While the Captain Americas and Marios of the entertainment world are guarded by strict copyright laws and armies of lawyers, one of the best known and iconic video game series in Japan does not play by those rules at all. Touhou started out as a humble series of flashy indie bullet hell games, coming from the imaginative mind of ZUN, but it’s blossomed into a multimedia phenomenon thanks to ZUN allowing his world and characters to be used freely by any and all creatives, so long as he’s simply given an acknowledgment credit.
This has led to a barrel of bountiful Touhou experiences, from unforgettable music remixes to ambitious animation projects and a variety of stunning fan games. The deeper into that barrel you dig, though, the more you discover outliers of independent experimentation that don’t quite carry the level of polish or quality you’d want from a franchise this size. Scrape at the very bottom of that barrel, and the calcified, inedible remains that stick to your fingernail can best be described as Touhou Mechanical Scrollery.
Touhou Mechanical Scrollery is described as a hunting action game, triggering exciting comparisons to games like Monster Hunter or Freedom Wars. The idea of traversing gorgeous 3D landscapes as Reimu and Marisa and pulling off slick, calculated combat maneuvers to vanquish giant demonic foes sounds like a dream. Unfortunately, this game doesn’t come close to making that dream a reality. Touhou Mechanical Scrollery is a hunting action game much in the same way that Super Mario Bros. is a narrative-driven cinematic puzzle game.
The most important part of an action-focused 3D hunting game is having tight, responsive controls. Touhou Mechanical Scrollery immediately fails to deliver that, and I honestly felt like I wasn’t even in control of my character half the time I played. Your playable protagonists can only fly around the environments, but ascending, descending, and everything in-between feels like you’re trying to control a marble on an ice rink. Performing precise, calculated movements is a miracle that rarely manifests, and when I tried double tapping shoulder buttons on my controller to quickly fly up or down in battle, my character often just ignored the input.
The problems only proliferate when it comes to combat controls. Each character has one basic melee combo, but you’ll rarely be able to land it properly. Navigating yourself to be directly on the same plane as an enemy in order to land strikes on them is hard enough, but even when you manage that, your melee attacks send your characters swinging and twisting in a way that causes these blows to completely miss your target, even when directly locked on.
And even locking on is trouble enough. When one enemy is on screen, it’s just about manageable to lock your sights onto them, but when multiple foes populate the immediate area, Touhou Mechanical Scrollery takes pride in automatically locking onto the wrong target and making it a herculean task to swap onto the one you actually want to fight.
Shooting massive waves of neon bullets is one of the most iconic parts of any Touhou experience, and somehow Touhou Mechanical Scrollery even manages to mess that up. Your ranged attacks in the game lack the kind of precise, head-on aim you would expect, with your default firing mode blasting bullets in awkward arcs and delayed, unresponsive bursts. You can use a precise-aim Sniper Mode, but when using this mode, the direction your projectiles fly doesn’t match up with your aiming reticule at all.
Managing to land enough shots in Sniper Mode builds up an ultimate Spell Card ability that’s meant to deal huge amounts of damage. Unfortunately, all they amount to are farts of random bullets that seem to fly everywhere except in the direction of your opponent.
I only managed to get mild satisfaction out of Touhou Mechanical Scrollery thanks to the simple yet charming story scenes. While the in-game visuals are full of flat lighting and cursed with inconsistent framerate, story scenes feature gorgeously drawn character portraits of various iconic Touhou characters. There’s a basic story here about Reimu and Marisa diving into cursed books to fight hordes of mechanical foes, but the quirky humour sprinkled throughout these story scenes brought a smile to my face that the actual gameplay failed to.
At the very least, the game manages to keep the time-honored tradition of loading screens in Touhou games displaying the message “Girls are now praying.” They sure are.