[REVIEW] Gensokyo Defenders (Switch)

Touhou-wer Defense

The Touhou Project has pumped out many unofficial entries from its universe creating numerous games which has earned a record of being “the most prolific fan-made shooter series”, according to Guinness World Records. With that comes a creative freedom that can and many times does go wild, but also deliver a fun experience. Developed by Neetpia, Gensokyo Defenders brings a previous 2D entry into 3D in the form of a tower defense infused with twin-stick shooting mechanics. Even though there are a few technical shortcomings, the mechanics, style and introduction to new gameplay elements keeps it consistently entertaining. An online co-op mode is even included.

Touhou Project can be all over the place. A simplified version of the plot for Gensokyo Defenders is that it’s a basic “war games” taking on various fairies with a cast of nearly 20 characters from the Touhou Project universe presented in a very anime fashion with a full Japanese voice cast. Barely any time is wasted getting you into the action by starting off on a tutorial battle map with dialogue to aid you along the way. You’ll soon see that whatever the story may be that there is a decent amount of a dialogue exchanged between characters before battle preparation begins and once the battle has ended on every stage. A fast-forward option to breeze through the text may be executed by pressing Y or can be skipped altogether by pressing X. For anyone who is into seeing Touhou characters talking to each other accompanied by their portraits will find plenty of it here.

Most of these characters have more use than driving the narrative forward. They actually build your party throughout the course of the game and play vastly different from each other. For instance, players begin by having access to only Cirno, an ice fairy who’s specialty is freezing foes and slowing their movement. When you finally get Rin to tag along, she can turn defeated foes into zombies to attack the very team of enemies from which they came. Special abilities do have a cost and being that this is tower defense the same applies to fortification.

Premises differ among games in the tower defense genre. Sometimes just defeating the enemies is all that’s required. In Gensokyo Defenders’, the premise revolves around defending your base from receiving attacks against waves of enemies. The base starts out with a certain amount of health and every enemy who has reached it will reduce it by a point. Ideally, you’ll want to defeat as many enemies as you can so that you can become the victor, but you don’t always have to defeat every enemy head on as defeating the boss in the final wave will wipe out the remaining enemies.

The fun part is many times the boss for that stage is a fairy who joins your party, adding a different play style to choose from even if the fundamental controls are basically the same. There is a slight RPG (or JRPG) feel to the overall aesthetic which could be considered as a nice draw for anyone who generally isn’t into the military, medieval or oddball designs. This pours into the characters, themed maps, and UI features. Players have full control of their character on the map. Pressing and holding L will allow the character to run. Pressing R will enable shooting. Guided by a red laser sight, players can turn (aim) by using the right analog stick. Shooting’s free. However, everything else comes at a cost. Money management is key to winning, but Gensokyo Defenders is quite flexible in how you choose to approach the battle.

Movement is mostly free form, but maps are design with a grid system in mind. Players begin with a set amount of money to be spent on traps. A list of traps that are available are shown at the bottom along with their price. Toggling between available traps by using ZL & ZR, players can set them on any free square on the grid by pressing R. Gensokyo Defenders is lenient by not having build time as placing traps is instantaneous. Furthermore, trap placement is not permanent. If a player doesn’t want or need specific traps, they can be sold on the spot with no penalty in price earning your the exact money you purchased it for. A full refund! It’s a shame there’s no moving traps that are already placed instead of selling it to buy a new one in a different spot, but the act of buying and selling traps is snappy. Examples of traps are watchtowers that launch arrows (good for aerial enemies as well as ground enemies), a bamboo spear floor (active when enemy walks over it damaging them, possibly even stunning them in the process), and a flower bed (slows enemy movement).

Players must not rely on traps alone and that’s one area where Gensokyo Defenders really shines. While traps are great at stalling enemies and even defeating them, player engagement is truly needed. Having full control of your character allows responding to enemies more satisfying. When shooting is toggled, players shoot automatically and the projectile intervals are different for each character. One character may shoot one projectile at a time and deals higher damage than normal. Another character might burst fire 3 at lesser damage. Players have both a health meter and mana meter. Players can take damage and eventually die if all health is gone, but it’s not game over. Instead, there is a short respawn time until players can get back into the action. In junction with shooting, using magic is highly beneficial. Each character has their own unique spells. Spell 1 is mapped to Left on the d-pad, Spell 2 is mapped to Right on the d-pad, and both cost mana.

