If you’ve ever played Mega Man Soccer, you might be able to understand where I’m going to go with my review of Touhou Sky Arena -MATSURI- Climax. There was a period of time where everyone was suddenly interested in putting other characters from popular franchises into new arenas. First, we hard Mario Kart, and that helped pave the way for a standalone series of games that still generate new titles every so often. Then we had Sonic Spinball, which has criminally languished without a new sequel, and I loved it to death. So to see Mega Man put into a new spot seemed like a good idea. After all, the SNES hadn’t let me down so far, and I did like Mega Man, so why shouldn’t I like him in a soccer game? Except…I don’t like soccer. I’m not a fan, and suddenly adding special abilities didn’t magically make it a better experience. It was soccer but now I had my favorite characters letting me down with a game that I was woefully ill-equipped to enjoy. That’s what Touhou Sky Arena -MATSURI- Climax became. A head-over-heels descent into unhappiness, but it felt entirely my own fault.
I won’t bother trying to catch you up on the Touhou plot. As you’ve seen from other Touhou games that’ve come to the Switch, they’re deeply entrenched in lore and canon that’s equal parts fan made, creator made, head canon and just “why the hell not” spur-of-the-moment creation. The main story boils down to the Shrine Maidens, the main antagonists and several characters from throughout the primary danmaku series have shown up, and are ready to brawl in a fighting-type stance to liberate orbs or to enslave orbs or to get Reigokyu or something like that. Seriously, I watched the opening video, scoured the Touhou wiki, and tried asking friends who’ve played the game previously on the PS4 and none of them had a solid answer for me. The point is, people are fighting each other and you’ve got to be a part of it.
Like many Touhou games (this one comes to us from Area Zero), the visual and aural presentation are top-notch. The 3D rendering of the different girls (of course the fighters are all girls) gives them plenty of dimension, detail and character definition. You can easily differentiate between the costumes, which is helpful if you end up in a four player brawl and everyone wants to be Marisa. I adored the way the explosions, spell summoning and different magical effects looked, and they all presented smoothly and carefully across the Gensokyo skyline. Additionally, the game is then intermixed with a phenomenal, driving soundtrack, incorporating the best of heavy guitar riffs and great Japanese vocals, which really gives fans and viewers a bang for their buck in terms of atmosphere. Watching this game was a joy, and I sometimes would take a break and let other people go on a swing so I could see what was so enchanting about the title on a visual aspect. It’s easy to see why the original Sky Arena caused such a stir at Comic Market back in 2012, and why the game was updated and re-updated to finally see a next generation console port.
Also, I need to point out that, as a Switch port, you’re getting everything and more that the previous generation was able to see. The latest DLC (which comes baked in and for free) puts the fighting roster at 20 full characters, each with two different stances that change their fighting style to a totally different vantage. This is great, since you’ll really need to figure out your own best way to succeed within the Sky Arena. The Switch does an excellent job of making two player, simultaneous play run with zero frame drops or lag, and I was able to easily try out a variety of moves and orb sets to see what worked best for me. Ultimately, I settled on Alice, mostly because my daughters liked the blonde character best, but because I seemed to lose just a bit slower with her than anyone else. Oh, I lost. I lost so much. Because Sky Arena is a goddamn labyrinth of a game to play.
The thing is, I can see what the ideal execution of Touhou Sky Arena -MATSURI- Climax is. The fighting aspect is equal parts fighter in the humanoid sense but also fighter in a Gundam/space mech sort of idea. You’re working in this 3D world that allows you to go high and low, bobbing and weaving as you and your opponent throw ranged attacks at each other. Eventually, you’ll decide to close the gap, get in a couple of hits, and then either you or your opponent will float away. If you’re incredibly tenacious, you’ll attempt to power up and stay close, delivering a flurry of melee hits, but this strategy never really works out. Even with the right orbs equipped to balance you more into a “brutish” fighter, the patient and the calculating player is the one who eventually wins. You need to seriously pace yourself, try to keep count of how many times your opponent has used certain skills or abilities, and then make a move when you think that you have the upperhand. It’s like if you could combine boxing with a shootout in a warehouse. You can’t just get in there and swing away because you’ll end up getting murdered, and you need to count the shots and hope that your math is right because that other person is going to reload at any moment and then come after you.
The incredible amounts of strategy needed to play Sky Arena satisfactorily makes this a very daunting game for newcomers and those who enjoy a traditional fighting game to dive into. The entry bar is set incredibly high, and a majority of people who will pick this up have probably practiced a bit on either the PC, the Vita or the PS4 prior to the Switch’s release. At a thirty dollar price point, it doesn’t scream “impulse buy” for the average consumer, which is a shame because a larger player base is needed to really make this work. The theoretical max of eight players online (four playing, four watching) seems like a pipedream to Western gamers, who are still deeply embroiled in Splatoon 2 and Smash and may not be able to make time for a game like this that has such a complex fighting system. As a result, it’s up to the Japanese market to carry on, and a lot of people aren’t willing to adjust their clocks nine hours in order to wake up and play when the player base is highest. Thankfully, there is a lot of local and solo gameplay, including a massive number of modes to simulate arcade, story mode, survival and simple versus, but the four player mode is online only, and, as such, you may feel a bit shortchanged by never being able to access it.
I recommend to fully do your research before pulling the trigger on this one. Until Nintendo has a simpler, easier refund system for digital purchases, this is one title that could benefit wildly from a demo for everyone to sample. In the meantime, if you’re a fan of the previous versions or the same version on the other consoles, then you know what’s at stake and know what you can do. If you’ve never heard of this game before, read, watch, and talk to others before making the dive. As for me, I’m always grateful for more fighting games, but, goddammit, this one was difficult.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
TOUHOU SKY ARENA -MATSURI- CLIMAX Review
User Review( votes)
A gorgeous, captivating fighting game that was an unbelievable nightmare to figure out how to play.