The latest in Gamebridge's line-up of localised Japanese budget titles is GO Series: Dark Spirits, a horizontal shoot 'em up again courtesy of developer Suzak. It's not exactly a bullet hell shooter like Metal Torrent, but the difficulty can still get pretty high.
You play the game as some sort of wizard who can only fire one rather thin pinkish laser projectile straight ahead. You won't rely on it too much, though, as you've got bigger tools at your disposal – namely, four magic familiars that hover in front of you. These all start out using the same weapon you yourself use, but as you destroy enemies, they'll leave behind one of four artillery power-ups that your familiars can collect.
The catch is that picking up a weapon will not instantly change all your companions' attacks, but only that of the one who touched the power-up, meaning that you'll have to get four if you want to change those of the entire group. Another interesting mechanic is that picking up the same weapon twice in a row will level up the familiar in question up to a maximum of five times. This greatly increases the damage, range and firing speed of the weapon, so it is advised to do this as quickly as possible. Should you pick up a different power-up while above the first level, you will not drop all the way down again, you'll simply get the new weapon at the level of the previous one.
New players will definitely want to consider making good use of the blue weapon power-up – it has the unique attribute of destroying any orange enemy shots that come in contact with it, and it can also pass through barriers that you otherwise would have had to destroy to attack the bosses; however, it is pretty slow and won't fly far. Aside from the standard weapon, you can also get an electric ball that passes through enemies but does less damage than the blue one and a fireball attack that deals high damage but will not pass through anything.
The standard setup of your companions is to hover in front of and slightly above or below you, but you can change this by holding a different button. The A button gives you the standard setup, the X button makes your familiars fire diagonally up and down, and the Y button implements the standard formation behind your main character – perfect for protecting your back. You'll have to make good use of all of these, as the enemies can come from all directions while your character is not exactly very speedy.
Like many shoot 'em ups nowadays the character you play as seems pretty large, but he actually has a shockingly small hitbox, or area of vulnerability. This means bullets will pass right through his head and legs without dealing any damage – only a very small little part of his body will actually register hits. Considering this is absolutely essential later on as there's no way you'll be able to break through some of the waves of projectiles that get thrown your way. You have five hits total, and once you lose them all, that's it; there are no continues, so be very careful. You can collect hearts to replenish lost hits, but they become more sparse as the game goes on, so you shouldn't rely on them too much.
The game only has five levels before it repeats itself, but it's not as identical as you might think – enemy formations change completely, and every boss will have a completely new attack pattern. We couldn't make it through the third wave despite considering ourselves pretty good shmup players, so we dread to see if there's anything past that.
Dark Spirits has some decent graphics that don't really stand out much, but they get the point across. Our only complaint is that every stage but the last on every round takes place in front of the exact same city, except at different times of day, but this is minor and shouldn't bother you too much. The music changes every round and is pretty upbeat, though not all that catchy.
Shoot 'em up fans haven't really had much to feast on for DSiWare so far, but Dark Spirits is another welcome fun addition with a few unique twists. Just don't expect it to be a walk in the park.