Released on: October 29, 2020
Available Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Price: $79.99 CAD ($59.99 US)
We’ve been on a bit of a puzzle game marathon, haven’t we? It might be because I’ve been playing a lot of puzzle games lately, but last week’s Puyo Puyo Tetris 2 left me wanting more. Today’s game caught my eye in the same sale as Puyo Puyo Tetris 2. I was a massive fan of the Touhou series back in the day. For the uninitiated, Touhou is a series of bullet hell shooting games with an emphasis on weaving between an onslaught of bullets. Touhou became so big in Japan that many people made fan games of the series (with blessings from the original creator, of course). The fan games also took off so wildly that some of them got official North American releases.
Touhou Spell Bubble is one of those games. It was released quite a while ago in Japan but only recently released in North America. As with a lot of other games I’ve reviewed before, I’ve seen people play the game on Youtube, but I also had the chance to check out the list before buying the game. Once I found out what songs were in the game, I decided to take the plunge. Is Touhou Spell Bubble a new, spellbinding contender in our puzzle game marathon?
It is a peaceful day in the land of Gensokyo. The sun is shining, the youkai (Japanese monsters) are calm, and all is well. Suddenly, our protagonist, Reimu Hakurei, the shrine maiden of the Hakurei shrine, gets an impromptu visit from her friend Marisa. She claims the youkai are playing this new game that recently appeared in Gensokyo called Spell Bubble. Reimu becomes curious about this new game, so she decides to join in on the fun. After only a few games, she finds herself entangled in a Spell Bubble tournament, squaring off against Gensokyo’s colorful cast of characters. Reimu begins to wonder if there is something more that’s going on in the background.
While the story is not too spectacular, it is lighthearted and fun. It might be because I’m familiar with Touhou’s cast, but I found myself slightly invested in what was going on. That said, I did skip some of the scenes so that I could get to the game. Overall, the story is cute but a little wordy at times.
Touhou Spell Bubble strikes a perfect balance of colorful yet not excessively bright. I love the art style, as it has that Japanese vibe that Touhou is famous for. The in-game characters take on a chibi (small, big head and round eyes) form that reacts to the player’s state or what they are doing. The game runs at a smooth and
consistent frame rate as well.
Given that Touhou Spell Bubble is not just a puzzle game but also a rhythm game, the music needs to be top-notch. Fortunately, Spell Bubble excels in the music department with flying colors. A lot of the songs featured in Spell Bubble are songs I used to listen to way back. Some of the songs are still famous within the Touhou fandom, despite
being released some time ago. A few notable examples are: Bad Apple, Marisa Stole the Precious Thing, and Grip and Breakdown (these are all Touhou song names, I swear.) All of the songs featured are fan tributes to the excellent soundtrack of the official Touhou games.
Touhou Spell Bubble’s gameplay is similar to games like Bust-A-Move (known as Puzzle Bobble everywhere else in the world) or those bubble pop games on mobile devices or old websites. The player shoots colored bubbles up towards other colored bubbles already in play. Matching three of the same color will pop the bubbles. If bubbles are hanging off the popped ones, they will appear as blank bubbles in the opponent’s playing field. Blank bubbles need to be transformed into colored bubbles by shooting them directly. The blank will turn into the color of the bubble that made contact with it.
If the player clears a bunch of bubbles of the same color simultaneously, the game will have the player press the A button to the rhythm song currently being played. Getting a perfect on the rhythm part will award points to the player. The player also earns points if the opponent’s playing field reaches the bottom of the screen. The player with the most points at the end of the song wins. During gameplay, the player will get the chance to activate their character’s unique ability that helps them clear more bubbles off their field or sabotages their opponent.
It sounds complicated at first, and I acknowledge that it looks complicated in writing, but Spell Bubble gets a lot clearer after a few matches. At first, I thought the matches lasted a little too long, but when I started getting more challenging opponents, and the games began to be more even, the match length started feeling a lot more appropriate. After a few games, I found myself addicted to the fantastic music and the gameplay marriage of rhythm and puzzle.
One thing to note is that Touhou Spell Bubble does not have online multiplayer. I didn’t notice it at first, but as I was writing this review, I thought about the online multiplayer and its non-existence. While it isn’t a deal-breaker for me, it is something for those who like playing puzzle games online to consider before diving into Touhou Spell Bubble.
While I do quite enjoy the game, it is worth noting that Touhou Spell Bubble a full-price game. I think $79.99 ($59.99 ÚS) is a little on the steep side for a puzzle game. On top of the game being pricey, Touhou Spell Bubble also has a ton of downloadable content (DLC). On the one hand, there are some great options for additional content. Some of the DLC adds additional story scenarios, but all of them add many songs to the already great setlist. On the other hand, each DLC is at least $14.99 CAD, which, given the game itself is full price, makes it difficult to recommend.
Touhou Spell Bubble is a wonderful puzzle game. The rhythm aspect adds a lot more to the game than I initially thought, and it’s satisfying to pull off all of those perfect notes. The music choice is excellent, and the art style is charming. I would recommend Touhou Spell Bubble to fans of the Touhou franchise when it goes on sale.