Ham and pineapple, Bugs Bunny and basketball, nicotine and post-coital glow, somethings were never intended to be combined but are ultimately far superior afterwards. What happens when you merged the visual stylings and worn out world warrior stereotypes of Street Fighter 2 and the hyper-linear gameplay of Pong? Windjammers, that’s what.
1994 was the last year before everyone in the world simultaneously picked up a PlayStation and 3D graphics where all anyone wanted to look at. It was the same year Sonic 3, Final Fantasy VI, and King of Fighters all came out, but one title was causing a tropical storm in arcades across the world. Windjammers has always held a certain legendary mystique around it amongst NEOGEO fans.
Except for the commitment of competitive retro gamers across the world, all was quiet for the Windjammers franchise until it received a Wii Virtual Console release back in 2010 and now an online compatible version for PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch. With a long overdue sequel breezing on to Nintendo Switch in 2019 is it worth catching the original?
Playing Windjammers feels like a somewhat like a pacifistic beat ’em up. Everything from the pixelated world map in which your portrait makes six stops on your journey through the arcade mode, to the archaic racial stereotypes. The controls are the same for every character regardless of which character you choose, but each has a minor playstyle difference you have seen a million times before and since 1994 and was a cliche back even then. The big guy is the slowest but most powerful, and the only female character is the fastest but barely strong enough to hold a frisbee.
In a typical fighting game style after starting up single player and have decided on the Windiest Jammer of your choice, you have to beat six opponents (the five other selectable characters and then a palette swap of your Jammer) across two rounds each. Every third round you are rewarded with a bonus mini-game. Instead of destroying an otherwise useful car – like some other games I could mention – in Windjammers you’ll be finding out how many rounds of ten-pin frisbee bowling you can get through, or you can see how far you can throw a frisbee for each Jammer’s pet dog. Is it a prerequisite to have a pet dog to be a world-class competitive windjammer?
The controls are consistently snappy and responsive, even in single JoyCon mode. It only takes a couple of games to get to grips with the timings and simple directional combos. These intuitive controls make it easy to explain to a non-gamer, A or Y button is used for throwing and the B or X for lobbing. Throwing is your standard return and lobbing is used more for outsmarting your opponent as you will have to pick up a lobbed disc from the floor, which if missed will cost you two points. The goal on either side of the court has two different colored areas each with worth either five or three points. The first player to twelve or more points wins the round, and then the first player that wins two rounds wins the game!
Windjammers can be played against the computer or in a two-player versus, both local and online (with hard, medium and easy settings). Playing against the computer is great for training for the main event and not much else. Once you have beaten the game with all six stereotypes and seen their mildly amusing but ultimately indistinct endings, there is not very much left for you to experience. That is until you involve a second player of a similar skill level and competitive nature, this is when Windjammers‘ high-intensity gameplay truly shines. Your prayers have finally been answered if you have always wanted an air hockey table but only have the space for a Nintendo Switch.
DotEmu is a developer that obviously cares about the games they are re-releasing. Windjammers has been perfectly preserved and for better or worse completely resembles the NEOGEO original, this is no Silent Hill HD Collection. Due care has gone into perfectly emulating the previously unattainable NEO-GEO CD title. All of the menus have been created with love with a delightful beach tableau calmly going on in the background. The man and his dog playing fetch with a flying disk toy as you browse the menu are one of my highlights.
As far as I can tell besides the menu, there is absolutely no new content, besides filter selection, screen size and the instant access to the two mid-game mini-games. Unlike most games that give a CRT Filter option, I have not just ignored the gimmicky overlay and have come to prefer Jamming my Wind up in faux CRT stretched over widescreen. In this day and age, the lack of side content is a real shame, when Capcom puts out Classic Collection containing scans of old arcade flyers and original character designs that bring you closer to the characters and developer’s original intentions.
What is included within the game is top notch distinctive pixel work that looks as fresh as it did way back when people were filling the streets doing the Bartman as they lined up for pay phones. As soon as you boot up the game the first time you will have access to the same content that you would have after playing through arcade mode one thousand times. With six characters to play as and six courts to play on and nothing to unlock this does genuinely feel like a 1994 title has come back from the dead. Where does the depth come from? If you are looking for a single player game with unlockables, costumes and deep story. I hate to break it to you, but this may not be the title you are looking for.
With a tiny selection of characters and backgrounds, Windjammers is more World Warrior than Turbo. What you see is what you get and if you are not sold after a few games chances are you’ll never be a fan. If you are looking for a psychotically competitive, sci-fi sports title to play with a friend or future rival, then pick up your favorite unbranded flying sports disk and get Windjamming! Longevity and replay value comes from the intense yet accessible pick-up and play gaming the Nintendo Switch, and the JoyCons were created for.
Check out the release trailer below and stay tuned to n3rdabl3 for all your 90’s nostalgia sci-fi sports news, review, and rumours!