Touhou Luna Nights is a creative and thoughtful Metroidvania as it gives the player a wondrously overpowered ability, stopping time, but balances it with the high risk/reward Graze system. The ranged attacks of the main character are also badass and the pixel art is so well done screenshots of the game should be hanging in museums.
There are a few unique gameplay elements that separate this exploratory RPG. The standard common attack actually requires magic points. Spam the attack button and you will be stranded without a way to defend yourself. Although the magic meter automatically refills overtime, this rebuild is very slow and will never work in a pinch. Instead, the player will need to make use of the Graze system. By getting very close to an enemy, grazing them, the player will be rewarded with a large MP boost. However, if you get too close you will take damage – high risk, high reward. This keeps combat intense even when encountering the common enemy. It is possible to use the stopwatch power to make grazing an enemy a little easier but the player is awarded less regeneration this way. The stopwatch rejuvenates faster than the MP pool so the player has some freedom in how to approach each situation. It is an interesting mechanic as it keeps players on their toes and naturally builds their skill and reaction timing.
The quest starts easy enough but really increases in difficulty a couple bosses deep. Stages require careful platforming, as stopping time allows the player to walk on water but also be trapped under it if not careful, as well as some tricky bosses and enemy placement. However, if the player is having difficulty, it is easy to grind to level up. Unfortunately, stage design is perhaps the biggest staggering point. Since this title was originally created piece-by-piece in Steam Early Access, there are parts of the map that doesn’t feel like it flows as one big cohesive area. This can make backtracking a little weird and tedious even though there are a liberal amount of save and teleport points.
Even with a few inconvenient flaws, Touhou Luna Nights is nicely put together Metroidvania and one of the most gorgeous pixel-based games you’ll play this console generation. The story might be full of ridiculous meta elements but the combat is always satisfying thanks to the clever and balanced MP/Graze system. Also, at the time of this article, this Touhou Luna Nights is also available as one of the many Xbox Ultimate/GamePass titles subscribers can enjoy. It launched Day 1 on this service and is a wonderful treat for Ultimate members.
Not As Good As: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (but what is?)
Better Than: what you would expect
Don’t Forget About: Escape from Tethys