Developed by Aqua Style Published by NIS America Reviewed on PlayStation 4
Touhou Double Focus is a 2D action-platforming spin-off of the Touhou series. It’s a familiar adventure in which players traverse rooms in a non-linear fashion, overcome enemies, and acquire skills to explore new areas of the map. However, Double Focus‘ wacky series cameos, interesting free-form tag mechanics, and rewarding sense of exploration will provide decent fun for any action gamer.
The lighthearted story is familiar yet amusing and upbeat. A magical forgotten book causes a loud noise, so the intrepid reporter Aya attempts to investigate. In her haste she recklessly opens the book and transports the denizens of the Touhou universe into an alternate dimension. Aya and her somewhat more serious partner Momiji have to find a way back home. During their adventure they bump into other denizens of the Touhou franchise.
Double Focus‘ skills are easy to understand and the game allows for considerable customization. Each of the controller’s face buttons performs an action. The X button is always bound to jump, but players can bind different skills to the Square, Triangle, and Circle buttons. These skills include attacks, spells, skills for bypassing specific area obstacles, and passive abilities. An interesting note is that players can create three skill sets and switch between them using the L1 and R1 buttons, which facilitates switching skills as the need arises. However, it can occasionally feel cumbersome grappling with the game’s limited skill slot space. Since passive skills only function when their respective set is active, players must decide whether they want multiple attacks or instead fill their set with passive skills.
The dual character dynamics form the core of Double Focus. Players can freely switch between Aya and Momiji. These characters each possess different attack and movement abilities. Whereas Aya fights with mid range projectiles, Momiji uses close range sword strikes. Pressing the R2 button makes Aya back dash, but Momiji will block incoming attacks. Furthermore, Aya is able to hover in mid-air and dash forward, but Momiji runs and climbs walls. As a result, the characters truly do feel distinct, and their different abilities are fun to deploy while fighting enemies and exploring the map. Interestingly, each character has a separate stamina gauge that depletes when using skills. Switching to the other character as the other’s stamina regenerates provides a layer of resource management that’s certainly welcome.
The level design and enemies provide some thrills yet feel fairly straightforward. Double Focus‘ map is comprised of interconnected worlds. Players must traverse each world and gain new skills to enable access to new areas. Some skills may seem basic, but others are a bit wacky mechanically and visually. Individual rooms are generally hallways with occasional floating platforms and miniature branching paths, which is standard fare. However, hidden items like maximum health extensions and healing spells can be found by climbing walls or destroying walls. Some areas include seemingly arbitrary objects that can later lead to receiving satisfying skill rewards. Most of the time the enemy placement is fair and sensible, but on rare occasions players can be quickly thwarted by enemies and attacks that are initially hard to spot. Receiving enemy attacks often results in considerable damage, which can easily catch players off guard. However, the enemies’ visuals and attacks are highly varied, and their movement is fun to watch. The bosses are dynamic with wide ranging movement patterns; players will need some practice and careful use of the characters’ evasive abilities to succeed.
Double Focus‘ user interface is generally fairly self explanatory, but a few choices seem a tad unusual. Pressing the controller’s Touch Pad will show the world map. This map shows connected rooms, unexplored paths, and areas with treasure to find. Seeing remaining treasure is especially useful once players gain new skills to traverse previously inaccessible areas. However, other interface elements may initially seem a bit strange. Swiping from the top to the bottom of the Touch Pad will open a gallery which is initially full of silhouettes. Aya can fill this gallery by using a snapshot skill on non-playable characters and enemies. Each character entry even has a mini text dialogue exchange between Aya and Momiji, and many entries are amusing regardless of Touhou series familiarity. Swiping from the bottom to the top will open the Options menu where players can change sound levels and even whether to respawn at the beginning of the current room or the previous save point. This Touch Pad use is certainly different from most games, but it may feel somewhat gimmicky.
The game’s visuals and sound effects are appropriate and mostly serviceable. While the areas are plain and simple, the backgrounds sometimes include humorous parodies and unique large scale props. Each different world also has a completely distinct visual motif that helps drive player interest. Furthermore, the cut-scenes before and after each boss are full of lively miniaturized characters. The game’s sound effects properly accompany the action whether the player is charging a spell, landing skills, or being on the receiving end of an enemy attack. Aya and Momiji’s voice acting also fits the game’s actions as well, but some voice samples may feel a little repetitive after hours of play.
Touhou Double Focus is a familiar take on the action-platforming genre, but switching between two distinct characters is quite entertaining. The game’s combat and non-linear stage exploration are easy to understand, and it’s an amusing romp for any action gaming fan.