Game Title: Gensokyo Defenders
Company: UNTIES / Sony Entertainment Music Japan
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Availability: Digital Download
Battery Life: 2 – 4 hours
Cloud Save Support: Yes
Download: 1.4 GB

We live in pretty amazing times when you’re a fan of Japanese fan projects. When I first found and got into the “Touhou Project”, you had to go to PC for games around it, from the official bullet hell games to the Pokemon Rom Hacks called “Touhoumon”. The latter, hilariously enough, was the first kind of Touhou game I played from the recommendation from a GFAQs member.

Today you don’t have to go searching far and wide. Whether you have a console or a handheld, there’s lots of Touhou to play through and explore. My third venture into the franchise on Nintendo’s newest handheld, here is my review of Gensokyo Defenders for the Nintendo Switch!

Story

gen 2 - story

In Gensokyo Defenders, a new games has been made for the land of Gensokyo, known as “War Games”, where you fight off minions and defend a base camp. The humans like Reimu think it’s a silly, dumb game, while the fairies like Cirno think it’s a new way to prove their strength to the rest of Gensokyo.

The actual plot is centered around the ice fairy Cirno as she challenges every resident of Gensokyo with the aim of claiming she is the strongest of everyone, learning the value of real strength and overcoming her childish antics.

The story of the game is fine, but it has the problem most Touhou games have: No Context. Touhou has all of these elaborate characters with huge backgrounds, personalities, and lore, and this game assumes you are an expert when it comes to the Lore, leaving you quite clueless and scratching your head at most of the references the characters make as they go through dialogue.

The only other issue is minor, but I found one line of text that was not translated from Japanese to English. The weird thing is that it’s not always untranslated. The first time I saw the scene for that stage, it was in Japanese. The next time I saw it, it was in English.

Gameplay

gen 3 - gameplay

Gensokyo Defenders is another one of the Touhou Project’s experiments. Almost every Touhou game is set in a different game genre, and this one is a bit of a mashup between a Tower Defense game and a Twin-Stick Shooter. In every stage, you’ll be setting traps and defending a base while also freely moving around and shooting in TSS fashion.

The game has two basic game modes you can go through: Story and Online. Story Mode is the single player campaign, where you clear stages as Cirno or the other fairies, while Online lets you play stages with others from around the world, sporting Online Co-op play.

Progression through Story Mode is pretty simple, overall. You clear a stage and unlock the next, going through the story on various difficulty settings and unlocking new playable characters and traps to use in the stages as you go along in each of the campaigns. It’s also worth noting that the non-Cirno campaign has different storylines, so they don’t just repeat everything she does.

gen 4 - story mode

The biggest part of this game, though, is how the game is played. This is a Tower Defense game with two main phases the Preparation Phase and the Wave Phase. For each wave of enemies, you can move around the stage and spend money to set traps to assist you in taking out all of the mobs that will come after your base. You have infinite time to prepare and set up all of your traps, so you don’t need to cycle through them and set them on the fly.

When the Wave Phase starts, enemies will spawn from various areas of the stage and start moving towards your base, attacking it and you. Your traps can help fight off enemies, like watchtowers that fire off missiles at enemies that pass in front of them or bottles of Sake that will distract enemies while you attack them.

The thing that makes this feel so much like a shooter is the fact that you have free roam during the Wave Phase and can go around and shoot down incoming enemies that get past your traps. You fire off bullets and can use MP to use powerful spells to damage or stall enemies. In some ways, it feels more shooter than tower defense with how some characters can arguably perform better than their own traps can.

gen 5 - pew pew pew

This game’s gameplay is really strong because of how much variety there is. Every character shoots projectiles differently and has different skills. Reimu, for example, shoots rapid bullets that are weak on their own and has spellcards that trap and hold enemies in place while you shoot them. Then you’ve got other characters that have strong attacks, slow speed, and knockback that enable you to knock enemies off stages to instantly KO them. Every character feels very different and it brings a lot of variety to each stage when you choose someone new to play as.

There is one thing I will nitpick about the game, though. It’s very easy to be running and get stuck on the edges of stages. I can be running along the edge of a stage in a straight line and suddenly get stuck where I am for a second or two over and over. Odd thing is that I can run across the same edge just fine one minute and get stuck the next.

Now, let’s get into the content you’re getting here. Each of the two campaigns has over two dozen stages and can easily last you a good 6-8 hours, depending on how often you fail missions and what difficulty you’re playing on. With that in mind, the campaigns offer a ton of play time for the asking price of $20.

Controls

Controlling the game isn’t too difficult, especially since the game shows you how to do everything. A lot of it is basic Twin-Stick Shooter stuff.

You move around stages with the Left Analog Stick and change your aim with the Right Analog Stick. The D-Pad / Arrow Buttons are used for activating Spell Cards during combat. The four triggers are used to cycle through and place traps. The face buttons are used mostly for menus as they don’t have much function in combat.

Overall, it’s pretty easy. Plus, as I said earlier, everything is shown and explained to you in the tutorial stages.

Presentation

gen 6 - presentation

Graphically, the game doesn’t look bad. It does have a lot of color to it, though the renders do have a bit of a blur to them. This happens in both docked and handheld mode. It’s not a huge blur, but it’s worth noting (and is also there in the screenshots on the eShop page).

The music, however, was a bit of a disappointment. Every time I play a Touhou game, I recognize much of the music and especially look forward to new remixes of my favorite track, UN Owen Was Her. None of the music in this game I recognized and it overall just didn’t seem as exciting and charming as Touhou game music normally is.

In terms of performance, things play great for the most part. The frame-rate is steady most of the time, only starting to struggle a bit when there are a lot of enemies and a ton of traps going off all at once. Nothing that’s going to screw you up. Just something I noticed.

Battery Life

In terms of Battery Life, I figured there’d be a fair bit. Here are my times, from 100% to 0%

Max Brightness + Wi-Fi – 2 hours, 30 minutes
Max Brightness + No Wi-Fi – 3 hours, 16 minutes

Low Brightness + Wi-Fi – 3 hours, 46 minutes
Low Brightness + No Wi-Fi – 4 hours, 19 minutes

Another game in the middle ground. You’ll get a good bit of Story Mode done on a single charge.

In conclusion, Gensokyo Defenders is a unique and fun Touhou game that melds twin-stick shooting and tower defense. Granted, there are some small glitches in the game and a very uninspiring music track, it’s fun to play as so many Touhou favorites in a unique defending game.

Final Score: 8/10