Review: Bangai-O Spirits (Nintendo DS)

Bangai-O Spirits
Developer: Treasure
Publisher: D3
Genre: Puzzle
Release Date: 8/13/2008

I love Treasure Games. My favorite game of all time? Guardian Heroes. My favorite game from 2003? Ikaruga. From 2004? Gradius V. I’ve played both of those two games to the point where I can beat both the GCN version of the former and the PS2 version of the latter without dying. From Gunstar Heroes to Dragon Drive I love Treasure.

There have only a single flaw – they can’t do sequels. Remember how I said Guardian Heroes was my favorite game of all time? Advance Guardian Heroes for the GBA was the biggest disappointment I’ve ever had in gaming. It was pretty bad in every way possible and had only a token nod to the original game. It was not received well by fans and it was widely considered the worst game Treasure ever made, mainly because it played nothing like the original game and you spent the whole game killing characters from the first. The GOOD GUY characters.

So here we are now with Bangai-O Spirits. Much like Guardian Heroes, this sequel to Bangai-O has only one thing in common with the original game – the use of the Bangai-O Mech. It plays nothing like the original, has no actual connection to the original and in fact, it’s not even a Shoot ‘Em Up like the original. It’s a puzzle game with only the vague illusion of being a shooter.

So has the Treasure curse struck again, or has Bangai-O Spirits managed to be a worthy successor to its Dreamcast predecessor?

Let’s Review

1. Story

There are several different modes listed in Bangai-O Spirts, but the truth is that all the modes are exactly the same. They just have different puzzles. This is a bit of a letdown because it means you have three choices: Play a puzzle from either the Tutorial, Treasure’s Best, Puzzle Stages, or Other Stages. Because all of these puzzles boil down to not actually being puzzles but trial and error, this gets old fast. There is also a Level Edit option, so you can create your own levels. Again, though each puzzle boils down to the exact same thing “Make sure you have the right weapon before you start, kill the right target. End Puzzle,” so it’s not that captivating.

There’s also the highly touted “Sound Load” mode which is supposed to be a revolutionary new way of transferring data. The truth is, it barely works, and although the manual for the game doesn’t point that out, both the reviewers guide and the 73 page walkthrough/FAQ for the game D3 sent me mentions this. I think it’s borderline unethical to warn the reviewers that, ” Treasure described the Sound Load feature as an adventure unto itself.” on page 72 of the reviewer only walkthrough and then on page 73 to say the Sound Load mode only really works when 2 DS Lites are in contact in a very VERY quiet environment. Because I write for you, the consumer, here is a direct cut and paste from the D3 guide for reviewers on the actual quality of Sound Load.

Adjust your volume to be lower and lower each attempt until the game starts to register the transfer (or vice versa). If you are getting a “Data transfer failed.” message, but you get the percentage complete to appear, lower your volume slightly. Essentially the sound is too loud, and the DS’s speakers aren’t sensitive enough to understand the complicated sound at that volume.

If you keep getting an error before the transfer even begins, then the sound is getting refracted, or there is some kind of interference. Try positioning the DSes in different ways. Try holding a piece of cloth over the Speaker during the transfer to reduce possible interference. It also helps to perform the transfer in a environment that will absorb sound well, such as a carpeted room, to keep noise and interference down.

The best success rate we’ve had was transferring from DS Lite to DS Lite with one DS’ speaker set on top of the microphone (as shown in the help texts in the Sound Load option). If you don’t have two DS Lite to transfer with, then try using the Nintendo DS to transfer to the DS Lite.

Here are some statistics based on a few hundred attempts at transferring stages and replays via sound:

DS Lite to Nintendo DS transfers:
“¢ In quiet environments they have a high rate of success.
“¢ In noisy environments they have a lower rate of success when transferring small files, but nearly impossible when transferring large files.
Nintendo DS to DS Lite transfers:
“¢ In quiet environments they have a high rate of success with smaller files but expect difficulty with the larger files.
“¢ In noisy environments they have a moderate rate of success with both small and large files.
Nintendo DS to Nintendo DS transfers:
“¢ In a quiet environment they have a moderate to low rate of success with file transfers; Small files transfer at a higher rate of success.
“¢ In a noisy environment they have a very low rate of success with transfers.

