One nice thing about the modern age of gaming is that we’re slowly but surely seeing the decline of console-exclusive titles. If you want to play Battlefield One, for instance, you’ve got your pick ot platforms, and generally it’s going to work well on any of them. Aside from the odd outlier – looking at you, Bloodborne – exclusive games tend to be niche titles in this day and age, and as more and more games are ported to PC the list of titles that you just can’t play without owning a particular console continues to shrink.
One exclusive game that caught my attention back on the Xbox 360 was WarTech: Senko no Ronde, a port of an arcade shooter from 2006. It definitely fit into that “niche” title as it offered a unique blend of fighting game and shooter, sort of like a 2D Virtual On. Senko no Ronde didn’t get a lot of attention at the time; on top of being relatively unknown in general and failing to fit into an established genre, it was also released as a full-price title while failing to offer enough gameplay to merit that cost. There were sequels but we didn’t see them here. Instead, in 2016, we’ve got the release of Touhou Genso Rondo: Bullet Ballet, a localized fan game that’s essentially a Touhou-skinned version of Senko no Ronde.
The basic idea is simple: choose your favorite Touhou character out of the nine options (you have one if you’re even thinking about buying this, admit it) and have her beat the hell out of your least favorite. Touhou’s heavy hitters like Reimu and Marisa are present and accounted for, of course. Battles take place in a circular arena with both characters free to float about, weaving in and out of melee combat while flinging projectiles all over the place in true Touhou fashion. Skilled play, particularly by scraping against bullets without actually touching them a la Psyvariar, fills up a super meter. This can be used to convert the battle into a more standard shooter, as one player acts as the “boss” and floods the screen with bullets while the other does their best to avoid the glowing apocalypse.
It’s a cute idea and it worked about as well here as it did for Senko no Ronde. The combination of fighter and shooter really shines in multiplayer, either online or offline; you’ll be hard-pressed to find an online match, but the option is there! You’ve also got several modes where you fight AI, including a barebones story and a more standard arcade mode, but this definitely doesn’t feel like the highlight of the game as the AI isn’t great and can only prevail by using the aforementioned super attacks.
Presentation-wise, well…it’s Touhou! You probably know and love these characters already. They’re presented relatively well here and stand out against the endless flood of bullets, though I’m not going to pretend there’s any reason that this is on PlayStation 4 outside of that console being the current-gen option. Naturally, the highlight of the game are the super-powered spell card attacks that drown the world in beautiful patterns of death. Meanwhile, the typical poppish Touhou soundtrack is present and accounted for.
Unlike Senko no Ronde, Touhou Genso Rondo: Bullet Ballet was released at a budget-friendly price point, so there’s less to complain about when it comes to value for your money. The barebones AI makes me wonder if I’d recommend the game to anyone who’s not a hardcore Touhou fan or who doesn’t have anybody to play with. If you can wrangle a friend into joining you for a bullet ballet, though, it’s a dance you’ll probably enjoy.