I’d say to rev your engines, but there aren’t any in this rather odd take on a kart racer. Gensou Skydrift is a Touhou themed racing game, where instead of driving karts, characters take turns standing on one another and fly over the ground.
This game is currently available for the PC (Steam) and Nintendo Switch, which I am playing on. A future release is planned for the PlayStation 4.
For those who have not heard of Touhou Project, it is a long series of games, mostly consisting of the Bullet Hell/Danmaku genre. The series has a large number of unofficial spin-offs, fanart, music and so on.
While the idea of girls standing on one another to fly through a racetrack is odd, it says a lot about the Touhou Project that it isn’t particularly unbelievable. They have included a fairly minimal story in this game that explains how their powers are lower than normal and by combining, they can fly again. While motivations aren’t always clear and there isn’t much detail, in short, the story is about chasing the person causing this issue.
This is all explained in the campaign. This consists of about ten races with some short story segments in-between. The story segments are the character pictures popping up on the screen with some dialogue between each other and are fairly short. It does not require knowledge about Touhou Project to follow the story, but some of the references won’t be understood otherwise.
During the campaign, you automatically get switched between different pairs of characters to complete the courses. This mode took me about an hour to complete, some of which was retrying failed races a few times.
Despite the odd concept of flying together, this plays like a standard kart racer in many ways. You play as the characters and race along, utilizing boosts, power-ups, and weapons to try and get an advantage over the other racers. It allows you to switch which character is the rider and which is being ridden throughout the race. This is interesting but isn’t too dissimilar from one of the old Mario Kart games. The team behind this game does include ex-Mario Kart developers and the series itself is genre-defining, so it isn’t too surprising that some ideas would be similar.
What the game does do differently than most are weapons and other items. Unlike many kart racers, you do not pick up item boxes but instead, your item bar fills up. This happens both over time and as you go through boost rings. You can then press a button to get a random item, which may be a weapon to take down the other racers or something to speed you up. Each of your characters holds their own item, so it is a valid tactic to switch over and save a particularly good item until it’s needed. There is also that you cannot fire backward, so this lets you store more than the one weapon if you are in first place.
I will note that it took me a while to get to grips with weapons. There are quite a few and no real indication of what they do until you find out by trial and error. Several have different aiming requirements from each other too, so a bit of practice is needed before it clicks that a particular weapon only has a certain reach or another darts ahead by a certain amount and then hits the ground at that point.
Another fairly different point is the course design. These are fourteen courses, some of which are difficult to the point that I failed several of them a time or two until I memorized the layout. There are tons of twists and some very tight turns which required far more drifting than most racing games. You need to dodge between obstacles through some very tight gaps at times and avoid falling off the edge, despite it being a near-constant threat at some point. There are points where you need to be rather precise to make jumps too and areas where a fall won’t respawn your characters, but instead, have you drop down and put you even further behind. The respawning did feel unfair at times, as falls which would have put me ahead in the race if landing them were automatic respawns.
I did come across a couple of technical issues with the courses. I occasionally got stuck on a corner or in midair while falling near a wall. It was never permanent, but certainly lost more time than it should have.
Outside of the campaign mode, you have the option to play races either versus AI, versus up to four local players or online. This can and is really needed to extend gameplay. In this mode, you can choose your characters and the course. This is where you can discover more about the differences between the character stats and abilities.
While I enjoyed versus AI and local multiplayer, I could not test out online multiplayer. I just couldn’t find anyone else online whenever I tried. This is a pity, particularly as it is only two months after release.
Graphically the game is not bad but looks a bit dated and there is no audio for the dialogue which is a pity. That said, there is some great music, which is not really a surprise for the series. It includes some original soundtracks and remixes of some of the better known Touhou music.
Overall, I enjoyed playing Gensou Skydrift, but it did have some issues. It is quite short, without many modes. It has some technical issues and it’s not great graphically. With that said, I certainly enjoyed that it was more difficult than the average and it is very fun to play against friends, as well as in single player. The skill needed to successfully navigate the courses is what makes it stand out the most to me and certainly fits in with the rest of the Touhou Project series in that way.
This game can be bought digitally via Steam or the respective console store.
Thank you to UNTIES for providing a review copy of the game.
Nook has been gaming since the Amstrad and DOS. He enjoys a wide variety of genres, but has been focusing on visual novels and virtual reality in recent years. Follow him and the website on @NookSite.