There’s nothing quite like a good bullet hell game. Done right, it can be the perfect marriage of chaos and order, where lightning-quick reflexes, a constant sense of spacing and a bucketful of luck can be all that stands between you and a hell of bullets. Switch already has a handful of great examples to its name - including Danmaku Unlimited 3 and Sine Mora EX - but it now has another (and far more unusual) example in the tongue-in-cheek 'curtain fire' action of Azure Reflections.
A product of the two-decade-plus-old fan-made Touhou Project (which spans multiple mediums and genres and includes Touhou Genso Wanderer Reloaded and Touhou Kobuto V: Burst Battle among its number), Azure Reflections takes the basic principles of these super-niche Japanese bullet hell shooters and adds in a few extra touches to give you a little more options in the heat of battle.
As a horizontally-scrolling shooter, you can move around the screen with the left analog stick or the D-pad. Your basic movement speed is empoweringly fast, but it can also be a little unwieldy when the screen gets busy with fire. You can also hold ‘L’ or ‘-’ to focus and slow down your movement, perfect for slipping through a tiny gap of projectiles. Since you’re controlling a series of witch-like heroines who can float, you make for a much larger target on-screen. Thankfully, main character Reimu and co have a relatively small hitbox (represented by a series of chords hanging from their respective waists), but you’ll still need to watch where that vulnerable marker is because if you get hit you’ll get stunned. Get hit too many times and you’ll soon be down for the count.
You have a left and right fire button (‘Y’ for left and ‘A’ for right) so you don’t have to worry about which direction you’re facing when you start shooting. You can also press ‘X’ to pull up your barrier (to protect yourself with a shield when things get hectic) and ‘B’ to use a Spell Card. The former isn’t just defensive - you can also use it to absorb enemy fire to increase your score then strike a foe or boss to inflict lots of damage. The latter differ depending on the character you choose, but most help clear the screen of projectiles. They’re also great for saving your bacon just as you’re about to die.
Collectable green spirit signs (dropped by defeated enemies and bosses) can be spent on accessories. Annoyingly, you can’t purchase these between levels - which would have been a great way to empower players after a particularly gruelling fight - but you can purchase them from the Accessories page in the main menu. They’re not just a cosmetic item to personalise your favourite character, either. They add helpful buffs as well, such as a Devil Headband that provides a stronger Danmaku Rush and a Fox Mask that provides you with more starting lives.
There’s no denying that it will take you quite a while to get a hang of the speed and dexterity needed to master Azure Reflections. Don’t let its humorous dialogue and anime-styled character art fool you into thinking this is a cake walk - you’ll need to run through its tutorial a lot if you’re new to the sub-genre and even then it takes a while to really crack the balance of Spell Cards and Danmaku Rush. However, once you’ve mastered it there’s a powerful sense of achievement to be found in taking down a boss cleanly and using their own fire to rack up a huge score.
However, that hard-earned sense of achievement doesn’t last long as the game’s Story mode is frustratingly short. You can clear the entire thing, main and sub stages and all, in a couple of hours at most. Of course, the time taken to master the game’s mechanical intricacies will add a few more on top of this, but if you’re a curtain fire veteran you’ll likely find Azure Reflections' trip into the witchcraft battles of Touhou a fun yet ultimately brief experience. When you factor in a normal £20/$25 price tag, it’s a little light on content.
Azure Reflections is a fine addition to a small-yet-gradually-growing style of shmup on Nintendo Switch. With a handful of Touhou-related games already on the platform, this addition should keep fans of the project happy with its witty dialogue and pretty character models. However, with a vast library of shmups and bullet hell shooters already available on the console - and many offering far greater content and more accessible mechanics - Azure Reflections is (much like most Touhou titles) hard to recommend to anyone bar die-hard fans.