PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Reviews

Bangai-O Spirits

Bangai-O Spirits shines because it's not easily classified as any given kind of game.


Publisher: D3
Genres: Action
Price: $29.99
Multimedia: Bangai-O Spirits
Platforms: Nintendo DS
Number of players: 1
ESRB rating: Everyone 10+
Developer: Treasure
US release date: 2008-08-12
Website
Amazon
Developer website

At this point, it is almost cliché to refer to developer Treasure as "quirky". Clearly they've got their own design aesthetics. What is most impressive about Treasure, however, is that their vision tends to come through in both original properties (where they certainly have the most creative control) and licensed material (where they presumably do not). It is almost always the case that a Treasure-developed game will bring its own frenetic sense of style to the table, and this is particularly true in the case of shooters. Arguably, the Treasure stable of shooters is what has led to their status as a cult developer, and as such, each new one is met with a good deal of anticipation from studio fans.

Bangai-O Spirits is no exception, and despite the fact that it is a sequel to an N64 (and later Dreamcast) title, it is extraordinarily unique. Where Astro Boy: The Omega Factor impressed with its adapting of a licensed property to the Treasure style, and Ikaruga became a cult classic on the strength of its brilliant polarity mechanic, Bangai-O Spirits shines because it's not easily classified as any given kind of game. The player pilots a mech and has a variety of weapons with which to customize it. But the mech is piloted in eight directions on a two-dimensional plane, and the action is zoomed out enough that at a casual glance, it might seem simply to be a traditional shooter. At the same time the level designs, at a core level, lend the title an extremely puzzle-oriented quality. This blending of styles is at once risky and rewarding.

Traversing any given level, and defeating the enemies within, typically requires careful consideration of which weapons to equip your mech with beforehand, along with a healthy (though not frustrating) dose of trial-and-error. Combination bonuses between normal and special weapons in certain configurations complicate matters further. Is variety or power more valued in your arsenal? The answer to this question will rely as much on the player's particular style as it will on the level itself. There are levels which can be construed as mazes, boss battles, bullet hell shooters, and everything in between.

Interestingly, the credits actually roll once the tutorial sequence of levels is complete. Although the game does come packed with a copious number of other levels, what is really presented here is a game framework. The level editor is robust, and hence much of the life of the game can be breathed in via user-created content. The fundamentals of Bangai-O Spirits are strong enough that it will hopefully generate a solid following. Such a fanbase will be critical to its long-term success, though given Treasure's pedigree and its status as a cult favorite developer, it is not difficult to imagine that such longevity is possible.

This style is actually rather similar, among other games, to the indie hit N, with its vast archives of user created maps. Both N and Spirits come packed with an impressive amount of content direct from the developers, but leave room open for much, much more. Further, at the core, both are centered around simple, elegant, and addictive fundamentals. Although there doesn't seem to be a friendly central repository of user content for Bangai-O Spirits yet, as there is for N (http://nmaps.net), there are threads at GameFAQs where users can post their maps, as well as maps currently being distributed via Youtube videos.

This is all made possible by Bangai-O Spirits' brilliantly retro and creative mechanism for level distribution, namely sound. By encoding level data as a sound that can be recorded and then input to another DS through the integrated microphone, level swapping requires neither downloading large amounts of data directly to the DS, nor entering lengthy codes via the touchscreen. Perhaps more notably, this method of level sharing completely bypasses the need to interact with Nintendo's frustratingly restrictive friend codes.

Bangai-O Spirits, then, is another example of Treasure's most admirable qualities as a developer. Not only is their ever-present sense of style intact, but Spirits also underscores Treasure's willingness to create uniquely challenging titles, which clearly cater to the hardcore market. It also demonstrates Treasure's continued effort to not repeat itself too much. Spirits is sufficiently different from the original to qualify it as a markedly different experience. And though Treasure has made more straightforward sequels in the past, no single franchise from them has been repackaged ad nauseum.

An already solid package as it stands, Spirits has the potential to experience a good deal of longevity due to its level creation and distribution framework. Further, it functions equally well as an introduction to Treasure neophytes and as another potential cult favorite for long-time studio fans. It is easy to imagine that Spirits will not be a commercial success given both the relative dearth of promotion behind it and its nature as "another quirky game from Treasure", but hopefully word of mouth will gain Bangai-O Spirits the attention it rightfully deserves.

9

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.