Touhou Luna Nights

A game by Team Ladybug and Vaka Game Magazine for PC, originally released in 2019.
The Touhou Project (東方) is an expansive series of Japanese bullet hell shooters developed by Team Shanghai Alice over the span of more than 20 years, which has also been spun off into several other forms of media. Touhou Luna Nights is an officially-licensed spinoff that takes the form of a metroidvania and includes a number of characters and elements from the main series. The game stars Sakuya Izayoi, the head maid of Scarlet Devil Mansion, who has the power to manipulate time and works for the vampire Remilia Scarlet.

Somehow, Sakuya’s mistress has sent her into some kind of virtual/parallel version of Gensokyo (the fantasy world of The Touhou Project that is adjacent to but inaccessible from our world) that she created using magic… apparently for her personal entertainment as she challenges Sakuya to complete her “game”. Sakuya must explore the world, recover her time manipulation powers, and face off against virtual creatures and non-virtual bosses in this strange fabricated space.

Sakuya has a 1.5x variable jump, and holding the JUMP button allows her to glide slowly to the ground or cross large gaps. Sakuya attacks by throwing a trio of daggers in a straight line all the way across the screen, and each dagger delivers damage independently. Every dagger toss depletes some of her MP gauge, and she becomes unable to attack once it is depleted. Fortunately, the MP gauge refills over time, and it can be extended more quickly by collecting tossed knives that become embedded in the surroundings, or by a process called “grazing” (more on this in a bit). Daggers may be thrown while standing, running, or jumping (straight or at a downward angle), but attacking while ducking causes Sakuya to stand up.

Holding the ATTACK button causes a meter to fill, and letting off the button initiates “snail time”, which causes time to slow down for a few seconds. This can be used to unleash a heavy barrage of attacks against enemies, or run past them to avoid their attacks, and it is needed in a few areas to overcome environmental obstacles. For instance, the opening area has a spinning door that is impassable when time is operating normally, but slowing time gives Sakuya a chance to get through without being pushed back. There are a number of obstacles – and some boss attacks – that can only be avoided by slowing down or stopping time.

Early on, you find a watch that lets you stop time completely, and many of the game’s mechanics are built around this function. Stopping time has the obvious effect of freezing enemy movement and causing moving platforms and other environmental elements to cease functioning. Time only remains stopped for so long before resuming, or the player may exit the time-stopped state with a button press. However, the length of the time stop is dependent upon the actions the player takes during this time…

Running, jumping, sliding, and attacking all drain the timer more quickly. Furthermore, when you throw your daggers, they are also stopped in midair, and they only continue moving when time resumes. This means you can’t simply stop time and kill every enemy in the room, but you can fire off a dozen or so daggers and then resume time to watch them hit the target all at once and destroy it. Normally, using your daggers reduces the MP meter, but when time is stopped, it drains the time meter instead, allowing you to unleash a barrage of attacks with no penalty other than the fact that time resumes more quickly.

Later in the game, the player encounters certain enemies and objects that are affected differently by the time stopping effect. Enemies and objects surrounded in a purple aura are immune to the time stop effect, while those with a green aura are frozen during normal time but begin moving when time is stopped, and those with a yellow aura reverse their course when time is stopped. This sets up a variety of platforming challenges where the player must hop between normal platforms while alternating between time stopping states to dodge spinning blades, combat incoming enemies, and even hop between moving platforms with different colored auras.

Time stopping has some fun and interesting environmental effects as well. Some of the more obvious effects include standing on a switch and then stopping time so you can run across the room before the affected door slams shut. More interesting is the fact that you can move underwater, but freezing time underwater causes the water to freeze as well, making it impossible to move, whereas freezing time outside of the water lets you walk over it as if it were a solid platform. On the other hand, waterfalls also become frozen, potentially blocking your path, thus requiring you to walk underwater, bypass the waterfall, jump out of the water, and freeze time on the far side.

