It’s been interesting to see how the Touhou series has grown. Once only available to die-hard otakus, Western fans had to import (or download) its PC games. Now, it seems a little strange to be able to go to Target and find several English-language Switch games with Reimu on the cover. Of course, the main series stays strangely separate from store shelves and Steam listings. But fan-made, officially licensed spin-offs are happy to fill in the gaps. The newest game in that group is Touhou: New World, which came out not long ago.Ankake Spa made New World as a supposed follow-up to their previous game, Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity. It is officially called a “action RPG” take on ZUN’s classic bullet hell series. But in fact, there’s more and less to it than that, as New World adds parts from a number of different game types. There is action, and there are a lot of RPG aspects. But if you like the idea of exploring Gensokyo on a big role-playing game overworld map, you should know that this game is set up in a much smaller, mission-based way. As you move through the levels, the game becomes more of a simple action game with level-ups and skill points to help you.
It reminds me of dungeon crawlers and even looter shooters because New World’s treasure chests and enemy drops are always throwing you duplicate equippable things with slightly different stat numbers that you can compare. The game’s single store will finally open, getting rid of a lot of this trash from vendors. You can sell it, but you won’t be able to do anything useful with the money you get until much later in the mission. Even before that, you’ll get into a habit of switching out your gear every few levels to get stats that work best with the way you’re playing. Later on, you’ll also be able to use skill upgrades to make battles easier for yourself.
As the main feature of New World, action combat that is boosted by RPG systems is more about having these statistical systems to help than having a lot of choices. As Reimu and Marisa level up, they get a few different skills. But once you find the ones that work best for your strategy, you’ll probably stick with them and have them get better throughout the game. As soon as you find the right gear for your style of play, the fighting can be pretty fun as you get used to dodging ranged bullet attacks and blocking physical attacks with one of the best block-timing slowdown systems I’ve seen in a while. When you add in your built-in healing ability, which you can improve to give yourself even more freedom, New World seems like a more relaxed way to explore Gensokyo at your own pace than its official predecessors, which were more twitchy and pure bullet hell. Don’t worry, though; the boss fights in this game have a lot of complex danmaku patterns that you can dodge and tank through.
As you move through this world and its action-RPG areas, the goals of the fan game become clear. Due to the mission-based method, most of the level maps can be used more than once. Also, many of the assets are being used again from Scarlet Curiosity. Even though they change some things about the areas you run through, where the enemies are placed, and other things to make them feel less like whole repeats. There are also a lot of different types of levels shown, almost to the point of being inconsistent in some cases. Some stages have a simple top-down view where you move through waves of enemies, while others have more complicated platforming that the game never quite seems like it was made to handle. Some parts of the game feel like the kind of showcase you’d expect from a fans project. For example, Hell is stunning in this way, even though it has the least interesting levels layouts.
Another thing that would draw people to New World is the chance to explore Gensokyo in a way that feels more real than the more abstract sky graphics of the main games. And, technically, it does deliver on that front. Some areas, especially the ones that look like they were used from Scarlet Curiosity, do have that high-sheen AA graphics look to them. However, the mission-based structure and graphics make the whole thing feel like a PSP game in the nicest way possible. And some levels look really nice, like Hell (which we already talked about) or the Hot Springs stage. On the other hand, Ankake Spa may have wanted to show these areas off too much, because the level design loves to get in the way, even in some boss fights! This part of the bamboo forest area is very frustrating, and the layout of the maze-like mazes with spikes to avoid makes things even worse. That alone should make you understand why people in Gensokyo travel the old-fashioned way, by flying over everything.
On at least one app, these graphics cost extra. The copy of New World for Switch that was sent for this review doesn’t seem to be fully tuned for the system. The main ways this shows up are in the noticeable chug on the overworld map screen, the annoying slowdown in what are meant to be the unique showcase levels set in “our” world, and at least a couple of the later boss battles. That’s too bad, because the game otherwise seems to have a good sense of what it can do and what it wants to do. If it’s possible for you, you might want to check out the PC version. In either case, the music makes the experience better overall. There are some nice versions of well-known Touhou songs as well as new songs that fit in. Hearing those famous songs might have been given too little attention, as the rest of New World’s sound design can feel a bit subdued, especially the hit/combat feedback that relies more on controller vibrations than any major sound cues.
If you like Touhou, then that’s probably the best way to decide if you should go find New World. There are a few different things to do in the area that are related to the story of someone from our world getting “isekai” into Gensokyo. But it’s mostly just a framework for Reimu and Marisa to explore well-known Touhou tour spots and connect with all of their characters. The banter and English version of it is mostly funny, and it includes several references to how people in Gensokyo are always ready to fight over almost anything. And it builds up to a fun epic ending using its own unique structure. It’s not the main attraction, though, because a lot of the story still ends in low-rent ways that remind you of the smaller-scale building.