Bangai-O Spirits picks up where the original left off. It does the above and throws in loads more. There's a wider range of weapons. Instead of a fixed choice between bouncing and homing bullets, Bangai-O Spirits lets you pick your payload at the start of every mission. You can use a baseball bat to wallop your enemies or their missiles, sending them rebounding to carve out a destructive arc; there's a sword; a shield; napalm; 'break' bullets that cut through enemy attacks; bombs that reflect bullets; bombs that freeze opponents; and, of course, the original two weapon types for good measure.
The next new feature is the greater number and wider variety of missions - made possible by all those new weapons (and enemies). The crazy (and generally amusing) narrative continues to send up videogame conventions, just like the first one did, but this time it's restricted to just 17 levels. Disappointingly, that that means the game contains far fewer boss-style encounters than the original. To compensate, the remaining 143 missions contain a variety even more boundless than the original.
There are even more complicated mazes, and races, as well as ball games, and videogames (Pac-Man, Mr. Driller and R-Type, for example). There are levels that spell out words, or levels that just make pretty patterns. One level is a variation on the buzz-bar fairground game, where you have to move a loop along a wire without touching the two; another is modelled on an ant farm; another is actually modelled on the DS itself. Between them, they will tax your brain cells as much as your reaction speed, and sometimes even your patience, and they will confuse, perplex, entertain and delight.
Beyond those 160 maps, there's also a multiplayer mode, which allows you to compete with friends, or to create and trade maps or replays - sharing them as audio files. Audio files! That you play to your DS! At once, it is an homage to both videogame history and Nintendo's cutting-edge handheld technology, as well as being so much more fantastically haptic than the act of downloading. If you'll allow me to get all poncy: it is yet another example of Treasure's unique understanding of the videogame medium, transforming an otherwise banal element into entertainment. And yet, it is also a means of extending the range contained within a DS card that is already bursting at the seams - extending it infinitely, in theory.
This infinite variety brings us on to the problem with just listing and describing Bangai-O Spirits: 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. 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.
That's when you realise that although Bangai-O is just a shooting game, it's far from just a shooting game. Playing Bangai-O Spirits is a pleasure. If I could, I'd play it for every waking moment.
10 / 10
Bangai-O Spirits is out now in Japan.