These two indie games are so up my street it’s ridiculous, it’s like they were both tailor-made for me and that is a rare feeling indeed. Touhou Luna Nights is like Castlevania Symphony of the Night had a baby with Metal Slug. With the added bonus of time manipulation. Crimzon Clover World Explosion is a terribly named but extremely well done modern shmup. (Apparently weird names are mandatory for modern shmups.)
Let’s discuss Touhou Luna Nights first. A Metroidvania with time control; honestly it’s one of those great ideas that makes me say, “wow, I can’t believe no one did this before”. I say that, and actually there is another recent indie game called Timespinner that, as implied by the name, does in fact mess around with time. Even so, it’s such a strong idea you wonder why it’s not been done before in mainstream games.
Touhou Luna Nights is a lighthearted tribute to Symphony of Night that wears its key influence on its sleeve. There are several references in the level settings and design: there’s a clockwork gears location, a library, a throne room at the top of an open air broken staircase, and a couple of really long corridors populated with big enemies. It doesn’t bother me, but then again I’m not ultra-familiar with Symphony of the Night. If I were, some of the homage might be too on the nose, or overly familiar.
There are several things that help distinguish Touhou Luna Nights. The main things are its fantastic visuals, tricky boss fights, and cool time control mechanics.
Because of the difficulty of boss fights especially and the use of some “bullet-hell” like patterns, there’s a high barrier to entry. Basically, almost from the word go the game requires persistence to make progress. Early on I found the bosses were significantly harder than the preceding exploration sections; by comparison the normal enemies didn’t put up much of a fight and the platforming wasn’t challenging at all. Deeper into the game though, placement of save points and HP/MP recharge points gets trickier, so I’m now travelling further through tougher challenges to reach a checkpoint.
It is thankfully possible to boost your odds if you do get stuck. Your character does level up and you can grind by defeating enemies, but this doesn’t have an obvious impact on your ability to survive. You get more substantive rewards from finding secrets and completing optional challenges, but again, these aren’t “game changers” that will suddenly render the game easy.
Ultimately, Touhou Luna Nights is pretty much my ideal difficulty, it’s challenging whilst rarely frustrating. I find it extremely satisfying to break though a tough boss fight or tricky level gauntlet.
I should mention as well the time mechanics. These are innovative and well-done: you can slow things down or stop things altogether. There are clever takes on these abilities, both in the levels and boss fights. My favourite are yellow objects that move in reverse when time is stopped.
All in all, Touhou Luna Nights is a real treat. Visually it’s a delight, with intricate 2D sprites and detailed character animations. The main character is a maid, which is a bit strange, but the story is clearly written with fans of the Touhou series in mind rather than newcomers, and it’s thankfully easy to ignore. All the basics, from moving to jumping to attacking feel great, and it’s exactly what I want out of this type of game.
I can say the exact same thing about Crimzon Clover World Explosion. Fundamentally, it feels great. Most impressive to me is the performance, this game throws everything including the kitchen sink at you in terms of enemies, bullets, explosions, stars and medals, it’s insane. And yet the game runs smooth as butter throughout.
The basic game is like a classic arcade game, short and to the point, with five stages, and a special time attack stage. There are different ships to play with, plus around 10 different game modes and types, so there’s more to dig into than it might initially seem. The standard “arcade” mode gets very challenging once you get past the first stage, but thankfully there’s a novice mode which is a good introduction.
I don’t have that much more to say about Crimzon Clover World Explosion to be honest, it’s extremely solid and another case of a game seemingly custom-made to my specific tastes.
Oh, you know something I nearly forgot to mention: online leaderboards. As my past bragging about Blazing Star proves, I love a good leaderboard chaser, and this is scratching that itch. I’m in the top 25 for one ship/mode combination, and I hope to better that. Top 10 here we come…!
And can I just say a huge hats off to the developer, the credits revealed that Crimzon Clover World Explosion was pretty well made by just one person, who goes by the alias YOTSUBA. That is incredible for many, many reasons. It’s honestly humbling just how talented some people are and what is possible in terms of indie development these days.
For as excellent as Touhou Luna Nights and Crimzon Clover World Explosion undoubtedly both are, neither are ideal choices for someone new to their respective genres. For those unversed in shmups or intimidated by them, my first recommendation on the Switch/PC would be Jamestown+ (incidentally, I am constantly mistakenly calling this game Jonestown+). Jamestown+ is a true rarity in being a genuinely accessible shooter. It ditches the typical arcade game structure and is highly flexible in it’s difficulty. Playing that game genuinely helped me better understand and improve at the genre – these gameplay vids of me playing Crimzon Clover World Explosion hopefully demonstrate this!