Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity is the Three Men and a Baby of games. (I will award extra points to anyone who makes Steve Guttenberg references in the comments.) It has three separate parts coming together that could be a complete wreck, but it accomplishes what it initially set out to do. It is not perfect, but it is surprisingly successful.
If you are not already familiar with them, the Touhou Project is a collection of titles by one guy named Zun who develops games under the name Team Shanghai Alice. He creates art, music, and the games themselves. They are typically bullet hell shooters or something similar, but he has collaborated with Twilight Frontier to create fighting games as well.
Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity takes a very different approach. It takes aspects of bullet hell shooters, action RPGs, and platformers to combine into a gaming Captain Planet. It is more than the sum of its parts, and they work together better than you might expect.
The traditional RPG elements are here. There are three equipment slots, and you will find newer and more powerful versions of weapons, accessories, and armor. You gain experience every time you kill a monster, and you will regularly level up your character. As you level up, you will receive new moves to supplement your standard strikes with your weapon. There are jars to break and health regenerating items and chests waiting to be found.
The platforming is sprinkled throughout the game. Some levels may have you jumping on stone pillars to reach another area of the map. One area has you climbing up a waterfall and fighting enemies. Jumping was a little floaty, but it was never unbearable or a pain to manage.
The bullet hell was everywhere in the game though. When you entered a monster infested room or began to pound a boss into submission, there were a ton of different colored dots with your name on them flying toward you in sparkly showers of multi-hued death.
The game lets you choose between two characters. Remilia is a bored 500 year old vampire, and Sakuya is her maid. Both will level up with different moves and have a different approach to combat. This is also a good time for me to address any of the centuries old, still-a-little-girl-in-a-Japanese-video-game concerns. For anyone wondering, this game did not have any awkward moments that would make your mom uncomfortable. I found it to be cute, not pervy.
The story is pretty basic. Remilia is a very powerful, but very bored vampire. She wants something exciting and when she hears about a tough new baddie in the neighborhood, she goes to find it. While she is out, it destroys her house and it is up to you to teach it a lesson. There is no real depth. It is really only a string to tie the action together.
The game consists of you tracking clues that lead you to a new area of the map. You are free to go backwards or forwards in that area, but it has a very defined path. You cannot go wondering into the bushes. Eventually, you will make your way to that area’s boss and have a serious, but ultimately friendly confrontation.
That is the weird thing about this game. The formula is simple, but it manages to stay fun. Parts of it are addictive, mindless bashing in a Diablo kind of way, but it still requires some strategy. Do you choose equipment that will allow you to rain down a thousand fists of fury, or do you pick something that will let you use more of your special moves? You can even pick special moves that complement a particular situation. I found myself using a less powerful move that allowed me to hit more monsters, more often.
The strategy was most evident during boss battles. For some of them, beating them like they owed you money was a perfectly good way to finish a fight. Others would grind you into dust with an endless wave of screen covering projectiles if you stayed too close. After timing your jumps and picking your attacks to correspond with the correct pattern, you could finally put the controller down and wipe the sweat from your hands.
The art style and music both nostalgically reminded me of something more from the PS2 era, and that is not a bad thing. The lighting effects were good, and 1080p resolution with 60 FPS was fantastic. With this much on the screen, there was no slowdown and it was smooth as glass.
There are a few things that I did find distracting. You have zero control of the camera. Depending on where you are fighting on the screen, I found myself having to target some monsters by their health meter because they were hidden by the environment. If you are low on health and have enough bullets flying at you, to make The Matrix look like a pacifist film, it can be really frustrating to lose to a cheap shot. This is also true of monsters that could jump a long distance, because they could come flying at you from the hidden top or bottom of the screen.
The difficulty spikes were also a problem, but I noticed this only at some boss battles. There were a few that were incredibly difficult, but the next one would be easy to just finish in less than thirty seconds. Some required me to study the pattern and look for special move cues just to survive for any amount of time, and some allowed me to rush them and spam hits. Most of the game felt like a good progression, but these stood out as really annoying speed bumps. If you do want more difficulty, there are bonus levels unlocked after the main story has been completed.
The only other problem I encountered was a small delay while an attack animation was completing. When you have a bullet hell boss attack, there is a small window for you to perform jumps and initiate attacks to avoid being hit. If I performed a special attack, the animation would not allow me to move for a fraction of a second at the end. This could mean the difference between victory or a controller throwing defeat. You can compensate for this in your strategy, but I never liked being hit by a boss before I could jump out of the way.
Overall, I enjoyed my time with Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity. I was able to zone out and focus on all that was happening on screen, and I love being pulled into an experience. The gameplay is simple, fast, and addicting, and I found a couple hours had zipped by without noticing. At a very bargain price, this game is easy to recommend because it offers a good experience for anyone looking to try something a little different and a little familiar at the same time.
Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity PS4 Review
Overall - Very Good - 7.0/10
Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity mixes up different styles into a delicious pie. You can still see the different elements, but they complement each other in the overall game. It is fun and addictive with a clean and cute, modern retro style. Although there are some annoyances such as the camera, it was never enough to make me want to stop playing. The individual game elements are never as deep as they would be on their own, but the game has a great rhythm and feel. It was a very pleasant surprise for me, and I now look forward to future Touhou games.
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