Publisher: Phoenixx Inc.
Release: On PS4/PS5 March 9th
Reviewed on: PS4
Also available on: PS5, Nintendo Switch, PC via Steam
GENSOU Skydrift is a Touhou Project kart racing game. If you’re like me, four days ago that meant nothing to you. Thanks to Reddit I’ve learned that Touhou Project is a series of ‘bullet hell’ shoot’em ups developed by ZUN, a pseudonym for the sole developer of Team Shanghai Alice. This indie series has amassed a cult following since 1997 and now consists of 17 Touhou shooters. GENSOU Skydrift is a fan created game featuring many of the characters from the Touhou Project Series. There are 3 game modes: Campaign, Versus, and Free Run.
The actual dialog of the game is lost in translation. Translated text, presented on the screen in dialog boxes over images of the characters, is difficult to comprehend; but you can generally follow along with the plot. The characters of GENSOU Skydrift all have a magical spirit energy, which allows them to cast spells. One day, the girls notice that their energy is draining, and they see a figure running off into the distance. Pairing up to conserve spirit energy, the girls fly off in pursuit of their stolen energy.
Marketed as the creation of a studio led by a former Mario Kart developer, GENSOU Skydrift retains the core racing mechanics and feel from Mario Kart, and it’s similar to Mario Kart Double Dash on GameCube where you race with a partner character. In Skydrift, one character flies superman style while the other surfs on her back. Instead of collecting item boxes, you navigate your surfing duo through gates on the track to charge up a meter. Once the meter is full, press RB to receive a spell. These spells range from speed and defense boosts to signature spells for each character. LB toggles between your characters, opening up new spells and a short initial speed boost. The spells are not forgiving and good timing is necessary to hit opponents. You must finish in 1st to move on to the next level.
I found the level design to be Skydrift’s shortfall. Even with the responsive controls, levels are difficult to navigate and their general design doesn’t mesh well with how the kart’s move. Some elements, such as a perfectly executed drift, feel great and result in a short speed boost. But turns in traffic or 90 degree turns that require the hand brake are overly difficult. It wasn’t uncommon to drive off the track several times in a row because of the orientation I was returned to on the track and the poor cornering.
The environments for each level are hit and miss. Some feel low budget and pixelated, while others I found very well developed. A few of the fun levels include an outdoor track with lava and an amazing cherry blossom stage that was so trippy I had to play it a few times. The soundtrack has some jams but they all get repetitive after a while. They make for some good racing music though.
I was unable to test Versus mode, as I couldn’t find a match online. Free run allows you to select a team to race against the AI. It is here you can see the stats for each character. Traits are displayed on a matrix for speed, boost, drift, mass, spell, and air.
Final Grade: C+
GENSOU Skydrift is fun, but it’s definitely a niche. If Touhou is your thing then you’ll love it. I really enjoyed the combat aspect of the game and discovering how to best use the different spells, even celebrating when pulling off come-from-behind wins. But for me, racing alone couldn’t make up for the absence of a story and online mode.