Calling something ‘hardcore' doesn't prevent it from sucking

Bangai-O Spirits Artwork 

HIGH Having a robot for a main character is always a perk.

LOW Everything else.

WTF The utter lack of a difficulty curve: it's all just this side of infuriating.

In certain circles, developers Treasure are still worshiped as near-mythic figures capable of performing flawless feats of 2D game design. The hardest of the core say the studio's name with reverence, and it's quite difficult to find anyone to speak ill of the work they've done. Though I do have respect for some of their titles like Ikaruga or the import-only Radiant Silvergun, I actually see Treasure as one of gaming's last sacred cows…from where I'm standing, they've failed to make the transition into the new generation, and the fact that they've largely disappeared from the public eye has granted them a sort of rock-star status by scoring few hits and then sort of "going out" at the top of their game.

Honestly, I think it's a little bit ridiculous how the studio remains virtually untouchable in critical discussion. I was never their biggest fan at the height of their popularity, and taking a look at their latest offering, Bangai-O Spirits, I still don't see anything to elevate their work above the hundreds of other studios engaged in the current scene besides their obvious adherence to 2D. Heresy, I know.

Bangai-O Spirits on Nintendo's DS is the sequel to Bangai-O on the Dreamcast. (Another reason the game gets insta-cred.) It's hard to properly sum the formula up, but the gist is that the player takes control of a small robot and basically tries to survive imminent death in approximately 160 different levels. The robot can change weaponry in order to improve its chances of survival depending on the situation, but it's almost more accurate to say that the game has puzzle-based gameplay than the traditional shooting one might expect based on the cover art and screenshots.

Bangai-O Spirits Screenshot       Bangai-O Spirits Screenshot

Rather than a traditional approach to design where developers understand the concept of level progression and take care to ensure that players have a chance to build skills and become familiar with idiosyncratic mechanics, what's actually here is more like a bunch of crazy ideas thrown together haphazardly, shaken until dizzy, and labeled a "game." But is it a game? If you ask me, it's more like pure chaos on a cartridge. Seriously, I think this game is a total wreck.

In most levels, death usually comes in seconds thanks to swarms of rockets or endless arrays of lasers.  If a Game Over hits me before I'm even aware of what's going on, how can I be expected to invent a strategy for success?  Going further, it's not entirely clear how each weapon the robot uses functions, or how they function when combined with each other, so apparently Treasure would like me to spend time trying things at random in the hopes of coming across a proper solution in between dying every five seconds. It's just common sense that a developer should make sure a player can swim before dropping them into the deep end, but that lesson seems to have slipped right by Bangai-O Spirits.

After the totally unsatisfactory tutorial, the player is given the choice between several groups of levels and everything is open from the start. This is noteworthy since it means that whenever a player gets stuck, they can simply skip whatever's giving them a headache and move on. However, rather than this feature being being a positive, this decision is more like an admission—I see it as Treasure's way of saying that they have no idea how to teach the player what to do, or how to build a proper difficulty curve. Going further, not only does the game offer a create-a-level feature, but every level in the entire game can be edited. Highly unusual, this addition only reinforces my impression that Bangai-O Spirits is more like half-baked shareware than a vetted, polished product from maverick pros. After all, there's no harm in letting players deconstruct the levels since they barely seem to work in the first place.

Bangai-O Spirits Screenshot       Bangai-O Spirits Screenshot

The lacking presentation doesn't help the sketchy gameplay. The visuals are totally cluttered, microscopically small, and bordering on nonfunctional. Quite literally, the robot the player controls is twenty pixels high (go grab your DS and count them to see how ridiculously small this is…I'll wait) and most of the environments are crammed full of enemy robots, objects to shoot, fruit to collect, and such massive concentrations of missiles and other projectiles that the DS chokes with slowdown. A small handful of the levels are even nigh-unplayable because the system struggles to display everything on screen. When a player gets killed between screen refreshes, that's a hint that things need to go back to the drawing board.

If Treasure's name wasn't attached to this product, I seriously doubt that it would have ever found a publisher, let alone the warm reception most other review sites have given it. I'd also say Treasure is quite fortunate to still be riding the wave of good feeling that was generated from their work in earlier years, but they'll get no such nostalgia from me. Messy, deficient, and distasteful, Bangai-O Spirits is currently in the lead for being the most abortive DS title I've played all year. Rating: 2.5 out of 10.

