The last Touhou battle game I reviewed was a mess, and it soured me on this whole series of Touhou fan-games being localized for consoles. If they were all going to be of the same quality level as that one, I had zero interest in partaking in those products. Thankfully the next game in the series I played was a lot better, and was also not an arena-rumble game! Maybe that was the secret? Maybe, as long as it wasn’t a fighting game, these games could actually be pretty great!
Then Touhou Kobuto V: Burst Battle was announced, and it was an arena-battle game, just like the first game. Watching that trailer put my body into immediate fight-or-flight mode. I didn’t want to go back. I never wanted to play another Touhou battle game if it was going to be as janky as the first one I played. This one showed glimmers of promise, though. The character models looked different! The attacks looked different! Maybe this would be… good?
Like an addict spending their last dollar on a lotto ticket, I went in with optimism. I wish I never had.
Burst Battle is an arena brawler that could be loosely compared to ARMS. Two characters strafe and dodge around an arena of battle, with an over the shoulder view as you throw out a variety of attacks to either blast your enemy with projectiles, or create openings to go in for melee attacks.
As soon as I launched the game, I looked for a way to learn how to play – knowing how to play a video game is usually pretty important – but Burst Battle takes an ambitious approach and bucks this overplayed game design trope of having a tutorial. There’s no guide for newcomers and you’re not told any rules of the game; you get a controller-mapping screen, and that’s it.
Taking what I saw on that screen as gospel, I was led to believe that the game only features three attacks and a jump button. It didn’t seem like a lot, but I jumped into story mode to see if I could put these buttons to good use. I got through one two-round battle before I wanted to wanted to give up. Fights dragged on for ages and my attacks did little damage. My opponent, meanwhile, was moving and attacking faster, was dealing more damage, and all of a sudden, activated a super move I didn’t know existed.
I scraped by and finished that battle after what felt like an hour. Was I missing something or was this game really just so poorly designed? I continued thinking about it as I went into the next battle, and my opponent immediately threw out a dozen different types of attacks, punched me in the gut, and drained my entire health bar. I exited story mode.
Confused and with the bitter taste of defeat in my mouth, it was only through spending 5-10 minutes in practice mode, pressing, holding and mashing every possible button combination before I got a feel for how to actually play this filthy game.
You have three different attack buttons, but combining an attack button with either shoulder button or a combination of them both produces a totally different version of the attack. Mixing attacks and shoulder buttons around lets you toss out a nearly endless stream of bombs and bullets. If you get close enough to the opponent, your attack buttons even zoom in the camera and perform a melee attack. After meeting some sort of vague conditions, your Charge meter fills up, and you can unleash a powerful super attack by double-tapping two attack buttons.
With all of those new tools under my belt, I returned to the story mode to get the true Burst Battle experience. It turns out, the true Burst Battle experience is spamming one or two powerful attacks the AI can’t react to over and over until you win within seconds. Even after uncovering all of it’s secrets, the game was still poorly designed, and barely fun.
The story modes in these games usually have at least some charm, but there isn’t a lot of that going on here. It cycles through a different story sequence for each character every time you beat it, with all of them leading up to the same weird boss. Since the Story Mode is basically a guided path of arcade stories, the Arcade mode ends up having no story whatsoever. Beyond those modes, a time trial mode, and a basic online battle mode, there isn’t much else going on with this game.
I wish I could give this game points in presentation, but it’s just as poorly put together there. While character portraits are beautifully drawn, they contrast with the ugly, blocky character models and N64-era attack projectiles. There are a couple of dope jams on the soundtrack, but the aural experience is mostly pretty uninspired.
I’m trying my best to think of some kind of clever joke or metaphor about Touhou Kobuto V: Burst Battle, but I don’t even think the game deserves that kind of effort on my part. Burst Battle is an awful video game. Without a tutorial, learning to play is no fun at all, and I had an equal sum of zero fun playing it when I actually knew how to play. If you’re itching for a Touhou fighting game, run to your PC and download one of the official 2D fighting games from the main series. Never touch Burst Battle. Learn from my errors, and live a long, healthy, fulfilling life.
Version tested: PlayStation 4