The Touhou Project or Project Shrine Maiden a Japanese series in origin with a heavy Anime aesthetic dates all the way back to 1996 with sole creator ZUN of Team Shanghai Alice, its first title ‘Highly Responsive to Prayers’. Released on the Japanese PC-98 series of computer, starting as an arcade style fixed shooter very similar to 1996’s classic Arkanoid or the forever nostalgic 1978’s Space Invaders
Review Written by Kyle Byrne
It wasn’t until the second game Story of Eastern Wonderland, it found its niche in the genre of shoot em’ up, in the form of Danmaku or also known as Bullet Hell which itself is sub-genre of scrolling shoot em’ ups. Take the scrolling shooters ideas of games like Galaga, then ramp up the number of enemies and their projectiles to pretty absurd levels. You’re pretty much left with the basic idea of a bullet Hell shooter, requiring reactionary decisions on movement dodging incoming fire to avoid being stunned momentarily a state where once hit again will then result in losing a life. Kill all enemies, collect as many pickups as possible to earn score points and avoid damage at all costs doing it as fast and as flawlessly as you can (something that becomes important on later difficulties for Azure Refection’s.) Rinse and repeat until all stages and bosses are clear rack up as much high score as you can. Touhou now has more than 20 official titles coming from Team Shangai Alice and its sole developer ZUN, spanning over two decades the Touhou series has seen massive success in Japan.
That being said the series has seen a handful of western releases over the years often in the form of the unofficial uncountable amount of Touhou Project Fan-games sometimes even shifting genres. Games that have been made by a variety of developers and fans of the series alike and with so many titles you always run the risk simply put awful broken games giving them a certain bad reputation depending on who you ask. Which luckily Azures Reflection while is one example of non ZUN developed Touhou game is not a bad one.
Developed by Souvenir Circ and published by Unities with initial release on PS4 in Japan on January 25th 2018. Later that year being localised and brought to North America and Europe for the price of £20 on May 15th for PS4. It has even seen a Nintendo Switch release in August of 2018, releasing to somewhat positive praise for its hectic moment to moment gameplay with its additions to the Bullet Hell formula. Although being deemed somewhat short due to only having a seven stage story mode, which revolves around The Scarlet Mist Incident and a repetitive time loop which leads to the mechanic of having to beat each boss without a restart. (Artificially extending its gameplay time as this forces you right back to the beginning. By doing so flawlessly you solve the anomaly, increasing the challenge and forcing you to GIT GUD, it’s fairly throwaway story wise if you aren’t a big fan of the Touhou series but is enjoyable enough while short-lived. As for what else is on offer a handful of unlocks in the form of two characters and two new difficulties modes.
The lack of content is something Souvenir Circ is looking to address with its latest port to Steam on the 20th of September 2019 with a PlayStation and Switch update coming with it, the update adding a new Boss rush mode and also making the playable characters Reimu and Marisa two new challenging boss battles.
Azure Reflections sticks to the Touhou series Bullet Hell genre roots. While changing the formula a little switching to a horizontal scrolling format, (Touhou traditionally being vertically scrolling) adding some nice additions like a barrier or being able to shoot left with square or right with circle button to combat enemies incoming from both sides of the screen.
The satisfying and handy Danmanku rush activated with triangle allows you to absorb bullets each one consumed increasing damage smashing through enemies, briefly making you feel god like. Finally you have spell cards an “ultimate weapon” clearing almost everything on screen but you suffer penalties for using these on bosses.
All in all Touhou Azures Reflection while a fan game understands what it means to be a good bullet hell shoot em’ up and Touhou game with its subtle additions that change up the old formula a little making it stand out as its own thing. But unless you’re someone who enjoys a good challenge chasing for high scores, the story doesn’t offer much in terms of narrative especially if not a Touhou fan and while the stages are fun and challenging especially the bosses on harder difficulties testing your twitch reactions to incoming fire. They are short overall not offering much re-playability long term and the addition of the new boss rush mode with its 2 additional bosses which are a challenge in themselves. It is still just playing through the same bosses again and becomes old quickly. But overall there is an enjoyable experience to be had here but its lack of content makes it a hard sell at £20 unless you’re a hard-core bullet hell or Touhou fan.
A PlayStation 4 Review Code was provided by Unties