TOUHOU Spell Bubble Review: Touhou Project meets Puzzle Bobble!
It’s been over a year since TOUHOU Spell Bubble initially released in the U.S., but November 18, 2021 marks an important date for the saccharine sweet party puzzler. Fans who have been begging for a few features have asked and asked and now have finally received: online functionality and two new game modes — ranked and private — complete with a 50% off discount to celebrate the occasion. With more content for half the price, I figured now was as good a time as any to try out the rhythm bubble puzzler, and boy was I unprepared for just how addicted I would become.
Developed and published by Taito, TOUHOU Spell Bubble is touted as “Touhou Project meets Puzzle Bobble,” which is honestly the best way to quickly sum up the experience. Combining Puzzle Bobble’s gameplay with Touhou Project’s characters set in the land of Gensokyo, players will have a blast popping colorful bubbles against iconic rivals to the beat of 50 familiar songs. And with a slew of different game modes, 40 voice actors and illustrators, and 100 tracks available as DLC, TOUHOU Spell Bubble is a well-rounded experience you won’t want to miss.
Starting right off in story mode, players will take on the role of Reimu Hakurei, a shrine maiden who was just minding her own business until her friend Marisa Kirisame announced that she developed a new game that was sweeping Gensokyo like wildfire. Called Spell Bubble, the game features brightly colored bubbles that need to be popped by shooting a same-colored bubble at them, raking in the points while doing so. There’s an additional rhythm component, where massive groups of popped bubbles will start bursting one by one to the beat; players have the opportunity to earn more points if they pop bubbles on the set beats, sending blank bubbles over to their opponent’s field while doing so. The player with the highest score by the end of the game is declared the winner!
After Reimu picks up the game like some kind of Spell Bubble prodigy, she learns that there’s going to be a Spell Bubble tournament attracting both humans and youkai from all over Gensokyo; unfortunately, not everything is on the up and up, so she’ll need to investigate to ensure that everything runs as smoothly as possible. This detective work takes her all over the area, sniffing out clues and Spell Bubble battling everyone she meets along the way. Will she uncover any sort of foul play before the tournament, making the massive event a huge success? Only one way to find out!
As someone who has casually enjoyed Puzzle Bobble over the years and whose knowledge of Touhou Project is essentially exhausted with Bad Apple!! (shout out to Taiko no Tatsujin for including that absolute banger), I had a general idea of what I was getting into: Puzzle Bobble with cute anime girls and catchy songs. What I wasn’t expecting was just how addicted I’d become to the game. Since each song is about 3 – 4 minutes long, each level feels bite-sized at the start but is an engrossing bubble battlefield within the first 30 seconds. And with the inclusion of spell cards that introduce certain powers, like turning a rival’s bubbles into knives or turning your own into a solid row of similarly colored bubbles, it’s anyone’s game until the clock runs out.
TOUHOU Spell Bubble’s newest update features perhaps the best possible functionality possible: online gameplay. Now players can bubble battle it out with players all over the world, both in a ranked and private setting. If you’re just looking for some casual fun, feel free to utilize the private mode so the outcome of the match doesn’t affect your permanent record; for those looking to truly settle the score, however, ranked mode is where you’ll want to go. And with the inclusion of two new leaderboards added to the challenge mode, it’s clear that things are about to get seriously competitive in TOUHOU Spell Bubble.
I don’t really have many complaints for TOUHOU Spell Bubble, except that the storyline in story mode is easily forgettable. Forgive me if this is well-known Touhou Project lore/knowledge, but this being my first foray into the franchise I felt a bit confused by Reimu’s mission. Is it a human/youkai thing to be generally distrustful of each other in neutral settings? I don’t understand why it was a given that some supposedly strange things were afoot during this tournament and why we were questioning sponsors’ involvement, but whatever — I’m just here for puzzles anyway.
With that being said, what a minor offense in the grand scheme of things a confusing storyline is in a multiplayer puzzle game. TOUHOU Spell Bubble is a literal blast to play — a game that will draw players in over and over again whenever they find themselves with a free few minutes or are unsure of what to play next. Whether you’re a big fan of Touhou Project, Puzzle Bobble, or both or have yet to experience the awesomeness both franchises possess, TOUHOU Spell Bubble is not a bad way to fall in love with these incredible standouts.
TOUHOU Spell Bubble blends the familiar Puzzle Bobble mechanics with cleverly fun rhythm gameplay set to the beat of Touhou Project’s absolute bangers. And with the new update’s inclusion of online functionality in both ranked and private modes, this already addicting multiplayer puzzler just got a whole lot more exciting. If you’re looking for that instantly enjoyable Puzzle Bobble fun with a fresh new rhythm feel, TOUHOU Spell Bubble is waiting to work its magic on you.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: Switch (reviewed); Publisher: Taito; Developer: Taito; Players: 1 – 2; Released: October 29, 2020; MSRP: $54.99
Editor’s note: This review is based on a retail copy of TOUHOU Spell Bubble provided by the publisher.