Reviewed On: Nintendo Switch
Also Available on: PlayStation 4 & Xbox One
One of the problems with the nostalgic lens is that we simply don’t have the same level of connection to something years ago that we do today. Take, for example, the slap bracelet: coveted artistic expression of the 90s, equal parts cool and pain depending on how you applied them. Fast forward to today, and the new generation seems to be entertained by them while those who lived through the fad know that they get annoying and worthless within a week or so. Still, people remember fond ideas and think they’ll translate into modern ideology with no problems.
Enter Windjammers, a Data East joint that was released on Neo Geo in a time before most readers were seriously invested in gaming. Windjammers was a novel arcade concept that apparently sat so well with Dotemu that they decided it wasn’t enough to do a modern port (which they released in 2017). No, it was time for Windjammers 2, the sequel that follows almost everything from the first game to a T and adds a bit more where necessary. Windjammers and Windjammers 2 are arcade games where frisbee suddenly becomes a competitive Pong clone and everyone just acts like that’s a normal sport to play. Let’s be totally clear: there is no storyline whatsoever, either in the first or the second. This is an arcade game through and through, giving you the option to play locally, play against the computer or play against the surprisingly available lobbies (thankfully Windjammers 2 just got released, so there’s still a bit of fanfare there). Take back and forth turns trying to hurl a discus into the opponent’s area and hope that they are too slow to catch it. The win conditions change, but the general idea is to get the most number of points first, so anyone can pick up on the concept quickly.
There is something that I love about the presentation and idea of Windjammers 2. It rides that fine line between taking itself seriously and also realizing what a spoof of a sport is being played, so you get a nice mixture of skill techniques and absurd displays. The costume and color designs are clearly early 90s inspired, giving you equal fistfuls of late 80s neon, early onset punk themes and retrofuture shapes and angles. The soundtrack perfectly encapsulates these feelings, giving you plenty of synth and bass-backed rhythms that feel at home in a sports movie where you simply need to defeat the rich kids in a montage. Even though it’s just a glorified take on air hockey, the different characters are all very dramatic in their deliveries, especially when you manage to figure out how to accomplish a super powered return throw.
Windjammers 2 also is quietly brilliant in the way they build up the game. You don’t get any sort of tutorial: you can play against the CPU without any risks involved, but there isn’t a “let’s show you the ropes” sort of setup. You have to just dive into the dirt and figure out what works and what doesn’t. The way they hurl you into the deepend is both fascinating and frustrating. On the one hand, it made early victories extremely difficult, even in the easiest settings. You see the computer moving and doing things that you can’t fathom, and you just stare at the buttons trying to guess how they did it. I spent several rounds just lobbing the disc high into the air and hoping the CPU would be too lazy to chase it down so I could get an easy point.
Then you luck into the right move. Maybe you’ve used the process of elimination or, like me, you just started button mashing whenever the disc came towards you and suddenly things changed. You didn’t catch it, you deflected the disc back at a funky angle and now it’s traveling even faster. You’ve discovered that it doesn’t have to be a violent game of catch, but now Windjammers 2 is starting to coast along with actual speed. Eventually, the CPU does a quick cutscene animation and utterly destroys you with a return volley, and you’re left wondering “How the hell did he do that?” So now you’re invested, trying to see if it’s some unseen power meter that filled up or just the right button combination like Street Fighter. Also, you couldn’t help but notice you’re only getting one point from your lofty lobs, but Gary Scott just burned in a flaming disc that got him five points. What the crap is happening? I must figure this out!
That’s when players can finally spot the difference between your average low tier sports game and something with a bit of flair to it. Windjammers 2 does have this approach to it that tries to craft a universe all its own. There’s different characters (with arguably terrible names) that have different moves, stats and successes. You have to figure out how to best play not only as your favorite main but also how to counter the incoming wonky shots from others. Windjammers 2 demands a level of investment that most arcade games simply don’t, and I can’t figure out if that works or not. On the one hand, it’s clear that this isn’t just a quick and dirty cash grab sequel: time was invested in making this game work. On the other hand, it’s still very limited in both appeal and outreach. It’s not silly enough to be played ironically, and it can get too competitive to play casually. This feels like a game where you either need to know someone who already has this OR you need to be ready to buy a second copy and gift it to a friend willing to give it a try.
I never played the original, as I never even saw a Neo Geo in person until sometime in the late 2000s. I’m sure Windjammers was a fantastic title at the time, and it brought enough to the table to be memorable nearly 20 years later. I love knowing that it made its way to EVO a few years back, and I don’t know if that’ll be enough for players to want to “get good” at Windjammers 2. There’s some excitement here, and I think the game is enjoyable and skillful enough to attract players looking for something to master. Just be warned: in order to really appreciate Windjammers 2, you may be looking at a serious time investment.
Though a bit difficult to approach, Windjammers 2 is a visual feast of an arcade game and could be a competitive powerhouse for future game events.