Tuesday, 04 September 2018 13:27

REVIEW: Azure Reflections (Nintendo Switch)

Written by RiotArms
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(9 votes)

If you aren’t familiar with the origins of Azure Reflections; read up on the TouHou Project, a fan made anime universe of monolithic proportions conceived way back in 1996. Born from the Land of the Rising Sun Japan; this one-person development team under the name of ZUN, specialises in the development of the horizontal ‘Bullet hell’ Shoot em up genre. The hell is a Bullet Hell? Sounds spicy right?

You remember Raiden? If you do, AMAZING! If not, I guess my age is showing (Damn youth). Raiden was one of the original heavyweights in vertical scrolling shooters. Your mission was to shoot down the enemy that spawn left, right and above then frag the frick out of the bosses that spewed out balls of plasma and lasers.

Azure reflections forced me to reminisce about Raiden intensely; flying through a barrage of kaleidoscopic balls of energy and beams of brightly coloured plasma, with the added bonus of cute anime girls, amazing voice works from voice actors such as Ayumi Fujimura who voice Yukio in Blue Exorcist and adorable character customisation. Horizontally... more on that later.

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I’m in an anime and I’m loving it!

As soon as you launch the game; the player gets thrown into a cinematic. No animation; but a cute but clearly evil voiceover and a convergence of highly detailed anime art, explaining the current story line of the title. You feel engaged as the melodic anime score plays in the background, introducing the protagonists of the TouHou universe and the game. Good start; I got them anime feels. Or anime girl feels... DON’T JUDGE ME!

As the cinematics fade, the menu appears as a Reimu Hakurei wistfully stares into the distance as a soft musical score plays for your hearing pleasure. After appreciating the aesthetic and polished nature of the menu, I proceed to head to the tutorial. Do not skip the tutorial!

On point: That’s all I can describe the tutorial; thoroughly explaining the ins and outs of the horizontal side scroller. I must admit for such a simple concept there is a steep learning curve that the player MUST appreciate prior hitting story mode. I’m talking about popping shields, using the Danmaku dash and the various bars you must pay attention to in order to survive death by bullets. There are few elements that aren’t explained such as why is there coloured kanji flying at me? Where are my power bars? What in the world is that cute commentator saying?! Regardless of the lack of explaining; I’m hooked, lets dive into the game.

Team; I’m no betch. I consider myself quite good at arcade games and I most certainly killed it in Raiden. HOW HARD CAN IT BE? Well the player starts their journey by selecting Story mode. You get an option for easy, Normal or Hard mode. Remember I said I wasn’t a betch? Hard mode all the way!

Next you get to select your avatar. This case the only unlocked player is Reimu. Her bio reads “A shrine maiden who enjoys youkai (Japanese ghost) extermination”. THE F#CK? I’m sure she also likes long walks on the beach and cocktails. You also get to choose how your magic offensive spells fly; straight, spread or homing. I paid this off and chose Straight; man, I’m too confidant for my own good.

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The crisp graphics and smooth gameplay washed over me as I whizzed around; unleashing a steady stream of hurt on the enemies and collecting their rewards. I ascertained that the green was currency, the red was the power up of my main spell and the blue was my additional spells. You get 3 knocks before you ‘die’ perse. Your hitbox is a small heart in the centre of your character, seen when you press your trigger buttons. Feeling pretty content with my efforts our heroine meets the first boss. Cirno; a hecka adorable ice fairy that wants to melt your face off, introduces herself and a bit of back and forth banter happens. I must say what I love about subbed Japanese games is the effort that the voice actors put into their characters. Enough chit chat, lets rumble!

Like going from 0 to 100 in a split second; this hard mode sprite unleashes total hell on my poor Reimu as I frantically attempt to dodge the onslaught and return fire. Remember the Straight fire? NOTHING IS HITTING THE BOSS. This is a perfect Segway to explain when you die. Imagine the game as an arcade game and you put in 3 credits. Each time you die you get revived. You die 3 times and you need to use a continue (a credit). Beat the 10 bosses in game within 3 credits and you win!

