When I think of racing games in the late 90’s I think of the transition between 2D sprites in a 3D plane to racing games feeling fully 3D. This was extremely helpful for me as many games featured endless motorways of quickfire sprites that sometimes made me feel motion sick. For the first time in years, Gensou Skydrift has managed to evoke that feeling in me again and make me feel motion sick in a game again. It is one of the many reasons why I feel like this ambitious and fun title fails on a few different levels and doesn’t quite hit the mark.
Let’s start with the positives first. Gensou Skydrift is a bright and colourful anime girl revision of Mario Kart Double Dash. Here, you pick two anime girls and one literally stands on top of the other and rides them. Yes, you read that correctly. Each girl has her own stats and so you’ll have ones that go faster, corner better or boost faster. As each course lends itself to specific traits, you’ll be wanting to choose a powerful combo that works for that track. This is because you can swap between them at the press of a button. This adds a layer of strategy to the mix that I really appreciated.
There are no power-ups to collect in the game. Instead, you fly through magic gates that can boost up your spell meter that triggers a roulette wheel of power-ups. These are largely standard but it means that you’ll be focusing on the racing line, not going off track to grab the pickups. Each character has a special power-up too although I never did quite understand how it was triggered. These gates can also act as a boost too which alongside switching characters, provides a tiny boost of speed forward. You can trigger chains of all this together in a way that can feel satisfying on the straights of tracks before switching back to the corner favouring characters. It is one of the few times in the game where everything feels together.
The tracks themselves are a mixed bag of laps and single chute runs which varies the gameplay too. Unfortunately, some of the racetracks are a weird mix of 90-degree bends that don’t feel satisfying to ride. The tracks sometimes feel too maze-like and that’s fun for confusion for a while but then when it comes to actual racing, less so. Indeed, as the handling is a bit rough around the edges, those 90-degree bends mean that you’ll spend lots of time bouncing off of walls. There is little penalty for this and so you aren’t given an incentive to break too much and switching girls to the corner one only does so much to make things better. Tighter handling would have improved Gensou Skydrift no end.
Online multiplayer is available beyond the single-player story mode to unlock all the tracks but I was unable to test it as it was empty. Time trial mode works a treat by dropping in ghost times to battle for online leader board positions though. Local multiplayer works well too in split-screen mode with little slowdown. Outside of that, there is a 3D model mode and the ability to play the bright and hyper soundtrack separately too.
It is just such a shame that the core racing is just so unrefined and unsatisfying. It prioritises speed over precision and so not only do you just bounce off all the corners, it made me motion sick too. This sickness was confined largely to the bamboo forest levels where the tree sprite made me very unwell. This combined with the unsatisfying bouncing around really annoyed me and dropped the overall score down.
I feel like a sequel with polish could certainly hit a lot of greatness but Gensou Skydrift for me misses the mark. I respect the Touhou series for trying out new and interesting ways to expand their universe and I hope they try racing again in the future. Perhaps with some lessons learned, it’ll be the crazy anime girl riding glee fest we all hope it can be.
Review copy provided by the publisher.
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