Touhou Genso Rondo: Bullet Ballet, as the name suggests, is a bullet hell type of game originally from Japan. It’s now been released upon western shores, where we had the chance to play it.
To call Touhou Genso Rondo a bullet hell shooter wouldn’t be entirely accurate, because the game definitely tries to break away from the mold. Whereas most bullet hell shooters take the classic vertical scrolling 2D shooter formula and just add tons and tons of bullets to the scene for you to avoid, Touhou Genso Rondo can probably best be described a combination of two genres. On the one hand there are the obvious bullet hell shooter references, but it’s also part one on one brawler, which makes for an interesting combination.
In the game, you battle inside a circular arena using one of the characters available to you from a roster – much like you’d select a fighter in the everyday beat ’em ups you might play. Aside from primary and secondary fire buttons, you also have different modes you can activate using the shoulder buttons. These can either slow down your movement or speed it up, but also change your weapon arsenal for the duration of the mode. Most of the damage you deal is by a variation of these long range attacks, but there’s also an option to go in and get close and personal for a bit of melee action.
However, a major game-changer is the use of a spell card, which temporarily transforms the game from its arena environment to a top-down affair that more closely resembles a traditional bullet hell shooter. Here, the player who casts his card gets to attack (from above) while the other player has to try and survive. Unfortunately, in too many cases, these attacks seem overpowered and make it feel like surviving such a situation with very little damage has more to do with luck than anything else.
The game has three main single player modes, though they’re not too different. There’s an arcade mode and a story mode, but none of the 10 stories on offer are particularly interesting or engaging – so it’s more than likely that you’ll stick to arcade mode or (online) multiplayer instead. Boss Rush mode is centered around the aforementioned spell cards, but brings the same frustrations that they do in regular play.
Bullet hell shooters are a dime a dozen, especially on a platform like Steam, and their success depends on how well the game handles its balance between skill and frustration. Part bullet hell shooter, Touhou Genso Rondo doesn’t handle this too well. In both single and multiplayer, you often get the sense that attacks are over- or underpowered – and a lot of levels in the story mode are too easy to be rewarding upon completion
This makes the game a bit of a missed opportunity. It’s nice to see a fresh new take on the bullet hell genre, but – just like with actual bullet hell shooters – the balance needs to be right in order to enjoy the game. With the state the game was released in, that isn’t the case yet. Let’s hope a patch or two will help fix things.