Touhou Kobuto was originally released by developer CUBETYPE as a PC-exclusive third-party Touhou game back in 2010. The bullet hell shmup/fighting game hybrid was later revamped, renamed Touhou Kobuto V: Burst Battle, and released on PlayStation 4 last year alongside the wonderful ARPG Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity and CUBETYPE’s own Senko no Ronde-like third-party Touhou game Touhou Genso Rondo: Bullet Ballet. When NIS America announced that it would be localizing the title—and bringing it to Nintendo Switch, no less, I knew that I would have to try it out.
Like CUBETYPE’s later title Touhou Genso Rondo, Touhou Kobuto V is a bullet hell shmup/fighting game hybrid. Players choose one of nine characters—Reimu, Marisa, Lumia, Cirno, Meiling Hong, Patchouli, Sakuya, Remilia, and Flandre—and take part in 1v1 battles against both AI and other players. Much like Senko no Ronde and Touhou Genso Rondo, your projectiles are automatically fired in the direction of your opponent, meaning that the majority of gameplay revolves around dodging and choosing the attacks that best match the current situation. Many attacks can cancel each other out, meaning that success largely comes down to knowing which of your opponent’s moves can be canceled, canceling them, dodging what can’t be canceled, and returning fire. The game also features the same style of melee combat, in that you automatically melee your opponent instead of firing at them if you are within a certain distance of them.
There are, however, a few key differences. Unlike games like Senko no Ronde and Touhou Genso Rondo, the game takes place in a 3D space, meaning that you are able to jump around the arena in addition to simply moving back and forth around your opponent. There is a dash mechanic for dodging, which can be used both in air and on the ground, and a guard mechanic, which can be used to block melee attacks. Additionally, each character has a specific anti-air move or two; you are able to quick drop to the ground to dodge these moves by pressing the guard button.
Canceling bullets will cause them to drop power-ups, which fill up your Charge bar. Once your charge bar is full, you can activate a Spell Card—your ultimate—which will deal a large amount of damage, should it hit its target. Depending on the ultimate, you may even be able to defeat your opponent in a single move, which I have done myself by saving my Charge bar for the next round and immediately activating my Spell Card. I like this system, as it rewards properly cancelling your opponent’s attacks, rather than simply attacking your opponent or taking damage.
There is also an element of resource management. You have three primary attack buttons, each of which have their own resource bar. The attack that you use when pressing that button can be modified, or even changed entirely, by jumping into the air before pressing it, dashing before pressing it, holding the dash button and standing still when pressing it, holding the guard button when pressing it, and holding both the dash and guard buttons when pressing it. Each attack that is associated with a button uses a different amount of that button’s resource. Upon using any attack, it will consume the requisite amount of that resource and the resource will automatically begin to replenish itself. Should you completely empty that resource’s reserves, you will temporarily be unable to use that attack button.
Dashing has its own resource, called the Action bar, which depletes as you dash and immediately begins to replenish itself the moment that you stop dashing. Should you completely deplete your dash resource, you will be temporarily unable to move or attack while it replenishes, leaving you vulnerable to attacks. It is important to remember to attack or cancel out of a dash before your Action bar is completely drained.
While it may sound a bit odd, gameplay is actually rather interesting. Dashing about a 3D arena, canceling enemy attacks and responding with your own, is quite fun. The resource management elements keep you on your feet; instead of simply using the same attacks over and over until victory, you are constantly required to adapt your strategy based on the resources that are available to you. Battles are won by the player that can dodge, cancel, and riposte without depleting their resources, a task that remains challenging even long after you’ve begun to figure the game out.
However, it should also be noted that an odd side-effect of this style of gameplay is that characters don’t always feel particularly varied. They each have their own attacks, often including one or two that are completely unique to them, and they each have to be played slightly differently, but most attacks end up falling under the category of AoE bullet patterns, homing projectiles, or a high-powered straight-shot attack like a spear or beam. The end result is that, while most attacks will look different, behave slightly differently, and deal different amounts of damage, they will largely feel the same. This doesn’t take away from the game too much, but it is fairly noticeable.
