‘Bullet Hell’ games are a special kind of special. Insane response times, screens filled with dangerous bullets, and your lonely self, trying to be offensive without crashing and burning. So naturally an anime styled, bright coloured addition to the genre is welcome; bring on Azure Reflections.
As a part of the Touhou series of games, which is huge, you may be concerned about jumping in. The good news is the game is story light, and with simple gameplay, it doesn’t make you feel as if you’re missing anything overly important.
The story itself is mostly delivered by short bursts of dialogue between characters and it involves something about a red mist, a time loop and enemies that need to be defeated. It is messy, and most of the dialogue is anime silliness, that makes the plot seem obsolete quickly. Fortunately, you can skip it and enjoy the game for all its gameplay goodness.
A playthrough involves choosing your heroine, and then making your way through waves of enemies. A full playthrough, if you do well, only takes a couple of hours. Harder difficulties bring on more enemies, and will extend this, especially if you’re required to keep continuing as I did. Most of your time will be spent fighting bosses, which is a good thing as they are the most rewarding and interesting parts of the game.
When you first kick in the game, the only character choice is Reimu, who is the most beginner friendly, but completing a playthrough with her unlocks the witch Marisa, with the ice fairy Cirno becoming unlocked upon your first Marisa completion. Each of them comes with their own abilities and perks, most notably around the movement, and attack power balances.
What would make this game appeal to fans of ‘Bullet Hell’ is the visuals. They tend to be dark, orange and gritty, led by grumpy men with cigars, and fire everywhere. Azure Reflections on the other hand is colourful, bright, cute and energetic. Attacks by you and your opponent are colourful balls and stars, which means that when the game is at its most chaotic, your screen is beaming with bright blues, greens and pinks.
Bullets come by way of magical balls, which enemies tend to fire in straight forward patterns, but bosses can be unpredictable upon first encounter with overly massive attacks. These vary from balls covering the whole screen drifting down, to massive patterns of balls flying at you, and pure chaos. Each boss has multiple phases with drastically different patterns, and mastering the process of constantly ducking and weaving, while hitting the boss is no easy task.
Your character is equipped with a straightforward attack, as well as power-ups unique to your chosen character and a choice of style chosen before the playthrough starts. You can use spell cards as well which do big damage and can clear the whole screen, but mastering the game involves avoiding these, and using the Danmaku Rush. Danmaku Rush involves waiting for its bar to fill, and then you can slam your way through bullets to power it up, so you can slam a boss with more power. Beating each boss’ phase, after it has lost enough health, is the only way to beat it. It’s by the far the best and most interesting mechanic.
The biggest flaw with the game, is unfortunately associated with its aesthetic. Your character takes up a large amount of space on the screen, but the edges of the character isn’t her hit box. Because of this, when you are squeezing between flying magical bullets, it can be hard to say which bullets will go through your characters edges, or which ones will hit her. You learn it when the game isn’t chaotic, but when it is, and you are avoiding streams of bullets becomes annoying. It’s an especially strong flaw as you tackle the higher difficulties, and with accessories that can shrink the hit box, it remains annoying that you can trust your eyes on the characters edges.
Azure Reflections isn’t a perfect bullet hell game by any means, but its bright and colourful aesthetic certainly makes it worth the time of fans of the genre. Its short game length is offset by its huge replay value from characters, their specialisation, and the difficulties.
Released: May 2018
Platforms: PlayStation 4
Developer: Souvenier Circ.
Publisher: Unties Games