My Problem With Scores in Touhou 14

I have been a fan of the Touhou Project for years. So back in late August I bought Touhou 14: ‘Double Dealing Character’ (TH14). The game is great and I have a lot of fun playing it. Since I am also working on a shmup I often analyze the game mechanics of others. And there is something specific about TH14 which I dislike and want to avoid in my own game.

Rewarding the Wrong Behavior

These are the top ten scores on ‘Normal’ difficulty using the character Reimu-A, and that is me in eighth place. I am not pointing this out to brag, as I haven’t done anything in that game worth bragging about. Though I do consider myself to be ‘ok’ at the Touhou series. So I am using the picture as a reference to help explain how what I’m about to describe makes it possible for better players to beat my score by more than double.

The scoring system in Touhou 14 encourages player suicide. You earn most of your score from collecting blue ‘point items’. You can increase the value of those items most easily by using a bomb at certain points. And with each new life you start out with three bombs. (I am leaving out the gory details, but that’s the gist.)

That system would be fine except for one issue: it is incredibly easy to get extra lives in Touhou 14. I have not counted how many you could get, but it would not surprise me to learn you could rack up fifteen or more extra lives by the end of the game. What is the problem with that? It rewards you for bombing over and over at certain points and then, when you run out of bombs, committing suicide to get three more bombs. Because you earn so many extra lives there is no huge risk in dying that much. In fact, you can kill yourself a lot in TH14 and still finish the game with the maximum amount of lives allowed. The player with the top score in that list above does this.

Personally I believe it is a design mistake in a shmup to reward the player for suicide. This is not the first time a Touhou game has been like this (Touhou 6), and others are incredibly harsh when it comes to penalizing death (Touhou 10). But for the most part I feel the series has maintained a good balance between punishing the player for dying while still making it possible to set a competitive score. Double Dealing Character, however, screws up this balance by creating an incentive to die multiple times to maximize the score. I just don’t feel like that is the ‘right’ type of play-style to reward.

All that said, I am still having a lot of fun playing Touhou 14. Although Seija Kijin can go to Hell. Her damned attacks….

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