Now I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a little rusty when it comes to Japanese anime games so perhaps I’m wading into oft-paddled waters.
But for those similarly unfamiliar, this is an offshoot from something called the Touhou series of games, which seems to be a long running series of 2D shooters with a wide roster of characters.
Touhou Kobuto V: Burst Battle is a 3D fighting game. Think Street Fighter but with schoolgirls. Sounds great, right? Umm, not so much.
As we boot up there are a number of gameplay options to choose from; arcade, score attack, vs and online. The one that catches my eye though is the story mode. Something to seek my teeth into, find out a bit about this world and explore the characters. So, what’s going on?
Well, turns out that the villagers here about think I’m in cahoots with some other troublemaker. Apparently this is bad news so I set out to right this wrong by heading off to the mansion, throwing fists with anyone who gets in my way or doesn’t tell me what I want to know. How to win friends and influence people, the fisticuffs version.
Our first scrap is down by the lake. After the obligatory pre-fight pose, where our opponent turns into a snowman (snowgirl?) for some reason, it’s into the heat of battle. In lieu of instructions or a tutorial, I soon discover that I have a couple of different ranged attacks, a sprint, a jump and a close quarters smack to the chops at my disposal. Each attack has a declining energy bar and needs a couple of seconds to recharge once drained so you need to string together your attacks for best effect.
Although to be honest, it doesn’t make much difference. On my first play through I tried to be strategic, timing my attacks, attempting to block, dashing and jumping to avoid getting hit. But I lost. Second play through I became more gung ho, smashing my pad in a button mashing glory. My first opponent was quickly dispatched and it was on to the next encounter.
This was more of the same. As was the one after that and the one after that. In fact 15 minutes later, having fought my way to the castle and kicked the crap out of all my friends, I had completed the story.
Now I don’t mind a quick run game if there is some replay factor, online appeal or hidden depth but sadly that is all lacking here. Fights are set in a 3D environment but it is executed woefully. Your opponent runs around the screen but the camera, positioned behind you, doesn’t keep pace and so you routinely find yourself staring into space, spinning the camera round to try and locate them. Arenas themselves are dull as dishwater too with little in the way of obstacles and no destructible scenery of any kind to pep things up. Once you abandon any pretence of tactics and begin button mashing your way through battles the fights are insultingly easy. I beat all but the last opponent on my first go, the final character dispatched in a second sitting once I figured out a simple way of avoiding incoming fire.
Button mashing attacks apart, control of your character is frustrating. Movement feels tank like, akin almost to dragging Chris Redfield around the Resident Evil mansion, hitting dash the only sure fire way of ensuring some lithe movement but then rendering you likely to overshoot your mark due to the clumsy nature of it all.
Although pegged as a bullet hell style shooter / fighter hybrid, on-screen action is as dull as the scenery. I expect the screen to light up in a visual cacophony of light and noise. But whilst some attacks can fill the screen, it all feels underwhelming.
Completing the story unlocks some alternative character narratives where you basically walk through the same fights but with some different blurb to read. But who the hell cares? It’s not like this presents a compelling narrative or characters that you feel invested in such that you want to explore their world.
The anime style and bonkers set up could make for a really fun, kitsch experience but it is executed so poorly that it is simply dull, the cardinal sin of any videogame.