A much larger special effect called Last Word is mapped to Down on the d-pad and requires its gauge to be full in order to use. It’s highly effective if in desperation. Mana refills slowly on its own, but much faster depending on your performance. In order to fill Last Word and mana more quickly, killing enemies in large numbers consecutively. Obtaining combos requires enemies to be defeated shortly after one another. While using spells spends mana, getting kills with them also refills it a substantial amount so you can continue to use spells if you’re proficient at it. Killing enemies also constantly rewards you money so you can place more traps in the moment or in-between waves (pressing Minus starts the next wave). Health and mana are always replenished fully after a wave. An on-screen map is shown of the map’s layout. Red dots display enemies and yellow display traps. A flashing burst design indicates where enemies will be spawning from which is extremely helpful for preparation between waves.

Gensokyo Defenders always introduces a new character with a different play style and the same is said for traps. The upgrade system always keeps things interesting. Throughout the course of the game, players will earn skill points to spend how they like. Upgrading characters is possible, whether it’s to tweak player speed or add health to the base. Traps may be upgraded as well to allow effects to be active for longer and more often. For instance, the watchtower can be upgraded to shoot further than the 2 squares in front of it. Or the bamboo spear floors can be upgraded to be cheaper in price, allowing more to be placed. Each trap has a few leveled upgrades that can be maxed, although they increase in skill points needed each level.

If Normal difficulty becomes challenging, the option to switch to Easy is allowed on the main menu after the title screen. There are multiple story arcs. Each chapter focuses on one character’s story. There are numerous stages per chapter. The next chapter with a new story arc can be unlocked and played, but how much you’re allowed to advance also depends on how much you’ve completed in the previous chapter. Levels span through a variety of themes even though there are different layouts using the same theme.

There is an online mode where players are able to join another player to take on missions together. Unfortunately in the playtime spent for this review, no players could be found on any of the servers.

The music isn’t bad, either. The title screen has a nice tune and the jazzy-pop during levels, especially in the downtime before the next wave begins is good enough. It personally gives me a JRPG vibe even if the game is not. HD rumble is present, but not used to any remarkable extent. The game isn’t a true looker, but its art style does it justice. It doesn’t look like it should run at the 30 frames per second that it does, but there’s probably a good reason for it with the number of projectiles and enemies on screen. There’s about 2 gripes I have with Gensokyo Defenders. 1) Collision in the environment. It’s often I got stuck moving along an non-traversable path when I needed it most to get to an enemy and shoot it down. Instead of being able to “grind” along a barrier, the character simply doesn’t want to move forward until you free yourself to move along empty free space. 2) Visual indicators go a long way. There’s no flinching or animation to let you know that you are receiving damage. Your health simply depletes if you are getting hit. This makes keeping an eye on your health bar more often. Also, cursor and menu selection could have a bit more clarity as well.

It seems Touhou Project games are a dime a dozen if you've ever heard of the series, but they're all about having fun with characters and using them in different ways. Gensokyo Defenders is a little rough around the edges, but the mechanics in place make for some fun gameplay. It keeps things interesting by adding new characters to join your party who play differently from each other, new map ideas, introduction to new traps and an upgrade system that requires skill points to be spent and applied in any way you see fit. It's a tower defense that feels like more than the usual tower defense and it certainly scratches an itch or two.
The Stellar
  • Twin-stick shooting meets tower defense.
  • Lenient upgrade system that evolves.
  • Charming Touhou characters and fully voiced.
  • Characters with different play styles.
The Lesser
  • Movement against blocked paths kind of finicky,
  • Could have better visual indicator for receiving damage.
Gameplay - 8
Visual - 7.5
Audio - 7.5
Value - 8.5

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