Burst into a bullet-hell dance with the scarlet devil in Touhou Kobuto V: Burst Battle! Bored with her otherwise peaceful existence as the maiden watching over Hakurei Shrine, when Reimu hears that a wrongful rumour has spread that she is working with the vampire at Scarlet Devil Mansion to attack humans, she heads there, admittedly rather excitedly, to investigate.
The soliloquies and interactions between characters in the Story mode are the one saving grace that Touhou Kobuto V: Burst Battle has going for it, as, to beat this review to the punch, there is little else to really care about.
This bullet-hell battle game is the latest take on the Touhou universe from Cubetype, and, despite the developer’s best efforts, it is a particularly underwhelming experience that, even for fans, will fail to ever conjure any sense of excitement.
It’s a shame as the actual concept is sound, with the most relatable comparison I can make being with Nintendo’s own candy-coloured brawler ARMS. Battling it out in a square arena, the camera is locked behind the player’s character as they fling spells in their opponent’s direction. Get up close and your furious long-range spellcasting is set aside, with characters switching to using their . It sounds at least passable so far, right?
Well, with no desire to teach you how to play with a tutorial, the developer chooses to place a 25-page digital user manual on the main menu screen for the player to read and digest. What it contains is important, too.
It starts with the basics. We learn that the Left Stick is used for movement and the player can guard with the L Button, whereas the Right Stick is used to turn your character and the R Button can be pressed to let you dash out of harm’s way.
Then, there is your Main Attack (A Button), Charge Attack (X Button), and Sub Attack (Y Button), with the player also having the chance to use a Spell Card (X + A Button). It’s worth mentioning that these controls can even squeeze on to a single Joy-Con, meaning that, for those that ever wanted to take a friend on in the Versus mode can easily do so.
Flipping to the next page, there’s talk around the in-game battle screen. Whether that be the Health Gauge, the Charge Gauge that can let you unleash the powerful Spell Cards once full, the Action Gauge that depletes whenever you dash and can leave your character momentarily exhausted, or how each of your attacks costs energy that is sapped from their own respective gauges.
We’re only up to page five at this point, and I really can’t forgive the developer for lazily leaving all this in a static user manual. The rest goes on to talk about how each attack should be used, such as, with Reimu, her Sub Attack is best used to destroy enemy bullets. And, somewhat importantly, you can modify your attacks to make them devastatingly potent with different button combinations, like a Laser Beam (L + R + A Buttons). I also found out that the red P squares that kept randomly appearing not only indicate when you negate an enemy attack but replenish your Charge Gauge.
As with any fighting game, what Touhou Kobuto V: Burst Battle expects from you is best learnt through guided practice rather than random button mashing, at least in your early time with it. I am baffled, then, as to why the developer didn’t choose to make sure that the player knew what they were doing by teaching them.
Once you are done with the Story mode, which, while we’re at it, you can’t save your progress part way through, you can compete for the highest KO count in Arcade mode, or fight against endless enemies in Score Attack. And then, there are three Versus modes where you can play a one-off match against the computer, a friend in local split-screen multiplayer, between two Nintendo Switch consoles, or online. Getting another player involved will never fail to make the experience more interesting, even if it is as catastrophic as Touhou Kobuto V: Burst Battle has proven to be.
With nine Touhou characters to play as with enough differentiation between them, there is at least choice to be found on the roster. It comes as a disappointment, though, to be met with some really wonderful hand-drawn character artwork, to then see it translate into the game world so poorly. This was clear in the trailers that were released beforehand, of course, but the character models lack any personality. The stages, too, are unmemorable, as well as the spells that you fling at one another, which will leave you wondering whether you have accidentally turned on your GameCube by mistake.
Touhou Kobuto V: Burst Battle is one to give a miss, then. That’s something that I take no joy in saying, either, as I had looked forward to checking it out when NIS America had announced that it was on the way to Nintendo Switch. There are certainly flickers of magic to be found, but this is a game that feels a generation or two behind where it needs to be.