Digital distribution has opened avenues for many indie developers to get their work in the hands of potential fans. For one, it’s much more accessible than having to consider the cost of printing physical media, contending with minimum quantity restrictions and finding a retailer willing to put your product on their shelves. I mean, those facts alone could be discouraging for an up and coming developer.
However, in the last 10-15 years, the indie scene has been booming and it’s all thanks to the shift in how games are distributed. Now, because of the opportunities indies are able to take advantage of, we as fans are able to take advantage of the unique and often stellar products born from it.
Including the latest and greatest title from Team Ladybug, based in one of the most prolific doujin universes, Touhou Luna Nights!
For those who are unfamiliar, doujin is typically used in Japan to describe a self-published body of work produced by amature creators, fans, or even professionals. Which doesn’t sound out of the ordinary these days, but the Touhou Project in particular, has always intrigued me. That’s because it has been going strong since the mid 90s and was started by the one-man team, Team Shanghai Alice, on the NEC PC-9800! Oh, and their primary focus was on bullet-hell shoot ’em ups!
What makes the Touhou Project so prominent within the doujin scene however, is the fact that Team Shanghai Alice themselves have not enforced many restrictions on how and when you can use their IP, characters, and settings. So, although there are upwards of 20 mainline Touhou games, there are just as many, if not more fan made projects. Including Touhou Luna Nights. Which was Team Ladybug’s metroidvania spin on the series with a healthy dose of bullet-hell mechanics to tie it all together.
If that doesn’t sound like a game that’s 100% up my alley, then I don’t know what would!
Timing is the Key to Manipulation
Setting aside, as a metroidvania, you couldn’t ask for more. Luna Nights has the exploration you would expect, secrets to find, items to collect and leveling mechanics that’ll allow you to learn fun new abilities as you progress through the game. Although the map may not be as diverse as what you would find in some of the heavier hitters in the genre, and there may not be the variety of enemies either, I really think the time manipulation mechanics found in Luna Nights truly make it stand apart. That and its intense action, fluid animations and amazing sprite based aesthetics!
Similar to how the abilities worked in Timespinner, you are able to use the time manipulation mechanics in Luna Nights to slow down and/or stop time. Which can then be used to maneuver around enemies or bypass obstacles in the environment. That being said, I found that Luna Nights had a much more clever and satisfying implementation of these mechanics! You could do things like freeze a thrown knight in place by stopping time so you can line up a series of attacks, or use those knives as platforms to get to out of reach areas! Even the environments were built around this idea and offered satisfying platforming challenges. Especially when they subverted your expectations. Throw in fervent boss battles that require you to weave around an onslaught of enemy fire, and you got yourself a high action gem.
What’s Up With These Gems?!
Of course, Touhou Luna Nights isn’t perfect and there are a few annoyances. They’re nothing game breaking or anything, but as an example, as you defeat enemies they’ll drop gems, which can then be sold to the shop for items. The problem with that, is that none of the items really seemed that useful. I mean, you can get things like healing items and upgrades to the number of knives you can shoot at a time while time is stopped, or the amount of time you have when time is stopped, but they never seemed necessary. That and they were super expensive so it would take you quite a bit of grinding before you could even buy them. The other caveat was that if you held onto the gems, they would boost various stats, making you stronger. So you really had no reason to sell them and buy things from the shop.
I will say though, that I kind of like the idea of weighing the benefits of holding onto your gems versus selling them and buying items. So a slight tweak to the worth and usefulness of these items, or maybe even adding a greater variety of cool gadgets to use, would make all the difference. The only other thing that really bothered me was the spacing of the warp points, which made them feel more inconvenient to use then they should have been. That and the length of the game. Which if you ask me, was a tad too short, but only because I wanted more!
Truly my complaints are superficial, and things that could easily be fixed or improved upon in a sequel. I say that because, when it came to everything else, Luna Nights was an absolute hit. The graphics were a perfect mix of modern and classic, the anime-esque story was the right kind of bizarre and self serious, and the time manipulation mechanics mixed with the metroidvania style exploration were satisfying and fun. You did good Team Ladybug… you did good.
A Flashy Spectacle
So, should you play Touhou Luna Nights? Well, the short answer is yes and the long answer is – absolutely yes! I really do think that Team Ladybug did a fantastic job of creating a compelling action platformer that pulls inspiration from its roots as a doujin, but stands on its own as a finely crafted metroidvania.
The bullet hell aspects of Luna Nights may intimidate some, but the inclusion of the time manipulation mechanics really smooth out the difficulty curve, making the boss fights flashy spectacles that are easier to adapt too than it looks. That and they’re a good way to impress your friends. So if you’re looking for a unique new metroidvania or action platformer to check out, I highly recommend you give Touhou Luna Nights a shot!
And if you like this review, then be sure to check out to check out the video review as well to see the game in action!! Find it on our YouTube channel The Backlog Odyssey.