Headphones are incapable of transferring information if they are directly linked to the Nintendo DS – they do not produce enough volume for the game to pick up.

This is really, REALLY uncool in my opinion. When the publisher can’t even get it to work right most of the time, there is a problem. Treasure deserves a severe kick to the genitals for this and I at least applaud D3 for making the information on how to make Sound Load actually work available, but it really should have been included in the actual manual as well.

In all, you have three modes that are exactly the same, a level edit that just lets you make more of the same, and something that treasure itself admits barely even works. This is about as bad as a game gets here. Oh, are you looking for a plot? There is none. Yes, I know that the original Bangai-O‘s story was one of the most popular things about it. Too bad, so sad. It’s not here.

Modes Rating: Dreadful

2. Graphics

Wow is this game ugly. It’s arguably the worst looking game I’ve seen on the DS so far. Graphics are bare, badly rendered, so lacking in detail that I could call them blobs and not be exaggerating by much and exceptionally repetitive. You will see the same dozen or so designs repeated through 160 or so puzzles with little to no real variation. With all honesty, this game looks worse than some GBA titles and at times, it could pass for a GAME BOY game if it was in black and white.

Here’s the thing: Bangai-O Spirits is a puzzle game, and like all puzzle games ala Tetris or Columns, there’s a limited variety of graphics. But Bangai-O Spirits also wants to give the illusion of being a Shoot ‘Em Up, so there are a lot of bullets on the screen at once. The problem here is that there is also a lot of slowdown with said firepower. This is something you almost never see in a Treasure game, but it is here in spades, making the actual playing of the game that much worse.

There is absolutely nothing good I can say about the visuals. The best the game gets in with the static anime dialogue scenes in the tutorial, and even that is, once again, GBA quality at best.

Look, I adore Treasure. Possibly more than any other development company in the industry, but this is one butt ugly game that makes me feel Treasure was phoning it in. Like everything else about this game, the visuals are a crushing disappointment.

Graphics Rating: Worthless

3. Sound

I can’t really say much here. The sound effects and music are neither bad nor memorable. Due to the gameplay in Bangai-O Spirits, you’re never actually paying attention to any of the noises, as that will get you killed. A lot. Noise is either a distraction or it’s desperately trying to get Sound Load to actually work.

Thumbs in the middle here, which is possible the nicest thing I’ll get to say about this game all review.

Sound Rating: Mediocre

4. Control and Gameplay

And here’s where I just want to let profanity run amok, but I won’t. Needless to say though, this game plays like crap. Before each level, you have to pick from your assortment of weapons as to what you will take with you into the puzzle. Each weapon has their own strength and weakness, but you are given no hints as to what the puzzle with contain, so it’s basically trial and error. Compound that with the fact that for the vast majority of puzzles, you will need a specific combination of weapons or you will die, and there is a lot of restarting the same level. If you have that exact right weapon combination the game pretty much defeats itself, meaning the “hardcore intense strategy” the games proclaims to have is a bold faced lie. There is no strategy. It’s just guess and check combined with rote memorization, making it a video game version of a multiple choice SAT test. LAME.

Although gameplay is basically crap, the controls themselves are a little bit better. The trigger buttons are your EX weapons, and then you have two buttons that act as your normal weapon options. You can also use the A button for your rocket boost which also lets you have a shoulderblock attack. For the most part these controls are fine. I also like that certain weapon options can be mixed together into one super weapon. It makes for a nifty idea – if this game was actually a Shoot ‘Em Up. Instead it’s a fairly wasted idea because once again, it’s not about the combination, it’s about whether or not the combination is the one right mix that you need for a particular level.

Supposedly if you tap the B button twice rapidly, your Bangai-O will hover allowing you to just aim instead of aim and move. This only works a fraction of the time, which as you might imagine is quite annoying.

