Touhou Genso Rondo: Bullet Ballet is an interesting mashup between two genres I had never really considered mixing before - bullet hell and fighters. The idea is certainly interesting, and some of the concepts work well while some other mechanics are less effective.
To its credit, Touhou Genso Rondo: Bullet Ballet is a very technical game that has a plethora of mechanics that serve to make the game feel deeper than it otherwise might. What I mean by that is the majority of bullet hell shooters have you learning patterns and dodging copious amounts of fire while attempting to shoot back at your enemies and eliminating them. Sometimes you have an extra unique mechanic or two drizzled in, such as a screen clearing bomb or a warp ability that allows you to pass through an otherwise steady stream of enemy fire, but at their core they do not tend to vary a ton. They come down to a need for excellent level design and some cool weapon options to keep most players invested.
Touhou Genso Rondo: Bullet Ballet provides something different with its anime styled presentation and one-on-one fight scenario. However, unlike most fighters, instead of worrying about jump kicks and uppercuts, you are firing off all sorts of ranged attacks, using bombs, engaging in a sort of magical mini-game and more. You have life bars, charge values for your attacks (which come in multiple flavors) and of course the many bullets to avoid along the way.
Visually there is an undeniable sort of charm to the game. The anime girls look nice in their menu and cut scenes, though sparsely animated. The in-game visuals are simple, but I have always found waves of colorful and patterned bullets to be beautiful and often mesmerizing. You have to follow the movement patterns of your opponent as well as the plethora of different attacks she sends your way. Sometimes you will want to dance between dual beams of bullets and in other instances you will try to dash away, avoiding entire rows of fire instead.
However, there is a lot of nuance here in these different systems. You have attacks and sub-attacks that can run out of charge and require you to build them up. If you allow bullets to come REALLY close to you, that is called grazing and it helps you to recharge faster. More powerful attacks like spells require that you have a few things built up and they spin the game a bit so that the attacker is at the top and the defender of the spell is at the bottom facing up. If you get in close to your opponent, you can unload a sort of rock/paper/scissors melee challenge that can land up to three hits.
Attacks come in some different forms as well, based on if you are holding down the shoulder buttons that let you alternate out of the default 'normal' mode to a slower or faster one. Not only does this impact your movement, but the kinds of attacks your chosen character does as well. There is a lot going on here, and it can be pretty intense, which works to Touhou Genso Rondo: Bullet Ballet's benefit.
There are a few areas however, where things go off of the rails a little bit. For one, the music is catchy, but extremely limited. It loops and becomes pretty repetitive awfully quickly. The tutorial tries to be cute by having a pair of characters bantering back and forth, and it certainly adds a little charm to what is usually one of the most boring yet necessary parts of almost video game. However, it misses the mark in a few areas as the conversations start to become a little too babbling for my liking and you are shown but not really given a chance to interact. This part could have been handled a lot better, especially if it let you actually perform some of the actions discussed instead of simply making you a spectator from start to finish.
In terms of other modes, they are plentiful but also somewhat shallow. The story mode is pretty weak, honestly. The girls are just looking for an excuse to fight with one another, which is what you get in most fighting games on the market. My expectations here were not terribly high, but I was hopeful for something a little more. The difficulty can be a little erratic, with no options to control/change the challenge of your opponents. Most of the time you can simply hammer away at a handful of shooting options and win your matches while focusing on not getting hit yourself. It takes a complicated system and really lets you get by without putting much thought into the game most of the time.
The arcade mode actually reminds me more of a typical survival mode in a fighting game, where you have a health bar that replenishes somewhat between rounds but otherwise carries over from one battle to the next. Boss Rush is one of the more unique as you basically play dodgeball with your opponents who go into spell mode and try to nuke you with their magical attacks. This mode is certainly one of the most challenging that Touhou Genso Rondo: Bullet Ballet has to offer. There are some online modes as well, but the lobbies don't offer much outside of basic match making and competitive play.
One of the areas where Touhou Genso Rondo: Bullet Ballet does a really nice job is in the variety between the characters. Given the somewhat small roster of less than one dozen and the top-down style of play, I had my doubts as to just how different characters would be from one another. I am happy to say that finding a character whose attack patterns work for you is one of the cooler aspects of the game. The lobby/room searching headache that comes with the online mode is largely mitigated by a smooth, fast and frantic experience that is a lot of fun once the fighting happens as well. The computer AI can become a little predictable at times, which makes playing against a human so much more interesting.
To its credit, Touhou Genso Rondo: Bullet Ballet does a nice job of blending two very disparate genres together into a genuinely unique title that is fun, but surprisingly shallow despite its multitude of technical gameplay systems. There is fun to be had here, though some might find the asking price to be a little too high for what you are getting. Touhou Genso Rondo: Bullet Ballet has a lot of really cool ideas, but could use a little more polish as well.
Article by Nick