So clearly; I died. I huff in annoyance as my hands are sweaty from the attempted control finesse I just conducted and begrudgingly changed it to Normal mode and selected Homing mode. Now were cooking!

Few points I want to make about the mobs. They are one and the same; spewing out a steady stream of small balls, big balls, spikey balls, but they appear left, right, above AND below. There is a visual cue that appears when they are about to appear, but some seem to spawn and meld into the background, cause our kawaii shrine maiden to run into them. Later in the games you will need all your knocks to beat the game.

Each boss battle was challenging as they didn’t just spray; it was a randomised intricate ballet of patterns and sequences that you must learn and respect as one false move could cause you to be stun locked to oblivion. Naturally they got harder as your progress as well as the mobs. After smashing this mode a few times and attaining high level progression, I decided to explore other aspects of the game. 16/10 would get overstimulated again.

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“HORREEE SHEET!”

Remember the green kanji that flies in your face? Next well head into the accessory tab in the menu. I like this concept; grind for the cash currency, spend it in the accessory shop, get cute bits and bobs for your character that not only look kawaii AF but also grant you small performance boosts. What this does is creates a reason to play again and again which linear games like this lose extremely quickly. I choose White Cat Ears for... reasons...

Something that not many people consider is the model libraries and lore. I play games for immersion and especially for games that have such a steeped legacy such as the TouHou project it is important for experience that one understands the history of characters. Further to the topic cosplays alike will appreciate the ability to view highly detailed designs of the character’s clothing and props. As a prop maker myself this is something constantly overlooked in games.

Last cool feature I want to mention is memories. I’m a bit conflicted with this; all of the memories are masked in question marks, so I guess you have to play the game and gitgud in order to unlock them. This again urges the player to grind away however without a goal in sight I feel this feature has lost its mark. Still the memory avatar squares are super cute and I’m such a sucker for additions like that.

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Break it down baby!

The graphics and designs of the characters are flawless however in all anime games this is to be expected. You know the moniker if it is all special then nothing is special? This is the case here. It is amazingly drawn and rendered but I kind of already expect that so there was nothing eye catching about it.

The musical score was AMAZING. Totally immersed you in the feeling and complemented your journey through the barrage of shiny seekers of death. Games must have a good musical score; it ties in the total feels of the game and this hits the mark.

SFX were a bit generic; standard anime grunts and cries which were to be expected however what did perk my interest was the running commentary in Japanese. NO IDEA what they were saying but it felt good none the less. I wouldn’t expect subs for commentary as that would just create business in an already busy screen.

Gameplay as mentioned needs to be fully respected. The slightest touch could result in your character dodging death or being stunned locked to oblivion. Challenging bosses and a scale of difficult; combined with the push for grinding for accessories and additional characters, makes the gameplay pleasing easy to return to over and over.

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TOO LONG RIOT GET TO THE POINT!

OK OK; I’m a bit passionate when it comes to reviews and I like to articulate each point that I love but let’s just surmise here: Get the game if you:

* Like a challenge
* Enjoy Japanese anime (girls hehe)
* Love colours and appreciate sexy graphics
* Play the switch as a portable device
* Enjoy grinding for accessories

I thoroughly enjoyed it; smashing through it on the train packed like a sardine to right now, typing this review hugging my Black Butler body pillow (don’t judge).

Don’t just go for story games; go for games that perk your interest and I can assure you this one will.

Pros:

* Challenging
* Beautiful graphics
* Rich and emotional voice acting
* Cute as f#*K

Cons:

* ...Challenging if not respected
* Sometimes you wonder if the screen is TOO small for a bullet hell shooter
* Little explanation of finer details of games such as pickups and progress bars
* Achievements are an amazing entry but are no good if masked



Additional Info

  • Review Score: 4.0 / 5.0
  • Release Date: Out Now
  • Platform: PS4, Nintendo Switch
  • Publisher: Unties
  • Genre: Action