In all there’s not a lot to the game. You just pick your weapons, try to make sure you have the right combo of weapons to survive, and then figure one the one or two possible ways to beat each level without dying. Which is easier said than done. Regardless of your skill level, you will die in Bangai-O Spirits. You will die often and you will die not because of your lack of skill, but because of your inability to prognosticate. As soon as you make the slightest mistake, you’re killed. This is not a gross exaggeration. When you are hit you are stunned for a brief second. When you are hit by more than one weapon, the stuns stack. And there are always multiple enemies on the screen. This again is a huge thumb’s done for me as the game rewards blind luck and level memorization rather than hand-eye coordination as in most Treasure games. At least other puzzles games have some degree of randomness and skill involved. Again, not cool in any way, shape or form to me.

Gameplay is boring, trite, and shallow and controls are decent, but at times unresponsive. This is easily the worst game Treasure has ever made and that includes the Ronald McDonald game they made early on in their existence.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Bad

5. Replayability
Well, there are 160+ levels and you can play them in any order you want, whenever you want. There is no linearity to the game, but there’s also no reward or real triumph for beating the game. So take that for what you will.

The ability to create your own levels is probably the biggest factor to keep you coming back to this game, but even that is very limited compared to say, Blast Works.

The other key factor is that the game is really not that much fun to play. It’s the same thing for 160 levels and it’s basically the anti-Shoot ‘Em Up, thus alienating what should be the game’s key supporters. Factor is the sheer amount of times you will die in this game, and well, Bangai-O Spirits does a far better job of pushing gamers away then it does attracting them.

Replayability Rating: Poor

6. Balance Rating

There is no balance to Bangai-O Spirits. In fact it is one of the least balanced games I’ve ever played. Long time readers know I generally adore the crazy hard games. Games that have difficulty setting stuck at “SNK END BOSS”. Bangai-O Spirits however isn’t difficulty at all. It’s guess and check. No skill, intelligence, hand-eye coordination or gaming talent is needed. All one has to do is memorize the level layout and then bring in the correct weapon combination and the level is beaten.

When a game relies on luck, and only luck, you’re basically just gambling. I don’t gamble. I play games to sharpen my wits or increase my skill. Bangai-O Spirits is incapable of either and that makes it fundamentally worthless to me.

There is no real kind way to put this. Bangai-O Spirits is basically the exact opposite of everything that made the original Bangai-O. so wonderful. It is dull, lackluster, ugly, and the only challenge comes from setting your weapons properly and figuring out the order you are supposed to kill things. It’s just sloppy and poorly thought out in every way. I thought Advance Guardian Heroes was as bad as Treasure could get, but this makes AGH look like a quality title by comparison.

The only people that will find this game hard are the people who haven’t figured out the cheapness of the game. The only people that will find this game fun are the people who will praise it simply because it is a Treasure game. The truth is, it’s a pile that will thankfully be forgotten before the end of the year.

Balance Rating: Worthless

7. Originality

Well, it is original to make a sequel that is completely different from the original game, so that’s something. It’s also a unique idea to make a weird hybrid between a Shoot ‘Em Up and a Puzzle game. So that’s another plus for this game.

However when it’s basically 160 levels of guess and check with the same exact process for each level the innovation wears out very quickly. The game was obviously based on an idea that looked good on paper, but in reality turned out to be very thin and weak, so they just repeated it a gazillion times in hopes of selling the game on both the Treasure and Bangai-O name. After about ten levels you’ll realize the only variation is in what weapons to bring, and the only innovation comes from half-assed broken ideas.

Originality Rating: Mediocre

8. Addictiveness

This is probably the most boring game I’ve played all year. There is no reward, there is no skill gain, there is not benefit. It’s just a mindless guess and check. It’s up there with a really bad Adventure game in terms of just randomly trying things to get by. The tutorials were amusing, but by the time I hit the double digits in tutorial missions, I was bored to tears with this game. You know a game is pretty damn awful when the tutorial goes 16 missions long. How does anyone else not see the red flag there?

