Raiden. R-Type. These games and many others like them absolutely devoured my quarters when I was a kid at the arcade. The genre they belong to, dubbed as “bullet-hell”, typically features your character in a frantic battle against numerous enemies while bullets of varying sizes and speeds fill the screen.
Nippon Ichi Software’s latest title, Touhou Gonso Rondo: Bullet Ballet is slightly different. Instead of battling a horde of enemies, you’re engaged in a one-on-one battle. While most bullet hell games only allow you to get hit once, maybe twice, TGR features health bars very similar to a fighting game. While you have a bit more health the play with, don’t be fooled – the action can still be insane.
The story revolves around…nothing. I mean, there is a story mode, but there’s no overarching plot and most of the time the story encounters are written like a bad anime. The tragically bad writing does make for some comedic scenes, but the bottom line is you don’t pick this game up to enjoy the story much like you don’t read Playboy for the articles.
Each character has a “story” mode which features 6 rounds. There is also an arcade mode which features continuous matches until you lose, and vs. com which allows you to battle an AI opponent. Want to try your luck against a human opponent? You have vs. online or vs. local as options. The lack of a cohesive story was a real let-down for me – while bullet hell games aren’t necessarily known for groundbreaking narratives, some fighting games (e.g. Guilty Gear) have fleshed out impressive story modes. I was hoping for a bit more of the latter.
As I’ve already mentioned, TGR is primarily a fighting game that incorporates the bullet-hell genre. You select from 10 characters, all women as it turns out, and pit them against each other in a battle of bullets. Each character has their own arsenal of attacks, but ultimately they’re not unique enough to really have different play-styles. Anyone who has played a fighting game can tell you that controlling a character like Zangief from Street Fighter feels and plays very differently than Chun-Li. TGR has no such distinction in its gameplay.
You control your character in a top-down format with 360 degree movement. I’ll say this right away – the movement is awkward. Turning your character and trying to position them on the battlefield can be a real challenge, especially once you start attempting to dodge the waves of bullets that inevitably head your way.
There are a variety of attacks that each player can take advantage of, including dash attacks, charge attacks, melee attacks, and spells. Performing certain attacks while dashing will change the look and execution of that move. Once you’ve gotten a handle on your skill-set, you can begin to unleash some real havoc upon your enemies with a screen full of bullets! The trick is learning the skills. There is a tutorial included, but it’s woefully designed. It’s essentially a 10 minute video that reviews all of the different actions with no real opportunity to test them out. While most fighting games feature a “training” mode, TGR sees no reason to do so. Womp womp.
In addition to standard attacks, each character has a powerful super known as “spells”. The spells are an interesting mechanic – everything on the screen comes to a halt and both players’s positions and health are reset. Within the confines of the spell, you have a set amount of time to unleash as much damage on your enemy as possible. If you’re the one who cast the spell, you have a new arsenal of abilities that are only available in “spell” mode. Similarly, if you’re defending against this spell, your attacks deal more damage. The spell ends when the timer runs out, or if the defending player is able to whittle down the attacker’s HP to 0.
The spells are pretty ridiculous to be honest. In what seemed like Murphy’s law for video games, whenever I was the attacking player the computer was able to demolish my HP bar before I had much chance to do anything. Meanwhile, whenever I was on the defensive it seemed like armageddon was upon me.
Between the constant barrage of bullets, dashes, melee attacks, and spells, Touhou Gonso Rondo doesn’t really give you a chance to catch your breath. While the action is fast-paced, it’s very easy to lose yourself in the mix. A few times I found myself staring at a screen full of bullets and it took me a while to get my bearings. The various attacks take a while to get used to as well. Like with most fighting games, even though there is an array of moves you could use, you’ll find yourself falling back on the same 2-3 actions.
Ultimately, Touhou Gonso Rondo is a fun game that suffers from a non-existent story and a lack of finesse when it comes to the gameplay/controls. If you’re a fan of bullet hell and fighting games, this will be right up your alley; just don’t expect a lot of depth.
Want to see it in action? Check out my battle below (yes, I lost ;_; )
Like what you see? You can buy it from amazon here – [amazon asin=B01F04ZDOI&template=add to cart]