Publisher: D3 Publisher
Release Date: August 12, 2008
Before we begin our discussion of the merits of Bangai-O Spirits, a disclaimer: If you are not a fan of intensely hardcore games, titles so difficult that you may literally rip your hair out in frustration, then Spirits is not for you. This is a wickedly difficult game, featuring levels and enemies designed for one purpose: to kill you as quickly and mercilessly as possible. The game is so vengeful that there is even a sinister laugh to taunt you every time you die. Make no mistake, this title is not for the casual or even the mainstream gamer; it is purely a hardcore-only affair. However, if you fall into this camp of gamer, someone who craves insane difficulty and a nearly endless experience, then you'll want to pick up this one right away.
There's really no plotline or progression to Spirits; everything in the game is available to you right from the get-go. It would be wise to spend a few moments going through the game's training levels, which teach you how to attack, maneuver and effectively use weapons, but once that is done, the gates are flung wide open and you are left to do whatever it is you wish with the rest of your experience. The Free Play mode lets you run through Spirits' 150-plus levels in whatever order you would like. You can select from "Treasure's Best," which is a collection of the developers' favorite stages, a collection of brain-teasing puzzle stages, or any of the 100 other levels that were included in the final build. It's truly up to you to play the game in the manner you see fit, and with such a wide variety, you can easily walk away from a stage that is frustrating you and head over to a level that will, well … frustrate you in a brand-new way.
When you're done trying to dust off the existing stages, Spirits encourages you to build your own via the game's very slick Edit mode. This mode allows you to take a current level and modify it in any manner you wish, or to create a brand-new experience from the ground up. Every set piece, enemy, weapon and music track is available to you from the first moment you turn on the game, so you are limited in what you can create only by your own imagination. Whether it's a simple block-pushing puzzle stage to give you respite from the relentless enemies or a missile-spewing hell only the most skilled gamer could conquer, the tools are at your fingertips, and they couldn't be easier to use.
Another innovative aspect of the created stages is the method of transfer. Rather than using the DS' Wi-Fi to send data to nearby units, the developer has instead opted to store all stages as sound files, which can then be transferred to any other DS in the world at any time. The process is quite ingenious, as you simply upload the sound file to your PC and post it in a place where others can have access, then that individual downloads the file and plays it while holding the DS mic up to the speaker, and just like that you've got a brand new stage. Even as we speak, hundreds of new stages are up on various file-sharing sites, with more and more added every day. Ultimately, this constant influx of new stages really makes Spirits a virtually endless game.
Spirits is classified as an action game, but that's a bit of a misnomer. You see, while most level are indeed pyrotechnic shows in their own right, the title is just as much a puzzle game as it is a shooter. Before every stage, you are given the opportunity to select your two primary weapons as well as your special EX weapons. These armaments range from homing missiles, bounce shots and napalm bombs to swords, bats and shields. In any given level, half the battle is trying to figure out which weapons you'll need in order to survive long enough to see the other side.
That is very much the puzzle aspect, but the action bit is no slouch either. From the moment a given level starts, it is highly likely you'll immediately be beset by fire on all sides. You are constantly outmanned and outgunned in Spirits, and your only hope is to unleash your own firepower to obliterate everything that moves in a given level. In a sick twist, Treasure has developed the game so that suicidal tendencies are actually rewarded. You see, whenever you launch an EX attack (triggered by holding L or R), you can hold the button for a few extra moments in order to charge your barrage. Coincidentally, the more enemies and missiles that are on-screen at once, the stronger your attacks grow so if you're really crazy, you can fully charge your attack and unleash it the instant before your enemies vaporize you. Succeed, and you win an impressive victory; fail, and it's that haunting laugh once more as you reboot the stage.
These massive attacks are actually amusing in their own way, as they prove that the DS really isn't capable of handling this game. Launching a wave of missiles results in tremendous (though temporary) slowdown, and it's unlikely that you'll even be able to see your whole attack — a fact the game amusingly addresses in the tutorial. In short, this title is so insane that the system on which you're playing it can't even handle it. Aside from those issues, the game looks and sounds great, but we can't very well let a developer off the hook when there are some major visual issues. While the bugs that plague the frames of Spirits aren't incredibly severe by any means, the fact still remains that the hardware just can't keep up with the game that it's running.
Bangai-O Spirits is a difficult game to review because it really exists in two separate worlds. For those niche gamers who played the original on the Dreamcast and recently went bananas over Ikaruga when it was released on Xbox Live Arcade, this will easily be one of their favorite games of the year. The intense challenge, extensive set of levels and exhausting level editor will likely keep them entertained for months. Those outside this market will likely despise Spirits for being too hard, too frustrating and utterly pointless. Perhaps one thing that could have bridged the divide between the two camps would have been a campaign mode that slowly introduced weapons and game concepts as you played, thus easing you into the experience, but that's simply not the case. Ultimately, Spirits is a great game on its own merits, just not one that is suited for everyone.
If you feel like this sort of experience would be right up your alley, then by all means, pick this one up. If you're wavering or unsure about it, you'd be best served by simply staying away. I can't remember a time when I've ever scored a game this high and yet warned the general public to stay away, but I suppose there's a first time for everything, and Bangai-O Spirits seems like the perfect game to cause just such an occasion.
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