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For a few hours of distraction

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By Alexander O. Cuaycong

BY WAY of background for the uninitiated: Project Shrine Maiden is a collection of manic-shooter video games published by Team Shanghai Alice. In each of the titles from the series, players must navigate their chosen character against waves upon waves of enemies to reach the final boss. The games are characterized by their intense and memorable music, as well as the way enemies shoot projectiles, often in dizzying patterns to make avoiding them more difficult. These video games, released to dovetail with the franchise’s increasing popular-culture presence via manga, soundtracks, and even novels, have cemented the Project as a strong and prolific intellectual property.

Needless to say, the Project’s main video game branch has spawned spin-offs, with varying levels of quality. Some are clear cash grabs intended to tap an intensely loyal fan base, while others are venerable entries in their own right. Touhou Kobuto V: Burst Battle, developed by Cubetype and published by NIS America, tries hard to be the latter, with uneven results.

Touhou Kobuto V is a one-on-one fighting game in which players pick one of 10 available characters from the Touhou universe to do battle in a three-dimensional arena. Players dash around and about, throwing spells and magical attacks at various speeds and degrees, in an effort to whittle their opponent’s health down to zero. The management of stamina, called the Action Gauge, and the pseudo-ammo counter called the Attack Gauge, are important gameplay features, as running out of either results in fatigue or an inability to attack. And with a variety of attacks on tap both on the ground and in the air, as well as melee attacks when opponents draw in close, there can be no questioning the game’s intent to delight. Fights invariably get intense, with characters zipping around at high speeds, dodging, weaving, and even flying past projectiles to avoid getting hit.

Unfortunately, Touhou Kobuto V’s grand design is let down by questionable camera controls. The POV emanates from the character’s shoulder, providing an awkward third-person perspective that hinders depth perception and thereby makes a number of attacks almost impossible to see and avoid. Combined with a glaring lack of an embedded tutorial on the game’s mechanics, the limitation gives it an unpolished feel. And while glimpses of its potential are provided every now and then, it inevitably falls short during fight sequences. There seems to be no discernible way to figure out how battles evolve and develop, making the exercise feel more like button mashing than anything else on the whole. The Story Mode is a letdown as well; it comes off as fairly dull, with no real character variations, and short to boot, ending too quickly for comfort.

Thankfully, Touhou Kobuto V’s music design is outstanding, and shines through despite its gameplay flaws. And while its 3-D graphics aren’t particularly eye-catching, attacks are flashy and entertaining to watch, never mind their relatively low resolution, and the drawn character sprites give credit to its source material. Amping up the fun factor is a standard Versus Mode; for those who find going up against AI dull and detaching, the option of playing against a friend is a welcome one.

In sum, Touhou Kobuto V has its roots going for it, but it’s hampered by bad camera placement, awkward controls, and the absence of a tutorial. The soundtrack and artwork are top-notch, though, and while they might not be enough to provide it with universal appeal, it’s still a good pickup for fans of the Project out for good music and a few hours of distraction.


Video Game Review

Touhou Kobuto V: Burst Battle
Nintendo Switch

THE GOOD:

• Affecting music

• Captivating artwork that pays homage to source material

• Capable of moments of brilliance, and can be compelling when played with a friend

• Runs smoothly, with no frame drops or stutters

THE BAD

• Finicky controls and POVs

• Small character roster (nine available, with one on offer as downloadable content)

• Lack of gameplay depth

RATING: 7/10