Archives by Day

May 2019

Azure Reflections

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4
Genre: Action
Publisher: Unties
Developer: Souvenir Circ.
Release Date: Aug. 31, 2018


Switch Review - 'Azure Reflections'

by Cody Medellin on Oct. 11, 2018 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

Azure Reflections is a vibrant, side-scrolling, bullet hell shooter where you dominate levels and relentlessly attack enemies with a variety of skills and upgrades.

The Nintendo Switch is no stranger to the Touhou series of games. Touhou Kobuto V: Burst Battle came out for the system last year, and this summer saw the release of Touhou Genso Wanderer Reloaded. However, none of these games truly represents what Touhou is about, with the former being a fighting game and the latter being an RPG. For longtime fans, Touhou is all about bullet-hell shooters, and as games like Shikhondo: Soul Eater and Danmaku Unlimited 3 have demonstrated, the Switch is a good home for the genre. Azure Reflections is the first Touhou bullet-hell shooter for the Switch, and it's also a good example of why the fan base for the series is so rabid.

As expected from the series, the story is merely there to give the game some structure. During one fateful summer, a dark red mist covered the land of Gensokyo. The local shrine maiden Reimu went on a journey to the Scarlet Devil Manor to defeat the vampire Remilia, and in doing so, the mist was removed and Gensokyo was free from the curse. However, the following spring, the mist has returned, and Reimu must find out why history has started to repeat itself.

What Azure Reflections lacks in a compelling narrative, it makes up for in character interactions. While the characters might seem like typical anime tropes at first, their quirks aren't overused. As a result, more humor comes through in the dialogue, and there's a nice balance of the absurd and the subtle, almost feeling like a sitcom minus the laugh track. It works well enough for the genre, and it gives newcomers a better idea of each character's personalities.

Most of the expected bullet-hell conventions are here. Reimu has three different attack patterns to choose from — a straight firing pattern, a spread, and a homing attack — and all are unleashed by holding down the fire button. The spell card is the equivalent to the bomb in that it kills any on-screen bullets and enemies, giving you a breather from the chaos. Reimu has a vulnerability at the center of her character model, and while that's invisible by default, you can turn it on in the options screen. Bullet grazing is also a thing, and it comes with the major benefit of quickly filling in your special meter. Also, like many modern bullet-hell shooters, the number of continues is limited.

With that said, there are plenty of things that are very different from what you'd typically find in the genre. For Touhou veterans, this means changing the usual top-down formula and adopting a horizontal scrolling scheme. There are two shooting buttons — one for each direction — which you'll often use, since enemies are attacking from all sides. Reimu doesn't die when she gets hit; she's merely put into a stunned state. She can recover, but getting hit in this state means eventual death. You'll move fast by default, but there is an option to slow down your movements in order to get some precision in dodging the bullet curtains. There's an option to bring up a shield to absorb bullets coming your way, but you'll lose some shooting power in the process. The cash collected after every level can be spent on costume pieces, which are more than cosmetic, since wearing them provides extra buffs, such as reduced recovery time or acquiring pickups within a larger radius.

The biggest change is Danmaku Rush, which seems to combine several of the aforementioned powers into something destructive. Hitting the button for the move brings up a shield and freezes time for a bit while you choose the direction of your dash. You'll then rush to collide against all of the enemy fire in your path. The shield also acts as a battering ram of sorts, and the more bullets you collect, the more powerful the ram attack. The time spent here is limited, and the meter recharges at a steady pace, so you can't spend your whole time in a level in this state. The move is powerful enough that you'll use it quite often.

The campaign consists of seven stages, provided you don't count the secret stage that uncovers the true boss and ending. As expected, the boss fights are the real highlight due to their intricate bullet patterns and multiple phases before they're finally defeated. While regular gunfire weakens them, only the Danmaku Rush can kill them. This makes the fights even more interesting, as you'll employ some attack strategies. You'll look for the appropriate pattern, so you can absorb tons of enemy gunfire and collide with the boss before your Rush time expires. The frantic dance gives you more things to pay attention to when compared to other bullet-hell shooter boss fights, but it also gives the game a fresh challenge that makes it addicting — even for those who aren't seeking high scores on the leaderboard.

The segments between boss fights are nothing too special. You'll be faced with small platoons of enemies that act as cannon fodder, and a few foes give you a tough time if you run into their line of fire. Some shooting fans will be disappointed that these sections only last about a minute or two before you're dumped into a boss fight. The sections are typically meant to give your character a chance to power up before the big fight, but some players may feel that it would've been better if the game lengthened these sections or abandoned them altogether in favor of more boss fights.

Aside from online leaderboards, Azure Reflections provides the player with plenty of incentive to return. As expected, being able to take down bosses without losing a life will give you the chance to fight the aforementioned final boss for a chance to see the game's true ending. Beating the game opens up more difficulty levels and a mode that immediately ends the game if you get hit just once. Beating the game also unlocks a few more similar characters that have slightly different attacks. For example, Reimu uses her spell cards to clear out bullets, but Marisa uses hers to freeze bullets instead. Marisa also has an attack that lets her shoot in both directions simultaneously, giving players one less button to press. A practice mode is also unlocked, so you'll be able to play against bosses (one at a time), and several character models are unlocked every time you complete a run.

Presentation-wise, Azure Reflections is quite nice. Everything in the game is done in polygons, and even though the character close-ups can appear saturated due to too much light bloom, they look fine on the Switch's native screen. The backgrounds look fine, but not much happens there, and the game handles well when there are a ton of bullets on the screen. The music does a good job of keeping an upbeat tempo for action sequences, and the voices are also well done, but a number of characters sound too similar to one another.

Azure Reflections is a good bullet-hell shooter for genre fans. Despite the short levels, the boss fights are exhilarating, and the new mechanics add a good twist to an otherwise proven formula. The title is able to challenge more experienced players, while also accommodating newcomers without necessarily giving them an easy ride to the end. Although the Switch already has a number of bullet-hell shooters, Azure Reflections is a fine addition to the library.

Score: 7.5/10

More articles about Azure Reflections
blog comments powered by Disqus