Disclosures: This game was obtained via the publisher and reviewed on the Nintendo DS. Approximately 6 hours of play was devoted to single-player modes. The game was not completed.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains mild fantasy violence. don't have anything to worry about.  The game may be crammed with robots, fruit, and more missiles than a person can count, but there's nothing especially violent or graphic about any of it. Besides, the graphics are so small, you can hardly make anything out in the first place. There's no questionable language or sexual content.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing: There aren't any accessibility problems with this game. There is only a tiny amount of dialogue presented through text in the tutorial, with none to be seen in the rest of the game.  There are no significant auditory cues, so audio won't be a problem here.

Brad Gallaway

Brad Gallaway

Brad Gallaway has been gaming since the days when arcades were everywhere and the Atari 2600 was cutting edge. So, like... A while.

Currently, he's got about 42 minutes a night to play because adulting is a timesuck, but despite that, he's a happily married guy with two kids who both have better K/D ratios than he does.

Brad still loves Transformers, he's on Marvel Puzzle Quest when nobody at the office is looking, and his favorite game of all time is the first Mass Effect -- and he thought the trilogy's ending was Just Fine, Thanks.

Follow Brad on Twitter at @BradGallaway
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16 Comments on "Bangai-O Spirits Review"

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Nicholas Swenson
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4 years 6 months ago
While I respect a person’s right to not like this game, it’s a bit ridiculous to claim that a game like this has no place in this industry. It certainly has a place, simply because there are many people who enjoy these kinds of games. In fact, these kinds of games are getting a huge resurgence; I mean, look at all of the bullet hell games out there. Probably harder and less forgiving than any NES game ever made. Anyway, my point is that while games like its forefathers are like this in order to extend playtime, it created a… Read more »
Legendmir
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Legendmir
7 years 2 months ago

For anyone put off by this review

I have played mariokart, the world ends with you, secret of mana, golden sun, pokemon gold on my DS – pretty good games i hope youll agree, however..

OMFG BANGAI O SPIRITS IS THE ABSOLUTE BEST GAME IVE EVER PLAYED ON DS LOVE IT LOVE LOVE ITTT!!! 🙂

sure the tutorial and lack of learning curve are rubbish, but id willingly trade them both in to accomodate the amount of levels you get, because this game is just so much fun

Jeremy
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Jeremy
7 years 4 months ago
I know we’re a year on now, but I dug this game out while doing some spring cleaning…it was BURIED at the bottom of a box with other “one hour and done” titles. I instantly recalled all the “WTF?” moments and anger that I had believed the hype, something I chastise others for doing! So I ended up here, at a review that seemed to be the only low-scoring one I could find. Heresy, you say? TOTAL AGREEMENT! That’s more like it. I understand a critic’s warm fuzzies for the days of their gaming past, but this title should bring… Read more »
Dave D
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Dave D
7 years 7 months ago

Thanks for actually reviewing the game accurately. I loved the original Bangai-o on dreamcast, and couldn’t stand this game. I enjoy treasure’s games, but as anyone who played stretch panic knows, they aren’t immune to a stinker now and then.

Anonymous
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Anonymous
7 years 7 months ago
I belive there isn’t a reason to convice the reviewer on if a game is good or not since there are many genres out there that appeal to diffrent audiances. I do however agree with his review. I found the tutorial lacking, and didn’t have you review the button functions and weapon combinations too well. It is nice that it was brief but it left the player not knowing some information to succeed in this game. I found the controls one of the worst offenders in this game, trying to stay in your position and fire or maintain a firing… Read more »
Synesthesia
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Synesthesia
7 years 9 months ago

Haha, too much difficult for you, gringo ?

You wonder if this game is really a game ? I wonder how you can call your crappy review as a review.

Tresure’s games are not for stupid casuals; go buy some skills, lightos.

