least somewhat familiar with Treasure's other efforts. Games like Ikaruga, Gunstar Heroes and even Sin & Punishment are all extremely fast-paced action shooting games that, to the untrained eye, look as though there is far too much going on for any one person to handle. Bangai-O Spirits is no different. You'll be controlling a mech/robot suit and guiding it through levels with more enemies, projectiles and obstacles than should be possible on the DS's two tiny screens. Your goal in each and every level is simple eradicate all the enemies and be the last one standing.

Only it isn't that simple. Each enemy you'll face is a ton more powerful than you are and each is equally dangerous. Luckily, your little robot is capable of quite a lot. You have full range of movement and complete control over a number of different melee and projectile attacks, all of which can be combined and used to different ends. That is where the puzzle game aspects come in; you'll need to figure out the right shots, the right combos and which enemies and/or obstacles are weak or susceptible to your various attacks.

I can hear you saying, "Figuring out enemies weaknesses? How is that like a puzzle game?" The best example, and the easiest to explain, can be found in one of the game's earliest levels. To finish of a particular cluster of enemies to finish a level, you have two choices burst through the small opening leading to them with guns-a-blazin,' or figure out a better way. After a try or two, you'll realize that the brute force method will always get you killed. The best way to finish the stage is to combine your homing missiles and bouncing shots to ricochet projectiles down the hallway and take them out from afar. Other solutions include figuring out which shots multiply when they connect with enemy projectiles, the adequate timing of charging and direction of your more powerful super moves and, just to keep players on their toes, a few stages can only be completed by good old brute force.