Windjammers 2 Review
Spin your way to success
To the disarray of people around me, I would consider myself a highly competitive person. For this reason, I've always found sports games oddly compelling. By no stretch of the imagination am I an athlete but engaging with high octane conditions, where the slightest mistake can be the difference between winning or losing, never fails to get the blood pumping.
If you didn't have a gamepad in your hands back in the '90s, Windjammers is a cult classic Neo Geo title from 1994. It's a strange hybrid of pong, ice hockey, and ultimate frisbee all thrown together. On surface value, it may sound like a bizarre combination, but there's something wildly addictive about the gameplay that would keep drawing you back in. Developer Dotemu, who is no stranger to revitalising beloved arcade games with their recent success of Streets of Rage 4, have attempted to emulate the same feat of its predecessor several decades later.
Gameplay wise, it has not deviated much from the original. The aim is quite simple, toss the disc into the opponent's goal while at the same time defending your own. Initially, matches do not have a lot of action, with the disc being tossed back and forth like a volleyball from each side of the court. However, don't let this fictional sport deceive you, as the pace of battle can quickly change and become a minefield of strategic manoeuvres. This cycle repeats until one player is crowned the winner of that round by reaching 15 points or has the highest score when the timer runs out. To ultimately win the match and become victorious, you must win two sets before the opposition.
There are many ways to approach a matchup to earn points, with the most traditional method is aiming for the opponent's colour-coded goal zone that distributes different points, respectively. For instance, the yellow section of the goal zone will secure 3 points, whereas the red will accumulate 5 points to your overall tally. Saying this, not every court will entail this scoring system, as the casino stage embraces a lady luck attitude by ditching colour-goal areas in exchange for randomised points like a roulette wheel.
Alongside this, there are many sneaky ways to gain extra points to help turn the tide of battle in your favour. If an opponent is heavily defending the goal zone, you can execute a drop-shot, which will force them to come forward and dash towards the net area as the disc will be pounded towards the ground if they don't capture it in time. I was particularly fond of using this tactic, as it's the equivalent of forcing an opponent in tennis to run towards the service line, which adds to the competitive nature.
You can also perform super attacks at critical moments of the match to gain the upper hand. Each time the disc is thrown, the special attack meter fills up, eventually leading to the bar being full enough to unleash a special attack. These vary for each character, but essentially, it is a powerful shot, which is supposedly hard to counterattack. For instance, one attack travels across the field like an erupting firework, as it teleports twice across the pitch, resulting in you having to run back and forth trying to predict where this sparkler will detonate. Eventually, with enough experience, you will become familiar with anticipating these special attacks, but they can be rather tricky to deal with when you're first learning the ropes.
There are ten characters available, with six returning from the original. The sportsperson you pick will have considerable significance in each battle, as each athlete will inhabit different speed and power stats. In the beginning, I gravitated towards speed-based characters due to their ability to quickly run across the pitch. Eventually, I shifted towards power orientated characters such as K. Wessel as I preferred playing offensively and found great satisfaction blasting the frisbee into the opponent's side of the field. It's worthwhile experimenting to find your preferred playstyle.
From a presentation point of view, Windjammers 2 looks like it would be right at home in an anime show, with its colourful art style. Each athlete almost has a stylish cartoon design, with their wild haircuts and outrageous sporting getups that are oozing with 90's references. In turn, this makes every match easy to keep track of, as each person distinctively stands out.
The soundtrack is superb, with the original composer returning from the first game. Some of the songs are revitalised versions of previous tracks, but others are brand new and do an excellent job capturing the high stakes atmosphere. The audio cues have also made a comeback. Every move on the courtyard creates a dramatic sound effect that will help you follow the course of the battle as you anticipate the enemy's attacks.
The term dynamic warmups have sadly eluded Windjammers 2, as there is no training mode on offer besides a glorified how to play instruction menu. This was disappointing, as a core aspect of the game is grasping certain tricks and navigating incoming aggression. Additionally, there is no explanation for how different characters possess different stats, which can strongly affect which playstyle you should adopt during a match. Altogether, this adds to the previously mentioned problem of the more complex gameplay mechanics being daunting to newcomers.
The single-player campaign takes the form of an arcade mode, where you will compete in four matchups and then one finale to win a grand tournament. Depending on how you perform in each clash, you will be rewarded with points. These points can earn you credits, which is effectively your lives counter. You start the campaign with two lives, but earning more credits may be vital when playing on a higher difficulty level, as the game can be pretty punishing if you make a minor mistake.
There are bonus rounds in-between contests that don't add much to the campaign besides collecting points for those elusive credits. That's not to say they're not enjoyable, as one mini-game called Hot Dog Distance has a canine companion frantically chasing after a disc across a beachline. Regrettably, after completing the arcade mode, you don't unlock anything other than a cutscene segment showing the champion with the trophy in a comic book styled sketch, which is a shame, as this left the arcade mode feeling incredibly barren and underwhelming.
If you're looking to spar with other players, versus mode offers three types of matchups: ranked, quickplay, and lastly, playing with friends. Ranked puts you against similarly skilled competitors, where you can climb the online ladder over time. Quickplay immediately puts you into the disc smacking action with whoever else is looking for a skirmish. While exploring the online facilities, I barely encountered any lag or framerate issues, which is crucial in a game that relies upon fast input demands. Furthermore, the crossplay functionality between Xbox and PC led to me always finding a match rather swiftly, which is another big plus. Without a doubt, this is where the game truly shines, as it's just flat out fun to play with others and try and outwit your competitors.
Fans of the original should feel right at home in this revamped sporting battleground, as it borrows and mixes several beats from the original but has enough notable differences to stand out. Newcomers discovering this disc swirling sport for the first time should be pleasantly surprised at how incredibly easy it is to pick up and play. However, the game would have benefitted from a fleshed-out training mode so newcomers would be able to grasp the more elaborate mechanics. Another downside is the arcade mode is rather lacklustre, with little incentive to persevere and replay. Thankfully, this frisbee sport is entertaining enough to play with others, whether you are a veteran or a novice to the series and is a worthwhile pickup if you're a fan of retro-sport arcade games.