Benn
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7 years 10 months ago
Yes, every fact you’ve posted here is true. However, every opinion you’ve given about the game is provably wrong. Yes, the tutorial is a bit weak. And yes, the game has a cheap difficulty curb. I’ll admit that for my first hour with the game, I found it too difficult to be fun. But when I started to finally understand the controls, everything clicked, and this became the best videogame released in 2008. This game has no difficulty curb because that would restrict the developers’ creativity. Levels give you only one second because that’s all you need. The game has… Read more »
Bingo Handjob
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Bingo Handjob
7 years 10 months ago
I’m not sure I’ve ever read a worse review than this by anyone who can spell properly. In what way, for example, is the tutorial “completely unsatisfactory”? It patiently explains every weapon, if anything at excessive length. And goodness me, stop whining about getting killed quickly. Is it costing you money to try again? To experienced Bangai-O players, Spirits is a little on the EASY side, very heavy on short, simple levels that can be beaten in five seconds, with too few of the big, sprawling, challenging stages of the N64/Dreamcast game (luckily there are lots of such custom stages… Read more »
Anonymous
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Anonymous
7 years 11 months ago

Thanks for the kind words, Brad! I’ll definitely think about it!

Brad Gallaway
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Brad Gallaway
7 years 11 months ago

Hi Anonymous.

Thanks for your thoughtful comments. Bangai-O is probably one of the most extreme examples of love-it/hate-it i’ve come across in some time… it’s no secret what side of the fence i come down on.

That said, maybe you’d consider taking your comments and turning in a second opinion on the game via our new review subissions process? i’m sure that some readers would find value in what you had to say about it as someone falling into the love-it camp.

Anonymous
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Anonymous
7 years 11 months ago
I have never commented on a GameCritics review before, but I’ve always regarded the reviewers here as insightful and not afraid to state their true feelings about a game. I respect your opinion of Bangai-O Spirits, but my experience with the game has been the exact opposite. In fact, I believe this to be the BEST game on the DS. The tutorial is extremely helpful, but it does take some extra “mucking around” time before the player has an idea of how each missile type works and begins choosing based on preference rather than experimentation. I view the overwhelming amount… Read more »
Brad Gallaway
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Brad Gallaway
7 years 11 months ago
Hi Fabio, and thanks for your comments. (Thank you as well, Aaron.) >>>Why? In your title, you state that “Calling something ‘hardcore’ doesn’t prevent it from sucking”. It really doesn’t. But it can — and in this case do — release the developer from the obligation of building a proper defficulty curve. This statement is a very keen insight into what’s going on with Bangai-O, and i actually agree with you 100%. I even call out the same sentiment in the review, although my take on it is to see it as a negative in contrast to your positive, but… Read more »
Fabio Bracht
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7 years 11 months ago
I’m almost sure I never said this about a review, but I’ll say now: you’re wrong. As wrong as it’s possible to be, this being a personal opinion and all. Why? In your title, you state that “Calling something ‘hardcore’ doesn’t prevent it from sucking”. It really doesn’t. But it can — and in this case do — release the developer from the obligation of building a proper defficulty curve. One can argue that today’s games are getting easier and easier, even the hardcore ones, because they have this need to ramp up the difficulty in a pace that doesn’t… Read more »
Aaron
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Aaron
7 years 11 months ago
Not to discount Brad’s opinion here, but Bangio-O has always had an undercurrent of love it/hate it status, and since the sequel willingly disregards a lot of conventions people associate with, well, good games (there’s zero level progression, zero story – not even a “bad” self-aware story, difficulty that typically ranges from hard to brutal, mostly short stages, no real unlockables, making the slowdown a part of the game, etc), it’s simply going to have detractors. However, these exchanges are in a sense a price for what it wants to really be, one of the editable, free form console games… Read more »
Brad Gallaway
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Brad Gallaway
7 years 11 months ago

i’m sure i’m in the minority on this game, but in the interest of full disclosure (lots of that going around lately) i really disliked the first Bangai-O, though i will say that the DC version was better than this, IMO…. if you loved the first one it might be worth it for you to check out, but this game and me are like oil and water.

she don’t mix.

Jason Karney
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Jason Karney
7 years 11 months ago

It’s sad to hear that this game sounds so messy. I still occasionally play the Dreamcast Bango-O, and always enjoy it thoroughly. I had looked forward to this DS interpretation; although I’d wondered how well it would play on the small screen(s). Apparently, not very. The original has a sequential progress, which sounds like is missing in Spirits. And the difficultly in Spirits sounds over-the-top!

*sigh* Maybe I’ll pick this up if I find it cheap, but maybe Bangai-O is best enjoyed on a larger screen, in (what I consider) polished form.

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