Only ever released in Japan. A very limited edition. By legendary software house Treasure. Any one of those would make pixel-eyed shoot-’em-up fans reach for their credit cards, but Bangai-O ticked all three boxes on N64. Being a brilliant game didn’t do it any harm either. Of course they ruined some of that cred by rehashing it for a global release on Dreamcast, but the N64 one remained the best and is still prized by collectors and obsessives. Surely they couldn’t repeat the trick on DS…
Like its predecessors, Bangai-O Spirits combines elements of shooters and puzzle games to create something that’s almost in a genre of its own. You fly a tiny robot around levels that can span a few screens in area, blasting through similarly spec’d enemies and static obstacles, collecting the fruit they leave behind. When a certain key object has been destroyed, you’re done. Sometimes it takes a couple of minutes and a lot of retries. Other times, it’s over in a couple of seconds.
Spirits makes more of its puzzle elements than previous versions did, probably because the DS isn’t really suited to a screen-full of characters each firing 100 rebounding bullets. Charge up your weapon and you can still release the trademark swarm of homing missiles, but most of the levels value smartness over firepower.
Instead of allowing you to fire in any direction, like the original did, Spirits lets you customise the robot’s arsenal by assigning different weapons to each button. Select your favourites from a range of missiles, lasers, swords and special moves, and hope you’ve got the right combination to get through the next level. Some weapons are great for hacking a path through the enemy’s wall of firepower, whereas others are best for inflicting maximum damage when the opportunity arises. Some of them can be combined. Charged attacks become more effective if you unleash them moments before you’re about to eat a face-full of enemy bullets. All of it happens fast - it’s one game where the slowdown that accompanies an increase in intensity seems like a necessary design decision rather than a technical limitation.