GDC 08: Hands on with Bangai-O Spirits

The gamer’s gamer will remember the joy’s of Treasure’s 2D treasure, Bangai-O. I’m sure they’ll also agree that the insane shooter was one of the best reasons to own Sega’s Dreamcast, and those that still own it probably feature it high upon some shelf, like a prized trophy. I’m with you on all of these points. I’m sure these fans agree that we need more Bangai-O. Luckily, D3 is on the case.

At a morning meeting at the 2008 Game Developers Conference, D3 was showing me other things. I liked those other things, but I felt bad that I couldn’t focus on them; I couldn’t wait for my turn to get a bit of hands-on time with the game directly behind me: Bangai-O Spirits for the Nintendo DS.

Hit the jump for our impressions of Bangai-O Spirits.

Don’t let the tiny little DS screen discourage you; this game is every bit as explosive and difficult as you’d remember from previous versions. In fact, Bangai-O Spirits arms players with more powers than ever, but the difficulty (and insaneness) has also been ramped up. In other words, get ready to die fast and often.

For those new to the game series, Bangai-O Spirits, like its two predecessors, puts you in a tiny mecha. You’re basically a little spot on the screen, and your job is to blow sh*t up. You are free to zoom about the commotion and use your arsenal to explode your way through various puzzle-like stages. If I had to classify the Bangai-O series, I’d call them twitch shump puzzle games.

Bangai-O Spirits doesn’t stray far from its tried-and-true formula, though the weapons system has been upgraded a bit. Players will choose their weapons at the start of the stage, and new offerings like napalm flame throwers and projectile reflecting bats make for some fun choices. I enjoyed “swinging for the fences” with the projectiles aimed at me with the bat, but just like real baseball, I suck, and I struck out often. Note that none of these new weapons make things any easier.

Charging super attacks and letting them loose is every bit as impressive as it was on the Dreamcast, though its even easier to appreciate how much is going on inside this portable game system. At times during gameplay, there were unimaginable amounts of explosions and projectiles going off at once. I was impressed, but the D3 rep told me that it gets even more crazy as the game progresses.

So, what’s different about Bangai-O Spirits? A lot. Aside from the new weapons, title also supports cooperative and head-to-head gameplay. And speaking of gameplay, there’s plenty. There was already 100+ stages in the Japanese version of the game, but D3 says that tons more will be packed into the US release.  

Japanese box 

Having numerous stages is great, but being able to create your own is even better. It’s a good thing that Bangai-O Spirits has the coolest level editor ever made, hands down. It’s as simple as selecting your item and scribbling it in place with your stylus. I watched as the D3 rep edited and changed a level on the fly, adding platforms and bombs and whatnot instantly. Seeing it in action made me realize that the possibilities are endless, and this level editing is really a game in itself.

And finally, what good would all these amazing features do if you couldn’t share them? Bangai-O Spirits does offer a way to share, though it’s not through normal means. The game uses sound to transmit data! Modem-ish noises containing level and score data will come out of your DS headphone jack. These sound files can be saved to your PC and traded over the internet. To receive data, you just need to play back this sound file for the DS microphone. How retro is that? It’s like the old cassette tape data storage method, only cooler!

I think it’s clear that Bangai-O Spirits is a damned impressive game. I didn’t get to play much from all the dying that went on, but I craved more. Fans of the past two versions will easily be able to relate to this addictive feeling that Treasure has seemed to master, and it seems that Bangai-O Spirits is packed to the brim with it.

Keep an eye out this Spring for the US release. 

Dale North