Honest to god, I wish i could go back in time and let Mark call this game and thus suffer through playing it. It’s that bad. Remember when the MST3K gang watched Hobgoblins and they talked about how they wished they could go back in time and murder the creators in their crib so they couldn’t grow up to make such a horrible movie? That’s pretty much how I’m feeling here.

This is the worst puzzle/shoot/sequel/DS game I have played all year. Any game that requires this much trial and error and absolutely no skill isn’t worth being released to the general public. Hellboy: Science of Evil may have been a worse game, but at least there were times when I could say I enjoyed the game or got some sort of reward out of playing it. This is gaming for the sake of masochistic gaming, and I am NEVER down with that.

Addictiveness Rating: Worthless

9. Appeal Factor

Here is a list of the three type of fans who will claim to like this game

A) Treasure fanboys/apologists
B) Gaming journalists who want to prove how “hardcore” they are by bashing the game for the same reasons I have, but then giving the game a high score (see 1UP and Game Informer) which placates the publisher and outright lies to the consumer
C) People who enjoy taking those Cosmo multiple choice tests and taking them over and over and over again until they get a perfect score.

Honestly, if you can somehow find enjoyment in a game whose goal is to evoke a Pavlovian response from its players, then I hope never to visit the institution in which you are incarcerated.

Appeal Factor: Dreadful

10. Miscellaneous

So we have a game that is bad in all the ways its predecessor was awesome. We have a game that sucks at being a puzzle and a shooter, much less a hybrid of both. We have a game that touts a revolutionary new mode, but then reviewers are told how the mode barely works. You have a game that is 160 levels of trial and error without any plot, reward or substance. This my friends, if it was a game made by anyone BUT Treasure, would be lambasted against by every gaming publication out there. Instead it’s getting high scores from reviewers who openly bash it, because they know THEIR audience doesn’t read the content – they’ve trained their sheep to just look at the score they give, which has become a duplicitous misnomer cheated consumers out of their hard earned cash.

Well, not here. Not at Diehard GameFAN. I pretty much spooge on most Treasure titles and even I am saying THIS. GAME. SUCKS. I love D3 for bringing it over. I love D3 for bringing lots of weird games over. But I am giving Treasure a big middle finger for the crap it pulled with Bangai-O Spirits

Bad developer. Bad, bad developer.

Miscellaneous Rating: Worthless

The Scores
Story: Dreadful
Graphics: Worthless
Sound: Mediocre
Control and Gameplay: Bad
Replayability: Poor
Balance: Worthless
Originality: Mediocre
Addictiveness: Worthless
Appeal Factor: Dreadful
Miscellaneous: Worthless

Short Attention Span Summary

Bangai-O Spirits is one of the worst games I have played this year and is an utter disgrace to the original Bangai-O. For the love of god, don’t buy this game unless you have a rote memorization fetish. This is easily the biggest disappointment of the year for me and Treasure should be ashamed of making this title.



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7 responses to “Review: Bangai-O Spirits (Nintendo DS)”

  1. […] have played worse games this year, but either nostalgia (Bangai-O Spirits) or unlocking nifty things Hellboy: Science of Evil) made them more fun to play. Dracula 3 was […]

  2. […] have played worse games this year, but either nostalgia (Bangai-O Spirits) or unlocking nifty things Hellboy: Science of Evil) made them more fun to play. Dracula 3 was […]

  3. Random dude Avatar
    Random dude

    This game surpasses the DC version imo. Although it’s true the combat is more puzzle-oriented that is done in a good way that rewards thinking and planning. The DC was more of an arcade shooter with only 2 choices: bouncy laser, missiles. You could shoot like you could in smash tv and robotron and geometry wars. But in this you have far more options to tackle the same combat situation which all work effectively to complete the level but which all have their advantages an disadvantages based on level structure:
    missile spam, reflect/baseball bat, dodge and shoot while dashing backwards (works on ninjas if you time it right after they miss the first sword slash) and circle strafing the ‘herd’, (you can lock on now so you can fire in more than 16 directions) shield/turtle, and many other tactics like hiding behind a wall and making enemies take a long route to get to you so you can funnel them into one area (enemies can’t run past each other, just like how in diablo you could use doors to fight enemy swarms one to one if you were a warrior class with focused melee attack)

