Touhou Spell Bubble (Nintendo Switch) Review

By Shane Jury 08.01.2021

Review for Touhou Spell Bubble on Nintendo Switch

Lesser known outside of Japan, the Touhou Project has gained a lot of notoriety - originating in 1997 from a bullet-hell shoot 'em up series, and helmed by one-man developer Team Shanghai Alice. As the series has expanded into other media, namely music, artwork and print works via fan enthusiasm, there have been numerous branches into other gaming genres as well, as seen with Dungeon Crawler Labyrinth of Touhou, and many fighting spinoffs. Spell Bubble takes a more unusual divergence, and merges the world and characters of Touhou with one of developer Taito's own properties, Puzzle Bobble, to create something quite unique. Will the bubble burst too soon for this concept merging, or will it leave a lasting spell?

Though the main menu offers up a useful and robust Help section, new players will immediately wish to dive into the Story mode. This is where series protagonist Reimu Hakurei is introduced: a Shrine Maiden that typically eliminates Yokai supernatural monsters in mainline titles, but here is shown a new kind of puzzle game to play by her friends. The beginning tutorial section of this mode is excellently paced and structured to gradually introduce the concepts of the game bit by bit.

Screenshot for Touhou Spell Bubble on Nintendo Switch

The narrative is told via icon selection over the Gensoukyo world map and matches against a wide range of franchise favourite characters, each with animated 2D anime art and voice-work. Voice acting and subtitles guide the characters along and do a great job of conveying their personalities, though the Japanese-only audio is unfortunate. There are spots of mistranslation as well, though these usually boil down to incorrect letters in words and never actually prevent the meaning from getting through.

For the main playable part of Touhou Spell Bubble, the initial layout of the grid and sphere structure will look immediately familiar to anyone that has tried the Puzzle Bobble games before, and it essentially works the same way. Using an aiming cursor at the bottom of the screen, it is required to aim and fire coloured spheres up to connect and burst three or more in a row, connected horizontally, vertically and diagonally. Bursting more than three will send non-coloured bubbles to the opponent's screen to meddle in their progress, and the walls of the grid can be utilised in rebounding shots to reach tougher placements.

Screenshot for Touhou Spell Bubble on Nintendo Switch

Where Spell Bubble majorly differs from the Puzzle Bobble series, however, is in victory conditions. Whereas the goal before would be to simply fill the opponents screen with bubbles to score a victory, the rules here work off a timer, specific to the song chosen. Now points are gained every time the opponent fills their screen and starts from scratch, together with other conditions like special ability activations and spell card usage, both triggered by gaining enough points and hitting specific match rulings.

Also, in keeping with the musical theme, more points can be earned by timing button presses to key beats in the music track, usually indicated by shrinking rings that pop up after clearing a large group of bubbles. In short, a typical match of Touhou Spell Bubble can be complete anarchy, but still in a surprisingly focused way, and a victory is all the more satisfying in that condition. That, plus the wide range of music tracks on offer, even before unlocking more and potentially purchasing others via DLC, is immense and highly enjoyable to play along to. Though it is mainly for sound balancing selections, a key feature in the Options menu is one that many Rhythm-reliant titles should have; Calibration for Video and Vocal output, a very handy tool that can offset potential Television lag for timing-based musical notes in the game.

Screenshot for Touhou Spell Bubble on Nintendo Switch

Other modes of play for the solo gamer include a robust Versus CPU that puts characters of choice against each other with selectable handicaps and ability toggles, and any backing track unlocked so far. The Challenge Mode offers pre-selected character matchups and stage conditions to prevail through, with both these modes together with Story rewarding coins through victory. Kourindou is the in-game shop where this currency is used, either on new Songs to play to, or unique character-focused spell cards.

Though the game does offer two human player versus options, there is sadly no online mode to speak of, so unlocking this content will be where a good deal of Touhou Spell Bubble's longevity comes from, as well as the lengthy story mode that also unlocks a prequel tale upon completion. Adding in the additional Downloadable Song packs ends up with a puzzle title that carves its own niche among many of the genre on Switch.

Screenshot for Touhou Spell Bubble on Nintendo Switch

Cubed3 Rating

8/10
Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

Despite entering a crowded genre on the Nintendo Switch, Touhou Spell Bubble stands out above most for a brilliant audio collection, and unique addictive take on the classic Puzzle Bobble system. A lack of online support, bar the downloadable song packs, is a shame, but for local one-on-one, and an enjoyable solo endeavour, this nails that essential feel of "easy to learn, hard to master."

Developer

Taito

Publisher

Taito

Genre

Puzzle

Players

2

Online enabled

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now    Also on Also on Nintendo eShop

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