With so many Touhou games out there, it's easy for one to slip through the cracks. So, is Sky Arena: Matsuri Climax a worthwhile fighter set in the familiar and delightful Touhou universe?
Touhou Sky Arena: Matsuri Climax is a highly unconventional game. For starters, it's a fighter that takes place within massive arenas that you fly around while performing an assortment of projectile and melee attacks in order to defeat your opponent. That may sound simple but the core gameplay is surprisingly complex as you can ascend and descend, up to 8 characters can battle at once, and the gameplay goes with the music via a Fired-Up Mode mechanic. This basically makes attacks more powerful whenever the current song becomes more intense. When you factor in the various shots, spell cards, and evasive techniques; you're left with one complex fighting game. Although it takes a very long time to learn all of its intricacies, Sky Arena: Matsuri Climax is an ultimately rewarding fighter to master.
As expected, Touhou Sky Arena: Matsuri Climax allows you to play as many familiar characters from the franchise such as Reimu, Marisa, Cirno, Sakuya, Aya, Remilia Scarlet, and Futo. There are a total of 20 characters with various colour palettes and a couple of selectable skill sets each which essentially makes for 40 different play styles. Experimenting to see which character / type combo suits your play style is great fun. Anyway, there are 21 arenas to battle within, some of which are variations of others. However, the most impressive part of Sky Arena: Matsuri Climax is that it features 79 songs in its soundtrack. Each song is top-notch quality and most tracks have vocals which makes the fighting much more exciting, especially because the music ties in with the gameplay in a very cool way.
Touhou Sky Arena: Matsuri Climax contains a variety of modes and options. Arcade mode allows you to play through each character's story while Sky Adventure mode has you fight through a branching succession of battles in order to earn Reigyoku which are boosts that you can equip to each character / type combo. There's also a standard Survival mode and a Battle mode where you can challenge either local friends or CPU opponents with up to 4 players. Believe it or not, you can even play online via the 8 player Online Play mode which allows you to compete either by connecting nearby Switch consoles, playing over the same LAN network, or taking the fight online against random players. Finally, there are a couple of practice modes (Tutorial and Training) which allow you to hone your skills.
On top of all that, there are a substantial amount of options that allow you to change the controls among other aspects. You can even customize Fired-Up Mode for each of the included songs, browse Play Records complete with in-game achievements, and manage replays. With so many extras, you may find yourself configuring things and browsing the menus almost as much as actually fighting.
Although Touhou Sky Arena: Matsuri Climax is a fully featured fighting experience, it's also a difficult game to widely recommend for a few reasons. First of all, the controls take a long time to become accustomed to so if you lack patience then you might get frustrated before learning how to effectively play it. Along those same lines, the degree of difficulty is rather significant and being able to overcome opponents even on normal difficulty can be quite a tricky feat for new players. In other words, I wish there was a more gradual learning curve. My other main complaint is that battles with more than 2 fighters can be very disorienting and unfocused.
Touhou Sky Arena: Matsuri Climax is one of the most unconventional fighting games that you'll ever play. If you have the patience to thoroughly learn its ins and outs then it can be quite a satisfying fighter. Otherwise, it'll make for a frustrating time.
- + Challenging and rewarding gameplay
- + Absolutely awesome soundtrack
- + Large cast of characters plus a fantastic variety of modes and options
- - Initially cumbersome controls
- - Steep challenge can be frustrating
- - Battles with more than 2 combatants are chaotic and can get overwhelming