    It is true that the levels are small: but I think what treasure were trying to do is get you to think outside the box. For example when faced with enemies that can shoot as much as you, and spam the screen full of many objects as you, you can’t always take an offensive approach. Sometimes you have to lure them one by one into traps, bash others into them to absorb the bullets to create a clear path (acts as a force multiplier) and circle strafe to the side of them to exploit thier turtle behaviour. This makes the game closer to a street fighter or a “serious sam” type of action game where you still have to use the brains but combined with fast reflexes and accurate flying skill.(the ninja are perfect example since to time the shot right you have to pay attention to their sword slash animation to get them into hitstun. Once in hitstun, just like with street fighter you can do your combo before they recover. (that could include shoulder barge to push them into others or just rapid fire missiles while they are off balance or recovering.)

    Even though it might seem “hard” are first it’s a different type of “hard”. Just as it might seem hard to use character with lots of technique and long movelest properly (take Gen from the street fighter alpha series for example) versus a simple character with only a few moves but power. (ie blanka for example)

    It’s not a shittier game, it’s deeper than the DC game, but suffers from lack of focus due to the ability ot skip levels which imo goes against the philosphy of old school gamer thinking. Which is: you must earn your right to see the next level. This discipline will ensure that you will learn from all the mistakes you make on retrying the level and and when overcoming the challenge you are ready for a harder challenge than the last one or able to take on more hard challenges more often without sweating as you get better skilled.

    …But once you get over that, this game is as deep as fighting games (close quarters combat in a way feels like the weapons in halo where you can take advantage of each weapons strengths by drawing them out at just the right distance and time)

    In realistic shooters weapons have an “effective range” and how you use your weapons effects your ability to kill efficiently, so similarly in bangai-o spirits you tend to think a lot more tactically by understanding the weapons you have and adjusting your fighting style accordingly. Some people like wearing down the enemy (waiting for the enemy to get tired and only attack when asolutely necessary and while the enemy is in a moment of weakness) others like the spam a screen and recharge energy for area effect damage. This game is a lot more fun than a mere arcade shooter for the reward of your knowledge of weapons because it means you have more choices in how you tackle levels. Some will deliberately choose the easiest weapon loadout to win so they can speed run the level, others will test to see how good they are at surviving without the best weapons to hone their skill with only the weapons they want to be skilled at using. And others will have some combination of the above: adjusting their playstyle when they find they are as good as they will ever get with whatever weapon combination they started with and wanting a new challenge. (this would be the equivalent of playing a different class in a RPG)

    I use to read diehard gamefan (the magazine) when it started out and when it was just an ad in EGM but this review; although very well written and explains the reasons for the negative tones by telling the reader what frustrated them, is a view I can’t take with this.

    I will admit to hating the more “open” level select ability because if you come across a hard challenge it will allow a player to chicken out, but for a portable system this bangai-o is perfect for quick-but-intense games where time isn’t a big deal and where the fun is in finding as many different and unique ways to complete a level as you can.

    This isn’t as much a relaxing shooter as the DC game I find. But I flew through the DC game like I fly through playing a fighting on single player mode whose mechanics are too simple and haven’t added anything newer or deeper on top of the game mechanics. This represents an evolution of the game and allows varied playstyles to be used. Think of being able to use others as projectiles as the equivalent to throwing people inot other people in Final Fight to defend yourself. Or using the bat to throw back projectiles as being the same as using blanka electricity move? (ie using the enemies own projected attack against him so that his offense becomes your defense)

    I think if the levels were all themed and you got progressively further into a story as yu completed tasks in the game it would be more appealing, but I think lack of linear structure is made up for by the level editor and sound load feature which is imo the innovation of the year.

