The Touhou games released in the West are growing in number, but most of them are spin-offs of the main 2D top-down view shmups. Thankfully, with Azure Reflections, we finally get a shmup of a certain cloth, finally bringing a properly localized Touhou shmup to the masses. While having a bit of a mean streak, the game is still very much an enjoyable ride.

This series of games have never really been known for having strong or even interesting plots, but Azure Reflections stars series mascot Reimu. She is stuck in an infinite loop created by someone from the Scarlet Devil Mansion, and she is obviously going to give them a what-for. Along the way, you'll run into several Touhou characters that you will engage in battle.

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The gameplay consists of your character moving on a two-plane with a horizontal orientation on a side-scrolling plane. Most levels are simple left-to-right endeavors, although some levels will see you going from top-to-bottom at least part of the way. While your character might be pretty large for a shmup, the actual hitbox is a small heart, which you can always see if you flip that setting on.

There are three playable characters to choose from, although you will have to unlock the other two after clearing the true ending on Reimu's game. Each character has their own shot type and spells, which act like bombs. However, the general conceit of combat is to shoot the larger enemies until they are susceptible to getting rammed by your character. You do this by hitting and holding the barrier button, which absorbs bullets and powers the shield to be strong enough for ramming speed. Doing this at the right time means capturing the bosses' spell cards.

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However, if you play on easy or have to continue before getting to Level 5, you will not get the true ending, which is a sore point of contention with this game. Level 4's boss even basically tells you to 'git gud scrub'. But aside from that, there are little issues with the game. If anything, it does suffer from having a lack of content. There isn't much in the way of unlockables, and what is there is a series of collectible accessories that you can use to decorate your characters. Its music is decent, and the artwork and visuals are much the same. If you like shmups, Azure Reflections is a good time.

VERDICT:

The Good: The idea of absorbing bullets to gain the power to ram your opponent is an interesting twist to a mechanic seen in Ikaruga.
The Bad: Hard to tell how many lives you have.
The Ugly: Having to play the game in normal and in a specific way to see the true ending.

SUMMARY: Azure Reflections is a fun take of the typical Touhou formula, but its idea of game completion is a bit mean-spirited.

FINAL GRADE:

Promotional consideration provided by Andrea Shearon and Madeline Rose of Stride PR

Eric is a freelance writer and has a podcast called RPGrinders, and you can support their Patreon page here.

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