Another interesting aspect is the ability for the player to “graze” enemies, which carries over from the main series’ bullet hell origins. By getting very close to an enemy or projectile while preventing it from touching your hitbox, you regain a small amount of HP. Since enemies do not drop health restoratives when killed, this is the only way to regain health outside of dedicated healing points. Grazing works when time is at full speed or slowed, but when time is stopped, the player can no longer gain HP by grazing (this would make the game incredibly easy); instead, he regains MP, which allows a player to fire off a bunch of daggers with no MP penalty and regain MP by getting close to enemies.

Enemies respawn when you leave a room and return, so it’s possible to farm for HP and MP if you’re in a pinch, although there’s also a shop that lets you purchase HP, MP, and time restoratives. The shopkeeper is Nitori Kawashiro, a young lady who appears to be obsessed with collecting gems and who pilots a flying frog-shaped mech suit.

Killing enemies grants you XP, which allows you to level up, giving you incrementally stronger attacks and defense, but these changes aren’t terribly significant over the course of the game. You’ll need to master the core combat and be competent at completing platforming challenges, especially later in the game when the difficulty increases, often placing you in rooms with numerous obstacles and enemies, some of which have auras that impact their behavior when time is stopped. In particular, you’ll need to have a good feel for when to slow time, stop time, or use your special attacks.

Special attacks drain the MP meter more quickly and include a small spray of homing daggers, a much larger spray of daggers, and a chainsaw that can be tossed upward, among others.

Spread around the game world - usually behind nondescript breakable blocks - are pickups that increase your maximum health and MP, as well as lengthening your time stop ability and allowing for a higher number of daggers to be thrown when time is stopped. The shop also sells time stop lengtheners and dagger increases… although the shopkeeper suggests that the player may benefit more from keeping gems (dropped by killed enemies) rather than spending them. In more obvious locations are checkpoints, which take the form of payphones, as well as HP and MP restoration points, which take the form of soda machines. Please remember to recycle your cans!

Per genre conventions, the game world consists of a large interconnected metroidvania map that is divided into themed areas, and by gaining new abilities, the player can return to previous areas to access new routes (there are a few warp doors to speed this process). New abilities include a ground slide to get under low overhangs, a double jump to reach higher platforms, and the ability to jump onto daggers that are frozen in time and use them as platforms. With all of these abilities earned, players can reach almost any point in the environment, allowing them to go back and search for optional pickups, and a grid on the pause screen shows how many pickups remain to be collected. That said, some areas are also blocked by color-coded doors that require the corresponding colored keys to open.

Enemy behaviors are varied, requiring you to change up your tactics when dealing with some of them, particularly your time slowing and time stopping abilities. Some enemies move in on you quickly, while others toss projectiles, and some are capable of blinking out of existence when you try to attack them. Some enemies can also belch out red mist which temporarily drains your time stopping meter when you touch it.

Bosses feature a wide array of behaviors that require you to constantly alter your tactics during the course of battle, with even the first boss offering a decent challenge with her large repertoire of moves. Later bosses offer more complex tactics, including the ability to toss projectiles with different colored auras. If you think you’re just going to go into the battle and toss a bunch of knives while dodging incoming projectiles, you’ll find yourself quickly killed.

Certain attacks are best overcome by slowing or stopping time, and you may also need to graze the boss or her projectiles in order to restore MP lest you find yourself unable to attack while you wait for the meter to recharge… bearing in mind that stopping time lets you unleash a barrage of blades without using MP. And if you run low on HP, the only way to get it back is to get in close and graze.

Touhou Luna Nights was developed by Team Ladybug in conjunction with Vaka Game Magazine. Team Ladybug previously developed KonoSuba God's Blessing on this Wonderful World! Revival of Beldia and Shin Megami Tensei: Synchronicity Prologue, bringing their trademark sprite art and design work to bear in this new project.

The game was published by Playism / Active Gaming Media, which also published Kero Blaster, Pink Hour, Pink Heaven, Gunhound EX, Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight, Hakoniwa Explorer Plus, La Mulana 2, and some versions of La-Mulana.