It wasn’t my intention to review stuff that came out of Comiket. Not sure why, guess I felt it was a little premature, but as I’ve barely played anything but Sakuya’s Conterattack recently, I thought I’d make an exception. Before I start though, I want to make a confession – for all my love of 2D shooters, my Touhou knowledge is weak to say the least.
While I’ve dabbled, I’m certainly no expert, so don’t ask me who Sakuya is, where she fits in the Touhou universe, what she’s meant to be doing in this game and why – or even what her favourite colour/puppy is. I don’t know the answer to that. What I DO know is that Sakuya’s Counterattack is all kinds of awesome.
It doesn’t look awesome admittedly – going for a positively basic, homemade, 16-bit kinda feel. That’s not to say it’s an ugly game mind you – it’s just simple and clear and, as you’ll find out in a moment, gunning for clarity was a very sensible idea.
The action takes place in a single-screen arena. You start off on your own, and then, from the edges of the screen – waves of enemies will begin to approach. Your mission is to take out everything on the screen to finish the level – of which there are 50 in total, not counting the unlockable boss stages.
You can, if you so desire, tackle the levels in any order you want, although that would be lunacy. Your character starts of with just a humble broom to dispatch her enemies – in order to take on the tougher levels, you’re going to need some better kit. You can buy more from the game’s store – but in order to do so, you need currency. This you earn by taking out the three faeries in each stage. They make a little squeak when they arrive, as an early warning, and you have until they exit at the opposite side of the screen to take them out.
It’s not that easy of course, as the screen often has too many enemies between you and your target. However, take all three out, and you’ll earn little ‘P’ icons, that you can then use in the shop between stages. Each stage has a maximum of three ‘P’, and so you’d be wise to get all three faeries in any given stage before you progress to the next.
Once you have a stock of ‘P’ you can buy weapons – of which you can equip two at any time. Now comes the strategy – for Sakuya’s Counterattack has some neat little mechanics that require some thought…
Controls-wise the game is simple. WASD controls your movement, and the mouse controls your aim 360 degrees around your character. You can also tap E at any point which freezes time (or rather enemy movement) allowing you to freely dodge enemies and projectiles – but the penalty is that your health dramatically decreases. This skill is particularly useful when trying to get to the faeries which, quite often, all turn up at once, giving you a limited window to take all three down.
To counteract your health loss while time is frozen, you’re able to take out groups of enemies in one go. Doing so will allow you to regain your health and so, in theory, you can freeze time as often as you like, just as long as you’re confident you can kill enough enemies the moment time is unfrozen.
It’s a fantastic set of mechanics – it really is, and is a joy to play. It takes about 30-35 stages to really get going (and the difficulty fluctuates wildly on the path to those latter stages) but once it ramps up the difficulty and chaos Sakuya’s Counterattack shows its true colours.
Varying enemy types and behaviours – some dodge, some chase, some shoot, some are strong – and mixing up wave patterns and enemy groupings makes figuring out the best way to finish a stage with all faeries (and experimenting with your preferred weapon pairings) hugely enjoyable. You’ll die a lot, but experimenting with weapon types to get the job done and learning when and where to freeze time, can become something of an obsession.
A great example of a ‘simple’ game in terms of core mechanics, given an interesting and unique twist, a degree of customisation – and then exploring those dynamics to the full. The result is that it delivers a hugely enjoyable arena shooter, not short on challenge and is always satisfying to play – more so as each stage is over pretty quickly, so diving in and out is nice and quick, giving it a certain addictive quality.
It’s not something I entered into expecting much, but so far (yeah, I know we’re only three weeks in!) it’s my favourite game of 2013.
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