Chances are, even if you’ve never played before, you’ve heard of the Touhou Project series. This Japanese indie shoot ’em up series has long been heralded as the “king of bullet hell” for good reason with its outrageous difficulty and beautiful screen-filling bullet patterns. That’s not the Touhou which was on display during E3, though. Somehow, the release we’re getting our hands on first is Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity, a game which deserves an explanation due to its intriguing origins.
You see, over the multi-year history of Touhou, they’ve mostly stuck to releasing bullet hell titles. Thanks to the characters and story, fans have continued to produce fan creations year after year. One of these creations was none other than an entire PC game known as Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity. This indie release did so well that it is now being officially published for PS4. Unlike many other fan titles, it didn’t attempt to purely recreate the established formula but evolves it in new ways.
Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity is not a top-down shooter. Instead it is effectively a real-time RPG with bullet hell elements. Players assume the role of Remilia Scarlet or Sakuya Izayoi (or both if there are two gamers playing together) and go on a journey killing basically everything in their path. Enemies hop, run, and fly about the constricted open areas and may run in for close attacks or send out waves of bullets. It’s when a mass of enemies start spewing bright bullets at you that you realize this most certainly has the heart of a core Touhou title. It just happens to be more hack and slash than the rest.
Alongside melee attacks, you’ve also got the option of unleashing bright, wide-ranging special attacks. Most require a level of charge before being accessible, but can be quite devastating to midbosses. The only trouble is that the stages on display in the E3 demo revealed some potential limitations of the indie game. For one, while attacks were flashy, the backdrops themselves felt utterly drab. The graphics also feel far more like a PS3 release than something coming to PS4. With that said, the main point of this game is its unrelenting action and not the visuals.
After playing for a while, you’ll unlock new equipable items or even level up Remilia or Sakuya. The items help strengthen their defense or attack, though in the demo it felt like the protagonist was a total bullet sponge. Those looking for some real-time action with cute anime characters may find Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity worth a look when it launches exclusively for PS4 later this year. It might not be Touhou in the traditional sense, but it still scratches that bullet hell itch in quite the unique way.