Into the magical “Middle-earth” realm of Touhou mobile games
As dictated by the penultimate chapter of "Ragnarok" in the Nordic saga, the house of cards of dinosaur game makers is slowly crumbling down, paving the way for indie game development to envelop the scene with titles like Dead Cells, Undertale and the recent much-acclaimed Stray. Indeed, indie development has stood the test of time. It goes to show how the endeavour, after spanning multiple eons since the early 2000s, has borne fruit.
One of the forefathers of indie pariahs is Team Shanghai Alice - the one-man army ZUN and his lovechild Touhou - a series of invigorating shoot 'em up, otherwise coined as "Danmaku" where you try your best to steer your papier mache character clear away from the projectile galore flooding your screen. ZUN's iteration takes place in the mystical world of Gensyoko, mirroring the Heian-kyo era of Japan rife with rich tales of yokai, magic and folklore. In the mainline games, you mostly play as the hard-boiled shrine maiden Reimu Hakurei, an overseer to nip troublemakers (either moe-anthromorphised yokai or miscellaneous folklore creatures like vampires) in the bud. Over time, in successive releases, you can try on different characters for size, each with distinctive attack animations and quirks.
It's the valour and humility of ZUN's soul that struck a chord with a big audience. Just like many labours of love, ZUN is the soul of the game, having composed the soundtracks, created wonky character illustrations stuffed with lore and coded everything from the ground up. Amicably, ZUN's laissez-faire attitude towards fan creations and copyright shenanigans turned out to be the decisive winning factor. To date, Touhou is one of the series with virtually no restrictions imposed, enunciating a solid symbiosis between ZUN’s and the fans' creative leadership to co-lead the franchise. The result is a proportionally large number of fan-art and doujinshi content flooding the net and image-hosting sites such as Pixiv, as well as having the lion's share of booths every year in Comiket. Creative works range from music (my favourite being the EDM-remixes by Alstroemeria Records) to spin-offs that dip their toes in multiple different genres like Touhou Hisoutensoku, an ambitious fighting video game paying tribute to arcade series like Street Fighter.
Naturally, digital talents far and wide have also left their Touhou footprints in the mobile gaming scene. Both corporations and individuals have also tapped into this potential. Sitting on the throne as the most well-known title is Touhou Lost World by Good Smile Company, a turn-based gacha RPG. Narrowing down our search parameters to only small-sized companies and individuals. We scour the pinnacles and delve deep into the most remote parts of Google Play in search of some lighthearted and impressive Touhou-based fangames. On another note, most of them don’t have a proper English localisation. If the language barrier is no biggie for you, strap in and explore with us. Bonus fact, rest assured that the games mentioned are far from being graphically demanding or heavy, perfectly playable even on vintage phones with crammed storage space and antique processors like my Huawei P10 lite.
Thousand Night Anamnesis by Salada
Starting strong, TNA offers a genuine Touhou and shmup experience on mobile. Considering the scarcity of shmups with Danmaku Unlimited snapped out of existence and the Bullet Hell Monday series being the only decent entry. This nifty arcade-style Touhou game adopts an infinite boss rush approach as you directly butt heads with the bosses armed to the teeth with their array of signature spell cards with a twist - having their bullet trajectorial patterns modified. All these intense marathons are coupled with Kuroneko's remix for the corresponding boss theme, all stored in a dedicated jukebox section you can freely visit. The only gripe is the grainy graphics that have seen better days and the obligatory ad storm if you choose to play in an online environment.
Touhou Madouroku/Phantom Bullet by Shiro
For those who fancy stage-by-stage progression, Madouroku will fit you like a glove. Similar to Night Amnaesis, it tries to recreate the Touhou experience as faithfully as possible while sporting high-resolution graphics, smooth pixel animations and articulated character sprites, in tandem with a sleek user interface. Past the tranquil night sky of a menu, you will be greeted with dozens of stages that can be unlocked individually, though that involves binging an onslaught of ads to gain mana points. These stages contain a character's spell card attack in their arsenal where you can work out ways to manoeuvre past intricate projectile patterns.
Touhou Dungeon Dive by STAR FACTORY
Coming third on the list strives to stay close to the iconic bullet hell experience on a 3D plane. It's an endless dungeon crawler mixed with roguelite elements that plays out more as a RPG. Immediately you notice your character will not succumb to death after being pelted with a single pellet. Play your cards wisely and you can soak up a lot of damage thrown at you from all sides. However, this can be a double-edged sword as it dampens the Touhou frantic dodging experience. The standout aspect is the smooth, cell-shaded miniature 3D models of characters that give them flair,. As far as live service games go, the standard affair of RPG-like mechanics like an equipment system could not resist showing its talons. The sole pet peeve is the same tune that plays in the backdrop during vital boss fights and it can get infuriating real quick. Mobs appearing in intermittent stages are generic and seem foreign to the Touhou universe.
Touhou Mix, A Touhou Project M by Kailang Fu
For its impressive list of melodies, it is only second nature to do them justice with a mandatory rhythm game. On the mobile front, we have Touhou Mix, if Muse Dash's Touhou collaboration don’t strike your fancy. While it does not reinvent the wheel of rhythm action games and sincerely lacks the polish others like Muse Dash or Arcaea possess, notably from the jarring latency and lack of offset adjustments. Touhou Mix still provides a profound experience, with the rhythm gameplay resembling Deemo's of a fixed line to the bottom half of the screen for where you match incoming notes, made all the more impactful with a burst of visual effects. The user interface took a page out of OSU's playbook with its plain vibrancy.
Touhou Dreamrunner by THDR Dev. Dept.
To buff the numbers of rhythm games based on Touhou, Dreamrunner brands itself as a single-tap rhythm game with the ability to immerse in exciting rhythm-matching action with only a thumb as its hallmark feature. You start as Youmu Konpaku on her journey back home while traversing through a lucid and trippy dream world. It does deliver well on that promise despite being in its infancy. It’s clad in an attractive mono-tone colour scheme with its distinctive method of story delivery with cute childlike scribbles.
Thousand Survivors by TouhouFans
A roguelite spin with Touhou aspects plastered all over it. It's the answer to fill in the brackets for time-restricted survival games like Vampire Survivors and the critically acclaimed survivor.io. Unlike the fast-paced environment, Touhou Survivors is metaphorically a slouch in all aspects. Everything from the projectile speed, movement pace and cumbersome controls looked as if animation speed had been toggled to maximum. Once you get past that slacking pace, there's raw fun to be had as it kept true to the minimalism in gameplay…barring the occasional glitches chipping away your health due to projectiles turning invisible or grazing mechanism glitching out.
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