Title: Touhou Luna Nights
Developer: Team Ladybug
Release Date: September 3, 2020
Reviewed On: Xbox One
Metroidvania games are a dime a dozen nowadays. You don’t have to look far into the lineup of indie or doujin titles to find one. Still, despite there being so much choice in this ever-popular genre, first pioneered by the seminal Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, very few actually nail game design and core gameplay mechanics. While few have stood out as memorable releases, developer Team Ladybug is doubling down on their Metroidvania, Touhou Luna Nights, by bringing it to Xbox One.
Touhou Luna Nights’ setup is quite fascinating and multi-faceted, where the protagonist is a badass maid. She goes up against a range of fantastical creatures out of Japanese folklore with a few mechs thrown in for good measure. As soon as the game gets underway, it becomes clear that it’s meant to be an innovative modern interpretation of Symphony of the Night, and this homage is undoubtedly done in a somewhat self-aware manner.
The game pokes fun of Metroidvania design conventions; many of us have taken for granted as being completely normal. For example, the way save points work or even the trope of the main character losing all of their abilities at the start of the game only having to regain them throughout the adventure.
Once the adventure gets underway, it’s basically what you’d expect from this type of adventure, but it’s all done so very well. Touhou Luna Nights feels brilliant from a gameplay standpoint, the ergonomics of the control are just right, and even the basic knife throwing attack has a fluidity that makes it easy to chain up an impressive combo.
One of the few things that had always set Symphony of the Night apart from any other 2D action games was Alucard’s smooth movement and momentum. Throughout history, very few Metroidvania titles have come close to emulating this. Surprisingly, Touhou Luna Nights captures this feel perfectly, much like developer Team Ladybug’s other Metroidvania effort Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth.
When the core game functions so well, it’s easy for it to be situated in a fun Metroidvania game world. In this regard, Touhou Luna Nights doesn’t necessarily offer anything remarkably new, but what it does provide is fun and engaging nonetheless. The enemies and boss battles are exciting and gel well with the smooth combat system. Furthermore, the exploration has the addictive hook that the genre is known for, where you will want to discover every square of the map, and just gradually learning new skills and abilities to access other parts of the game world.
All of this probably sounds like old news to genre fans, but the game does an excellent job of keeping players engaged through its set pieces, many of which are based on classic Castlevania segments. While most of the game emphasis exploration and combat, there is still a great deal of clever platforming and organic environmental puzzles.
What comes together really well in Touhou Luna Nights is its presentation. The 2D graphics shine through thanks to fluid animation and blistering particle effects, and the character and enemy designs, in general, are quite cool and interesting, especially when there is a mix of so many contrasting styles.
The music is a tour de force in the truest sense, a wild mix of genres and instruments to create a sense of energy in the overall soundtrack. There’s guitars, symphonic arrangements, and a lot of keyboards to bring all of it together. For players who are returning fans from the PC version, there is an extra boss here who might be keen enough to return to the game to fight.
Touhou Luna Nights is one of those video game experiences that feels all so familiar but is executed so well that you can’t help but enjoy what it offers. Sure, every game should aspire to reinvent the wheel or try to emulate the best qualities of standard-bearers, but games like this simply recapture the magic and feel of genre classics. In this case, it’s the sublime composition of some of the genre greats, but this time you’re one classy maid who’s excellent at throwing knives.
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