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Azure Reflections Review


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On 09/15/2018 at 10:59 AM by Nick DiMola

Danmaku Rush!
RECOMMENDATION:

For shmup/bullet hell enthusiasts.

At a point, Bullet Hell games felt like they were generally exclusive to Japan and rarely made an appearance in western markets. These days, both consoles and the PC are flush with them, which I can appreciate. I’m by no means great at them, but I find them engaging and they hit that same nerve that other intensely challenging games in other genres do that makes me want to get better at them. Azure Reflections is of the Touhou variety (though an unofficial entry in the Project) and puts its own unique spin on the genre. Though incredibly challenging, it offers players a helping hand with its accessory system, as well as a variety of difficulty settings to make it more accessible to a wider audience.

The horizontal orientation of Azure Reflections makes it fit great on the Switch screen in portable mode, which is a novel and enjoyable way to play this style of game. It also leans heavily on boss battles for the real danmaku gameplay, but the levels do have some interesting composition as well, with action coming at you from all angles. You can fire both left and right and before you set out you can choose your own bullet pattern, whether that’s homing, straight, or spread, it all depends on how you play best. Other characters are also unlockable, but it takes making real progress in the game before you’ll be able to unlock the others and take them for a spin.

There are a couple unique hooks that set Azure Reflections out from the crowd. For one, you can perform a Danmaku Rush, which is a necessity for capturing spell cards (more on that later). With a push of a button, you’ll slow time and you can perform two rushes in any direction, wherein you’ll absorb all bullets in your path and parlay that power into an attack on any enemies you collide with. With bosses or major enemies you can finish them off for a round or for good with this move and if you execute it perfectly, you’ll capture a spell card from the boss. It’s necessary to collect all of the spell cards in order to move past Chapter 3 during your run, you also need to do it on 1CC, which is frankly a tall order, even on Easy.

However, as you play, you’ll pick up green cards upon killing enemies, which allow you to purchase accessories for your character between runs. Not only do they visually change up how your character looks, but they also provide bonuses, like extra lives, or auto-fire, or a smaller hitbox (which costs a ton). At first, you can only equip one, but as you earn more green cards and purchase more accessories you’ll unlock more slots. As such, it’s clear you’re not supposed to be 1CC clearing the game on your first attempt, or even your tenth. You need to keep doing runs, memorizing the bullet patterns and improving your character with accessories.

To the credit of Azure Reflections, it constantly gives you something to strive towards outside of the usual high scores. There’s content to unlock constantly, whether that’s extra levels, characters, accessories or difficulty settings. It makes it easier to keep at the grind and the green cards gives you incremental progress, even if you fail.

All that said, the various red, blue, and green cards that are evicted from enemies upon their death make the screen incredibly busy and at times it can be hard to tell what’s a pick-up and what’s enemy fire, especially during the parts of the level where you’re not battling a boss. Thankfully enemy fire won’t kill you on the first hit (another neat feature of the game), but stun you instead. If you’re hit while stunned, you’ll lose a life, but you can move a bit and try to recover. So even if you mistake a bullet for a pick-up, you won’t immediately bite it, but this definitely accounted for a bunch of unnecessary deaths for me. The busy backgrounds don’t help in this regard either.

The other issue, which can be remedied, is that you can’t see your hitbox by default. When I first started playing the game, I was having a hell of a time determining exactly where I would take damage… kind of an important detail when weaving through intricate bullet patterns trying to avoid getting hit. Turns out that you can enable seeing your hitbox in the Options, which was a godsend and immediately made the challenge more approachable.

Beyond these small hiccups, Azure Reflections seems to be an excellent addition to the growing Bullet Hell library of the Switch. I particularly enjoyed the way the screen real estate was used and how enemies would appear on both sides of you, providing no safe haven and keeping you constantly on your toes. Even the changing scroll directions makes it a bit of a unique experience. If you’re a serious fan of this genre, there’s plenty interesting in Azure Reflections to set it apart from the crowd and grab your attention.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:


All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.


These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.


This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.


Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.


Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.


A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.


 

Comments

Matt Snee Staff Writer

09/16/2018 at 02:48 AM

I don't have the eyes or reflexes for bullet hell games. But I do respect them. 

Cary Woodham

09/17/2018 at 07:04 AM

I reviewed this game a couple of months ago.

http://www.gamerdad.com/blog/2018/07/02/azure-reflections-ps4-pc/

Nick DiMola Director

09/17/2018 at 11:24 AM

Seems like we had the same issues with the cards to pick up. Those things are tough to distinguish from bullets when stuff is crazy. That's probably my biggest issue. The game is very challenging and you're definitely expected to keep playing through it to master it. It's not my favorite Bullet Hell, but it is well done.

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