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Critical Reception: D3/Treasure's Bangai-O Spirits

This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reviewer reaction to Bangai-O Spirits, a Treasure-developed Nintendo DS franchise sequel that reviewers describe as "a shooter that celebrates shooters", despite some significant quirks.
This week's edition of the regular Critical Reception column examines online reaction to Bangai-O Spirits, a Treasure-developed sequel that reviewers describe as "a shooter that celebrates shooters." Though the early death of the Sega Dreamcast rendered 2001's Bangai-O an under-produced and difficult-to-find obscurity, the title earned critical acclaim and a devoted following among Treasure's fanbase. Bangai-O's long-awaited sequel, Bangai-O Spirits, debuts on the Nintendo DS this week in North America to a Metacritic-averaged score of 84 out of 100. Dave McCarthy at Eurogamer rates the Japanese version of Bangai-O Spirits at 10 out of 10, despite noting some initial uncertainty. "I sort of suspect that if you didn't play or love the first one, it'll probably leave you baffled for a long time," he admits. "And then suddenly you'll have an epiphany, in which you utterly understand it and what it's trying to do." "Some of the time it's like WarioWare; some of the time it's like Gradius; some of the time it's like Brain Training," McCarthy explains. "But you never know what to expect. You never know if a map is going to be over in two seconds, or if you'll be dodging bullets for five minutes." McCarthy finds that Bangai-O Spirits excels despite outward appearances. "In essence, it is simply a 2D side-scrolling shoot-'em-up," he writes. However: "As with so many things, the journey is so much greater than the destination. So much of the pleasure of playing Bangai-O lies in discovering that enormous variety, and getting to grips with the twisted logic that underpins it all." "As you work your way through the 160 levels, that perplexing logic gradually reveals itself until you succumb," he concludes. "It's when you start to pick up on the jokes, or the tributes, or the experiments, that you'll begin to realise why Bangai-O is so utterly amazing. That's when you'll start to forgive its imperfections and its flaws - because when Bangai-O fails, it fails gloriously, or bafflingly, or interestingly." At IGN, Daemon Hatfield scores Bangai-O Spirits at 8.1 out of 10, though he warns that the title's hardcore edge might be a turnoff for some. "Bangai-O was one of the quirkier offerings from Treasure, featuring an insane amount of enemies and bullets onscreen. Almost a decade later the game has finally been updated for the 2D-friendly Nintendo DS," he begins. "Significant new features have been added, like four-player co-op and a robust level editor. It needs to be said, though: this game is for the hardcore only. A sinister voice laughs at you when you die, for Pete's sake. Unless you're a masochist shooter fan that enjoys a real challenge, Bangai-O Spirits is likely to frustrate you." Hatfield cites difficulty as a common issue. "The game lacks structure," he criticizes. "Post-tutorial, you're set loose in Free Play mode where all of the game's levels are unlocked from the start. I tend to think of freedom as a good thing, but games are usually heavily structured environments that lead players through objectives of increasing difficulty. Here, even level one is punishingly brutal." "Not all is lost, though, because Bangai-O is still fun and it's a unique entry in a genre that doesn't see a lot of innovation," Hatfield continues. "Filling the entire screen with a torrent of bullet spray never gets old." Hatfield emphasizes that Bangai-O's variety is ultimately its strongest point. "There is a lot of blasting and dodging, but your weapons can be customized for each level," he describes. "But some levels don't even require weaponry, like an early puzzle level where you push blocks onto targets around a maze." Though the title may end up appealing only to a limited audience, Hatfield feels that Treasure's fanbase will find a lot to like in Bangai-O Spirits. "It's a shooter that celebrates shooters," he concludes. "The approach certainly limits the game's audience, but if you're a fan of the genre it should please you to know that Treasure loves it just as much as us and made this game just for us." Game Informer's Matt Miller also makes mention of Bangai-O's small potential audience in his review, scored at 7.5 out of 10. "Only an obscure niche of gamer is looking for a game like Bangai-O Spirits," he warns. "Any genius the game has only reveals itself after a hefty time commitment – the early hours are baffling and complex. The game is plagued by slowdown and confusing controls." "But if you push past these issues," Miller continues, "you’ll find a rich and varied experience filled with brain-teasing puzzles, insanely intense action, plus a fully featured level editor and sharing system to keep fans addicted even after finishing every stage." Miller describes Bangai-O Spirits as arcade-like in structure. "There really isn’t any context to the levels you’ll play – just a sequence of unconnected stages," he says. "For the short levels that follow, success becomes about the trial and error of picking the appropriate weapons and following the right path to completion. It can be tedious, but it’s also awash in interesting strategies and puzzle solutions." In all, Miller finds that Bangai-O Spirits is a flawed but worthwhile experience, despite its frustrating moments. "An unfair learning curve and some noticeable technical bugs haunt the title," he admits, "but it’s also filled with varied content. Given enough patience, it reveals some refreshingly challenging gameplay. For me, it was a vacillating mix of frustration and brilliance." As was the case with the original Bangai-O, critics describe Bangai-O Spirits as an unconventional shooter that succeeds despite its flaws. Many reviewers feel that the title will appeal the most to longtime Treasure fans, while other gamers are warned that Spirits' best moments are at times obscured by a steep difficulty level.

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