    (this technology should be used as standard in many other games imo)

    Treasure can make sequels, it’s just that we gamers sometimes don’t like change to familiar things. What if, for example the capcom marvel “VS” series of games were never made? They might be less deep than the normal capcom fighters and be less aimed at hardcore fighting fans and more for fans of the characters, but they offer a different experience to the normal street fighter or darkstlkaers series. Spirits to me is the thinking man’s bangai-o. Its combat is more feature rish without necessarily being more satisfying just as castlevania symphony of the night has more variety in combat style to old school non-rpg castlevanias, but suffers in level design because it isn’t as linear in structure like the arcadey castevanias.

    Doesn’t mean Symphony of the night which requires far less skill to complete, is crappier than the arcade castlevania games which let you wander around anywhere that isn’t locked and have weaksauce bosses which don’t punish you much when you fail to avoid the attack patterns consistently.

    People sometimes don’t like changes but when you stick to the same thing for too long, people’s minds are not stimulated enough to keep playing the same thing over and over again: I don’t want sequels to feel like expansion packs but rather, to offer something new on top of the parts of the game that already worked well. And this is what Bangaioh spirits offers for a portable in my book.

  4. Random dude Avatar
    Random dude

    …Correction to my above post..
    Where I said:
    “Doesn’t mean Symphony of the night which requires far less skill to complete, is crappier than the arcade castlevania games which let you wander around anywhere that isn’t locked and have weaksauce bosses which don’t punish you much when you fail to avoid the attack patterns consistently.”

    What I meant to say there was …is crappier than the arcade castlevanias which DIDN’T.. let you wander around..

    The point being SOTN is shallow in difficulty and thrills to it’s more focused arcade games, but it rewards you for learning about magick and items as you progress and your knowledge grows. Thinking about strategies before going into combat and how you will combo your enemy in each given situation. (ie have both long and short term reasons for using certain armor or equiping weapons before settling on the best combo for each enemy type you find in the castle who are weaker against certain weapons than others.

    As an example A large golem boss might be slow and stupid (and be a huge taget to hit so no chance of missing them) so you as a player adjust and take a more offensive approach with heavy weapons at that point.

    But then after killing him say you encounter an agile enemy that spams you, runs fast and is small target to hit. This requires light armor and weapons to get more successfull hits on him within a smaller window of time. So depending on the enemy type you encounter your offensive heavy weapon is useless against the enemy and other times your light but fast one is useless – but constantly changing weapon loadout helps you think out of the box.

    You could still choose to fight the agile enemy using a heavy weapon that is more likely to miss the enemy, but in doing that, you as a player (not the player character’s speed, I’m referring to YOUR speed and reflexes) would just have to compensate with skill (your faster reaction times in order to hit earlier than normal) even though you would probably take more damage if you used the weapon that is less-efficient at killing that particular enemy type.

    Bangai-oh spirits takes away the rigid structure of the dc game and allows you to swap and combo different types of weapons together so you as a player can forumlate unique tactics. Just as weapon choices in halo make you effective against certain aliens because of the way those aliens have different avoidance tactics, (some with hand-carried shields, some with superhuman health, others with agilty to dodge with ease) and attack styles. (some spam you without thinking about cover, others rush at close range for instant kill, weak ones cower to regroup with others for safety in numbers tactics to swarm and overwhelm you from all sides to slowly sap your health over time, others like the “Flood” zombies are almost suicidal not thinking about their own safety which makes them 10 more dangerous than normal “smart” enemies who duck and recharge behind things)

    If a home version of Bangai-O Spirits is ever made I would like to see a more-structured single player mode and have the level select feature only open up after you’ve won the game. For me that is the only thing that spoils it because having hard levels amidst easy ones just isn’t as good as having all the hard ones late in the game when you are at your prime and need a bigger and tougher and faster and smarter challenge due to the hours of intense play.

  5. […] is what made it such a cult classic in these parts. They did make a Nintendo DS followup titled Bangai-O Spirits, but like some of the other sequels Treasure has done (Advance Guardian Heroes comes to mind), it […]

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