Touhou Kobuto V: Burst Battle Review
Release Date: October 10, 2017
Publisher: NIS America, Inc.
Platform: PS4 (Reviewed), Vita, Switch
From what I'm learning from seeking out information on this game, Touhou is a series of games crafted by Team Shanghai Alice, which consists of one single independent member. The series has been going on since 1996, and mostly consists of "bullet hell" shooters. The Touhou Project has delved off into other genres before, but they tend to keep the "bullet hell" idea. Official press releases, however, put this as being developed by CUBETYPE. Touhou Kobuto V Burst Battle is a "3D Bullet Hell Battle" game, where characters important to the series square off in a 3D arena. I'm not sure if the 3D part of this game is very beneficial, though.
Whether story, arcade, or versus (v.com, online, or local), two characters will face off against each other in a square arena. With battle games, you want to have some variety, but every level I've seen has been a flat square. At most, I've seen a few boxes littered around the arena, but they don't appear to block projectiles. The roster is nine girls strong, a rather meager amount when compared to other modern fighters. Each character has three attacks, single presses on the face buttons. When used, a bar depletes, so you have to wait for it to charge back up. There's also a block, dash, and jump, and melee attacks when you get close.
Having no attachments to the story or characters, I'm having difficulty making a solid recommendation for anyone who isn't. Fighting games usually thrive on an impeccable commbination of unique characters with fair balance of attacks between them all. I see nine Magical Girl characters with ranged shots and close hits, with no real "combos" to speak of whatever. The stronger attacks deplete their energy bar completely, and weaker ones involve spamming the attack button. Our heroines walk at a set speed. They can dash, but a single click of the button causes you to run until you attack or are fatigued. Don't put an attack in and your character bends over, immobile and breathing heavily for a few seconds. Jumping is a static option too. While you have a double jump, there's no tiny hop or sideways evading jump. The camera is sluggish to turn on it's own, but will instantly snap to your opponent when you jump, making any jumping evasion difficult or flat-out impossible. Evasion still happens simply because the projectiles don't track, so you do a lot of shooting just behind your opponent.
There appear to be super moves, but I can't seem to figure them out. There lies my biggest problem with the title. There's no instruction manual, no tutorial, not even a difficulty slider. I've tried button combinations, directional inputs, the works. My opposition fills up a special meter and throws another moveset at me, but I've gotten nothing else out of my character than the Square, Triangle, or Circle attacks. I spent plenty of time watching the demo screen as well, to see if I was missing anything, but it appears that's all there is. When you boil down a fighting game to nine characters with ranged attacks across extremely similar flat landscapes and no real logic on how to control them, it doesn't make for an exciting experience.
I do like the idea of a 3D "Bullet Hell" crossover with a fighting game. I'm sure it'd feel like a super action star moment if done right, like a John McClane or Rambo flying through enemy gunfire to take out your opponent, but Touhou Kobuto's sluggish controls make me feel like I have to spam a button just to get a single attack out that ends up missing. I'm able to soundly trounce the first character in the story mode, but character 2 takes me down easy, as does any attempt at the arcade vs. computer mode, mainly due to not being able to keep a bead on the character. This game could be like a combination of Uncharted and Star Fox, and it would be amazing. It feels filtered through a mush of applesauce that slows it down and keeps it short of that, though.
There need to be more options. Difficulty levels. Modes. Even being able to play more than two people on a flat landscape would do wonders for the title. The translation could do with more support as well, giving those who don't know Japanese some tips or instructions on how to properly play. On the main screen I'm greeted with an update log that is entirely not in my language. The story is cute, some girl feels as if she's accused of doing weird things so she goes to seek out answers, but then she insults some girl by calling her ⑨ instead of her real name. Why "CIRCLED NINE" is so offensive that they want to fight me...I'll never know.
As a reviewer and not a programmer, I really can't speak. I couldn't make a better game if my life depended on it, but Touhou Kobuto V: Burst Battle graphically reminds me of a PS2 level game, and gameplaywise harkens back to the era of early PS1, like Battle Arena Toshinden, where you had a small roster, simple landscapes, and did the most with what you had. Some basic cleanup would help, given that whether you are in story mode, versus the computer or a human opponent, you still get "WINNER PLAYER 2" across the screen when you lose. The Touhou Project apparently has a long history dating back to '96. Perhaps some of these assumptions of understanding story/design/controls would be better for someone who's natively used to the series, but Touhou Kobuto V: Burst Battle is the first one I can find on US shores as a 3D brawler. If they're truly going to meld in the "bullet hell" attitude, it really needs to be done with more polish and speed. I applaud the beautiful cutscene still imagery, there is a true artist who takes care in creating the pictures that are displayed. I see that there was effort put into enabling VR on the title for PS4, but the low install rate on that isn't going to sell copies alone (I do not have a VR unit to test it with). With the quality pedigree I see in the ratings of other games in the series, I feel that more could have been done with this title. If feedback is heard for this title, I'd gladly look forward to the next in the series.
-Wonderfully crafted characters
-Long history and pedigree
-Beautiful static artwork to depict the story as it develops
-We need an instruction manual, tutorial level, difficulty slider, anything to help me learn if there is more than what has been shown
-It is a budget title, but looks and plays as if it could run on last gen, maybe even the one before
-Sluggish camera and bland landscapes make fighting difficult.
Thanks to NIS America and CUBETYPE for offering a review copy.