This niche Japanese game series has seen a handful of western releases over the past couple of years and now we finally have a shoot 'em up. Azure Reflections is a hardcore shmup complete with intricate mechanics so when you're ready, let's start shooting!
Although Azure Reflections is a Touhou shoot 'em up, it's not an official one from the one-man studio Team Shanghai Alice. Instead, it's by the same developers of the highly underrated and super-cute Croixleur Sigma. The two games share a similar art style and some other aspects such as an array of accessories that you can dress up the all female cast in. I'm actually very happy that these developers worked on a Touhou game because I think they did an incredible job and their charming style lends itself perfectly to the series.
You get to play as series favourites Reimu, Marisa, and Cirno as well as meet plenty of familiar characters such as Hong Meiling, Patchouli Knowledge, Sakuya Izayoi, Remilia Scarlet, Sanae Kochiya, Nitori Kawashiro, and Satori Komeiji. The 3D models and art are absolutely fantastic. It's easily the best looking Touhou game that I've ever played. It sounds great, too, with delightful music, satisfying effects, and charming vocalizations. The audio reminds me of Mega Man 8 for some reason and trust me; that's a good thing.
The gameplay of Azure Reflections is super-tight and features some truly unique mechanics that I loved trying to master. That being said, I'm not very good at it. I played for hours already and I still struggle to beat it without continuing. I did once but I chalk up that win to luck. Anyway, you can shoot either left or right, hold a shoulder button to move slower, use a spell card which acts like a bomb, implement a barrier in order to absorb bullets and use them to dash into your foes (which is known as a Danmaku Rush), and release your barrier to wipe out projectiles. A cool system is that you don't lose a life upon getting hit as you simply get stunned. However, if you get hit while stunned then you lose a life. It's engaging and action-packed shooting at its best and mastering the involving controls takes quite a lot of practice. You'll need it to beat the challenging bosses; that's for sure!
As you play, you'll collect red, green, and blue items. The red ones are used to power-up your satellites and spent to release your barrier while blue ones simply grant you more points. Green items are the most interesting because they act as currency. You can use them to purchase accessories that not only make the characters cuter; they also provide some sort of bonus. Therefore, equipping your character the best way you can to suit your play style is a lot of fun. In addition to that, you can browse a comprehensive database that contains unlockable information about the characters, 3D character models, records and rankings, memories (which are basically just the trophies), and a sound room where you can freely listen to the soundtrack. There's definitely a lot of fun stuff to unlock.
Even with all these unlockables, I can't help but feel that Azure Reflections is a bit short on content. It only features a brief campaign with a handful of stages and no additional modes that add substantial replay value. My only other complaint is that mastering the campaign is quite tricky to figure out at first. I could have sworn that I did it once or twice yet no trophy popped. As far as I know, you have to beat the campaign without continuing and capture each boss's spell cards. Once I thought I did this and noticed that nothing was different, I was a bit annoyed. It can be quite tough, especially on the more advanced difficulty settings. So, good luck!
Azure Reflections is a top-notch shoot 'em up and a welcome entry in the much celebrated fan-made Touhou universe. If you're a fan of the genre or series then do yourself a favour and download it now.
- + Incredible shmup gameplay with plenty of unique and exciting mechanics
- + Awesome visuals and delightful sound
- + Lots of fun things to unlock
- - Mastering the campaign can be rather tricky to figure out at first
- - Very few stages to master
- - Could use more modes