In addition to interesting core gameplay, the game offers a surprising amount of content, which is broken into several modes: Story, Arcade, Score Attack, Vs. Com, Vs. Human, and Vs. Online. The Story mode is a series of five normal fights and a one-round boss fight that are separated by dialogue sequences. This mode is meant to be played through in one session, taking anywhere from ten minutes to half an hour, and does not allow you to save. The core story is told through from Reimu’s point of view, then Marisa’s, and finally Remilia’s. Once you have played through the story as each of them in the aforementioned order, you unlock the ability to play through the story as any character. Each character’s story is slightly different, including slightly different sets of opponents in a slightly different order, but the basis of that story remains the same. It either starts with a rumor that Reimu and Remilia have teamed up and are attacking people, which your chosen character decides to investigate, or with Remilia’s pet going missing. Like many third-party Touhou games, it is a silly, superfluous story that barely succeeds in adding context to an otherwise random set of fights. That being said, it does offer a decent amount of structured content to those who are looking for it.
The Arcade and Score Attack modes are fairly similar. You pick a character and are thrown into a series of random one-round fights, including mirror match-ups. Upon successfully defeating an opponent, you will regain some of your health before moving onto the next, but it will not be fully replenished. The goal of the Arcade mode is to win the highest number of matches that you can, whereas the goal of the Score Attack mode is to get the highest score. I’m not certain how the Score Attack mode’s scoring system works, but it is markedly more complex than that of the Arcade mode, which simply records the amount of matches that you won before being defeated.
The Vs. modes are fairly straightforward. You and your opponent choose a character and then take part in a fight that allows you to choose the stage, background music, and number of rounds that you need to win to win the match. The Vs. Com mode lets you play against an AI and choose its character and difficulty level, while the Vs. Human mode lets you play against another player in local multiplayer. There’s also a dedicated training mode for those who want to try out a new character without the chance of being defeated by their opponent.
Unfortunately, I was unable to try out the Vs. Online mode for the purpose of this review. In fact, I’m not certain that there is a proper online mode, as the option was not offered. Instead, the only options that I was offered were those of either hosting or joining an ad-hoc match so that I could then play against another player on another Switch wirelessly, granted they were somewhere in close proximity. However, I do not know how well it works, as I did not have a second copy of the game to test it out.
The game also seems to have some issues pertaining to its controls. There was one major oversight that makes the experience fairly uncomfortable. Pressing A and X at the same time activates your Spell Card, but holding A and X at the same time will either activate or deactivate your camera’s auto-lock feature, which keeps your opponent in the center of your view at all times, rather than requiring you to manually track them with the right joystick. This bizarre overlap in the control scheme seems to cause Spell Card activation to be unreliable; many attempts at activating my Spell Card have been unsuccessful and I have accidentally unlocked my camera a number of times. Oddly, despite the fact that you can configure which buttons control which actions, you can’t configure button combos.
The game’s slightly-remastered graphics look rather nice on the Nintendo Switch. The anime-styled characters feature crisp, clean graphics with a softer look overall and the stages, while less crisp, provide great atmosphere. The one issue is that the game doesn’t always run at a solid 60 frames per second. When playing as Remilia and throwing fire projectiles around the arena, the game’s framerate dropped fairly noticeably. Split-screen multiplayer also suffers from framerate issues; drops in framerate are especially common on the Scarlet Devil Mansion map.
If you’re a fan of Touhou games and/or you like the general style of games like bullet hell/fighting game hybrids like Senko no Ronde and Touhou Genso Rondo, you will likely enjoy Touhou Kobuto V: Burst Battle quite a bit. There are a few issues in terms of controls, framerate, the overall lack of variety in characters’ attacks, and the seeming lack of an actual online mode, but gameplay is fast-paced, fluid, fun, and has a decently high skill cap, as it requires you to learn which of each character’s attacks can be canceled and the best ways to cancel them. Should you enjoy it, there is quite a bit of content to play through, even if the story itself is superfluous. It’s a surprisingly great experience and one that stands alone as the only one of its kind on the Nintendo Switch.
Touhou Kobuto V: Burst Battle is set to launch on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation Vita tomorrow for $29.99. It will be available in stores, on the Nintendo Switch eShop, and on the PlayStation Store.