It’s not a controversial thing to say that Treasure was once an amazing developer that knocked out a lot of instant classics. Certified bangers, their entire catalogue. Well, except for Gunstar Super Heroes, Advanced Guardian Heroes, and the thankfully delisted Bangai-O HD on XBox 360, those ones are really bad. But otherwise, yeah, an amazing company that is seemingly stuck doing endless re-releases these days.
Treasure’s output also includes what is undeniably the absolute best game ever released on the Nintendo DS: Bangai-O Spirits. Not only is this the best DS game by a mile, which is impressive given that this was a handheld that also played host to Contact, a surprisingly good port of Ketsui Death Label, and three different Castlevanias, but it’s easily one of my all-time favorite games in general (note to self: should probably rank my favorite games someday instead of casually calling everything my favorite). This was not the Treasure who inflicted Gunstar Super Heroes on the world, this was the Treasure that gifted us Sin and Punishment.
Bangai-O, for those who don’t know, is a series of shooters where you fly around in a mecha firing off an actual, literal, ton of missiles at enemies. The DS game emphasizes the shooting aspect even moreso somehow. There’s no plot, and you’re given a level select right as soon as you turn on the game. Your goal is to go through 160 levels, shooting lots of missiles at lots of enemies. Lots of levels. Lots of very different levels. Levels that can be completed in under five seconds. Levels that can take several minutes. Levels that are puzzles. Levels that are frenetic explosive action. A level that is a tribute to Namco’s Battle City.
You pick a level. You then pick your weapon loadout: two main weapons, and two special weapons. Some levels have specific loadouts you need to clear them. So either you clear a level, or you die and do it again. At no point in time do I ever feel bored or frustrated. The big thing about Bangai-O and its special weapons is that you can charge them up for a big attack, but if you release the attack button the moment an enemy bullet touches you, your attack is bigger and stronger. It’s possible to go from launching 100 small missiles, to causing the DS to temporarily freeze and slowdown as it struggles to render 400 large missiles. Something so satisfying about being so powerful that you bring the system you’re playing on to its knees. That’s Bangai-O Spirits: this addicting shooter that doesn’t get old.
This game kept me sane during a lot of night shifts at the job I was working at the time. I could pull out my DS and go through a few dozen levels while eating a processed chicken sandwich during a lunch break. Stressed out, sweating profusely, having to deal with the worst kind of people who absolutely needed to buy a new TV at 9:45 PM on a Monday. Having to corral a bunch of idiot teens and get them to clean some shelves before closing, which of course they wouldn’t do, and guess who got in trouble for that? Spent a lot of time in those years coping with people being stupid all around me by losing myself in games and weird art. Given the state of my life in 2022, not much has changed from 2007. Not a great time, for sure, but Bangai-O was.
The other thing that kept me sane was Bangai-O’s level editor. You could create or download up to 24 extra levels, which is definitely something I worked on while wishing I was literally anywhere else on Earth. I think my actual copy of the game has 5 or 6 stages I put together, and I can’t imagine any of them are good, given that these were made in a short amount of time while I was feeling the effects of two cans of Monster Energy. I would upload them, but a couple of things. 1) I’m not home until next month, so I don’t have access to my physical copy. 2) the way Bangai-O saved and loaded its level data is novel, weird, and doesn’t always work: levels are saved as sound data, the way old computers used cassette tapes. You hook up a microphone to your PC, hit Play on the save screen, and use some sort of recording software to record the ungodly sound coming out of your game system, where it gets saved as an MP3 file. For the record, this absolutely does not work if you play this on a 3DS, despite also having a working microphone built into it. So I think I will have to try and find a different way to upload levels, if I ever get around to making new ones.
Bangai-O Spirits is this tough but fair game about launching tons of projectiles at enemies who respond with even more projectiles sent your way. Bangai-O Spirits is a game about flexing your creative muscles and making your own STG levels. Bangai-O is a game that feels great to play, everything moves and explodes in satisfying ways. Bangai-O Spirits is the most addicting piece of software you can plug into your Nintendo DS. There’s always that desire to beat your previous high score, or beat your previous clear time, or go back into the level editor and fix this or add that. This is the best game on the DS, and it’s better than your favorite DS game.