We’ve already written about Touhou coming to the west and finally, for the first time in Touhou’s twenty year history we’ve got the honor to review its first official English release, Touhou Double Dealing Character.
Touhou Double Dealing Character is a fourteenth official Touhou game. Touhou is made by Team Shanghai Alice which consists of its sole member ZUN who, for the most part, makes all of the graphics, the music and programming all by himself.
The first in the series is unlike the rest. ZUN wanted to make a game that featured a shrine maiden (miko). So in 1995 he made a game called Highly Responsive to Prayers. It was a simple game similar to Breakout where you play as Reimu Hakurei, a miko, who hurls a ying yang ball at tiles and enemies.
After the initial game the next four had a totally different design and featured mechanics that are found in today’s Touhou games. But the series didn’t have much of a fanbase back then. Fast forward to 2002 when The Embodiment of Scarlet Devil was released, the sixth official game in the series. It was the first Touhou on the Windows OS, unlike the previous games on the PC-98, a Japanese home computer. ZUN wanted to make a bullet hell shooter unlike other games at the time, but also used his skill at making music to compose some of the most memorable orchestral tracks.
This is where all the Touhou craze started and also crossed over to the west. The many fan artworks, remix albums, merchandise, doujinshi, memes and everything in between made Touhou even more popular.
The story of Touhou is set in a fictional realm of Gensokyo. It is a remote mountain area in Japan that is obscured by a barrier where very few humans reside. It is essentially a parallel world with its history and lore. There are many spirits (Japanese youkai), fairies, demons, deities, ghosts and other mythological beings living in peace.
Most of the story in Touhou games is set on some incident that destroys that balance so the main characters like Reimu Hakurei have to settle things. Unsurprisingly, almost all of the characters in the series are cute girls. Many of them, even less significant one-time bosses have their own fan base. And of course, many character traits have become sort of a meme.
But enough history. Have at a review! (I apologize for this bad Castlevania joke.)
In Touhou Double Dealing Character there are a few modes to play – Regular game with 6 stages and an extra stage, Practice and a Spell Practice mode which is like a boss practice. Touhou games are known for their difficulty and there is a number of difficulty modes such as Easy, Normal, Hard and the infamous Lunatic mode. Even easy mode is a challenge for newcomers. But you weren’t planning on playing on easy mode, were you?
In Touhou there is no hand holding. Higher difficulties not only give you more bullets on the screen that move faster and faster, but the enemies and bosses have more elaborate bullet patterns. On the Lunatic difficulty enemies drop more bullets after their death than with their attack patterns. Touhou’s difficulty level is an intricate system that has been perfected well.
The main playable characters are: Reimu Hakurei, Marisa Kirisame, and Sakuya Izayoi. Each has a unique set of attacks with two shot modes so your strategy depends on the character you pick. For example, Reimu is the easiest to play as she has homing attacks. Each character has a different dialogue throughout a game, but unfortunately it hasn’t been translated to English so unless you read Japanese you will have to find the translation elsewhere. But the game can be enjoyed without ever knowing anything about the story.
The most notable addition to the gameplay is a new bonus system. When your character goes into the upper third of the screen you collect all the item drops. If you do this efficiently by collecting many point (red icon) or power items (blue icon) all at once you get a bonus item. You will be given a green star, which is like a bomb fragment, or a pink heart which you can collect for more lives. Three life pieces grant you an extra life and eight bomb pieces grants the player an additional bomb.
The game is fairly short, but you will have fun trying to beat it at all the different difficulties. Add to that three different characters that work differently with two firing modes and there goes hours and hours of your time.
ZUN is notable for making his games all by himself and through the years his art skills have improved greatly as all the characters look more polished than ever. The resolution in the game is also doubled from 640×480 to 1280×960. The soundtrack is so addictive you will be humming the tunes hours after each game session.
Touhou’s first foray into the west is a success. It may not be fully translated, but the gameplay that made it so memorable is perfectly intact. Maybe bullet hell shooters aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but if you crave one, look no further than the latest instalment of Touhou.