Head past the break for detailed impressions, and be sure to check out our gallery of brand-new screens!
The weapon system has been revamped, allowing for a great deal of customization. Rather than the two weapon options found in previous games (homing and bounce) Bangai-O Spirits has many weapons available, two of which can be selected from the start. Each weapon is mapped to a different button. There was a homing shot, a shield (which automatically blocks all projectiles wherever it's aimed) a sword that negates projectiles, a bat that swings them back, napalm that acts as a flame thrower, and others. In addition, two EX attacks can be selected that form the basis for super attacks.
Super attacks work much like in the N64 game: by collecting fruit (which appears when things are blown up) you power up a meter. You can then hold down a button to charge up a super attack, which fills the screen with bullets and has other insane effects depending on your EX weapon choice (sometimes the shots bounce, sometimes they are homing, etc.) You're a sitting duck while charging up, which changes the dynamic significantly over the Dreamcast version (in which super shots were charged by onscreen bullets).
For my play test, I decided on shield + bat, which meant that I had no projectile attacks, but was able to return or absorb all bullets that came towards my front side. I don't know how anyone will ever play without the shield; I still died quickly, but there's absolutely no way to survive without being able to take hits from at least one direction. I was swarmed by robots immediately. The bat is a great weapon and an interesting addition to Bangai-O. The ability to do something about incoming bullets is welcome.
The levels in Spirits are much like those in previous games: large, enclosed spaces with some areas sealed off by breakable blocks, and with all platforms covered with enemies on top, sides, and bottom. The major, major difference? They're all user-editable. Details were unavailable on how to unlock stages for free play (I suspect just completing them will do it), but once in free play mode, you can hit a button and go immediately into the stage editor, mess around with the stage you're in, and go right back to play.
Bangai-O Spirits's stage editor is one of the most amazing editors I've ever seen in a game. You can cycle through any block, platform, brick, bomb, or enemy and place it in the level. You can put enemies anywhere, facing either direction; you can do the same with the starting position of the player. You can change backgrounds. There's even a flood fill option for any object: select the object, select flood fill and touch the screen, and multiple instances of that object radiate out from your cursor, filling the room, until you let go. Even if you're starting from a blank screen, you can make an awesome or bizarre level in seconds. It's all so instantaneous. I can only imagine that Treasure used this editor themselves.
Speaking of Treasure and the editor, the D3 rep told me that Treasure is preparing a bunch of levels exclusively for the U.S. release, so we'll have even more content than the 160 levels in the Japanese version -- as well as a ton of user-created levels.