Review – Panorama Cotton (PS4)

Even though the Cotton series is mostly known for being completely bonkers and fast-paced side-scrolling shooters, there is one game in the franchise that dared to do something completely different. Created in order to showcase that the Sega Mega Drive (or “Genesis” for the heathens) was able to render pseudo 3D and scale-and-rotation without the need of fancy chips, Panorama Cotton was more akin to Space Harrier and After Burner, featuring frame-by-frame scaled sprites in order to give players a sensation akin to a third-person 3D shooter.

Sadly, that game, as well as the vast majority of the Cotton games, wasn’t released in the West. You know, the one place where the Mega Drive was actually selling well, unlike Japan, the one place where it’s easier to find WonderSwans than Mega Drives. It took the Western civilization a whopping twenty-seven years in order to finally appreciate Panorama Cotton in an official manner, with the brand new re-release of the game on PS4 and Switch, courtesy of ININ Games.

Panorama Cotton Flying

“Welcome to the fantasy zone!” Wait, wrong game.

This PlayStation 4 version of Panorama Cotton is not a remaster. You know all of those emulated retro collections released by M2 and Digital Eclipse out in the wild? This is more or less the same thing, but if that collection only featured one game. This means that, sure, the game features some quality of life improvements you’d expect from one of these emulated collections, such as increased lives, easier control settings, and a rewind feature, but for all intents and purposes, it’s the same game from 1994. It lives and dies by how fun and appealing it was back in the day, and how these attributes have managed to stand the test of time.

The main appeal of Panorama Cotton is its pseudo-3D visuals. It is really similar to Space Harrier, in the sense that it features the same camera system and complete lack of an aiming reticule. That would usually result in a disaster, as seen in how annoying it is to play the original Star Fox in this day and age, but somehow, the controls and overall gameplay do work pretty well. The game does not run at the same blistering framerate and pace as Space Harrier, meaning there’s more time for you to see what’s coming in front of you, and plan accordingly. The controls are simple, but very responsive, featuring the same leveling up and magic system found in other Cotton games.

Panorama Cotton Graphics

Who needs LSD?

Panorama Cotton looks a bit stretched on a big screen, but the visuals do hold up for the most part. The game looks quite busy at times, with tons of enemies and particles onscreen, which do result in occasional framerate issues, but the art style is so charming that you might overlook these issues. There’s not a lot that a re-release like this can do about the sound design, though. It’s not bad, but this is a Mega Drive game. That sound chip was limited. There was just so much that chip could pull off back then, and it shows. It’s fine for what it’s capable of, but more dated than a keyboard necktie. With that being said, this game does feature an unusual amount of voice samples for the time and console.

Panorama Cotton Death Animation

Panorama Cotton might have the most hilarious death animation in gaming history.

Given how this is not a remaster, the fact I had quite a lot of fun with Panorama Cotton proves that, despite its many flaws, it’s more than just a technical showcase for a system released thirty years ago. It’s a well-developed shooter that managed to stand the test of time in terms of visuals and controls, even though it was clearly made as a novel technical proof of concept. It’s not expensive, it features a handful of quality of life improvements commonly found in other retro re-releases, and even some trophies to top things off. Cotton, as a whole, is a criminally underrated franchise, and I’m delighted that Panorama Cotton is now easily and widely available to all.


Graphics: 7.5

For a Mega Drive game, Panorama Cotton punches above its weight. For a PS4 emulation, it could have received a few improvements on the framerate department, as the game itself does not look bad at all when stretched to a big screen.

Gameplay: 8.0

One would assume that the pseudo 3D visuals and lack of an aiming reticule would make Panorama Cotton impossible to play. Thankfully (and oddly) enough, that’s not the case. It takes you a minute or two to get used to the perspective, but once that is over, it’s second nature.

Sound: 6.0

When you’re tied to the Mega Drive’s archaic sound chip, there’s just so much you can expect from a game’s soundtrack. Surprisingly enough, there are some crisp voice samples included in the game.

Fun Factor: 8.0

Panorama Cotton isn’t just “fun for retro enthusiasts”. Despite it being more of a technical showcase than a fast-paced arcade game, it’s still tons of fun, and actually pretty forgiving for a retro shooter. This brand new version also adds a few quality of life improvements, such as a rewind and a challenge mode.

Final Verdict: 7.5

Panorama Cotton is available now on PS4 and Switch. The original version is also available on Mega Drive, exclusive to Japan.

Reviewed on PS4.

A copy of Panorama Cotton was provided by the publisher.