Review – Windjammers 2
To say I was a fan of the original Windjammers would be a lie. I have never played it nor seen it in the wild, and that’s coming from someone who grew up in a city with at least two Neo Geo cabinets per block. Which is a bummer, as I love the style and gameplay from most Neo Geo sports titles. There’s something about that hardware that makes its sports games beyond charming. Nevertheless, I wanted to give Windjammers 2 a go. If anything, I wanted to check it out as it was being made by Dotemu, a company that has already cemented its spot as one of the best retro revival producers in the industry.
What better company to tackle a sequel to a 90s cult hit than the same guys behind Streets of Rage 4 and the upcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Metal Slug Tactics games? They have even been given a blessing by Paon, a company founded by former Data East (the people behind the original Windjammers) developers. In a time where we’re starving for arcade-like sports games, with most titles being complex (and expensive) simulators released at a higher price tag, Windjammers 2 is here to try to convince the public that simpler and faster-paced arcade games still have a place to shine. I honestly think they’ve managed to achieve even more than anticipated.
What even is Windjammers, you might be asking? Explaining this very unique concept for a sports game is a bit tricky, but I’ll try my best. Essentially, Windjammers is what happens when you mix Pong, frisbees, tennis, and the overall fighting game pzazz from the Neo Geo era of games. Two players compete against each other in a small tennis-like court, with the objective of scoring points by throwing a frisbee into the opponent’s goal. For the most part, throwing the disc is worth three points, unless you manage to hit the edges of the goal, which are worth five points. You are also able to score two points (or four, depending on the court rules) by throwing the disc on the ground, with the opponent unable to grab it before doing so.
This would sound uneventful if it wasn’t for the fact that you control superpowered athletes who are able to dash like lunatics on their side of the court, as well as unleash special attacks whenever you fill up a meter or manage to stay underneath a descending frisbee for a while. You can basically throw Hadouken-esque frisbees onto your foe, which can turn or even knock them over, resulting in a clear goal if they don’t defend themselves properly. If you dash towards your opponent’s disc, you can grab it without a hassle, and if you press the punch button at the precise moment, you can basically deflect a super strong attack back at them. Quick thinking is key in Windjammers 2.
I will be honest. I had a hard time at first with Windjammers 2. The game does an abysmal job at teaching you how to play it. It doesn’t give you smart hints on how to beat enemies or what’s the best way to counter each specific kind of attack. Like a good old quarter munching Neo Geo game, it wants you to play it over and over again, losing to enemies over and over again, until you finally figure things out. It will be disappointing for less patient players, that’s for certain. Those who can withstand this initially annoying learning curve, however, will be rewarded with one hell of an addictive arcade experience.
Everything in Windjammers 2 oozes that delightful Neo Geo vibe that has captivated people for the past 30 years. The cutscenes, the complete lack of loading screens, the fast-paced gameplay, even the sound design reminded me of those classic arcade titles by SNK and their partners. Once I got a hold of the game’s intricacies, I could finally enjoy the over-the-top madness that is Windjammers 2‘s gameplay loop. I ended up maining a character that prioritizes speed over strength, allowing me to more easily correct my mistakes by rushing towards the frisbee disc. The arcade mode still felt brutal, but I was finally winning a handful of matches. It didn’t take long for me to get addicted to Windjammers 2‘s loop.
Just like some of the more recent games published by Dotemu, Windjammers 2 features hand-drawn characters and animations, not unlike what we’ve previously seen in Streets of Rage 4. Let me be clear that the game is really pretty for the eyes, but its top-down perspective doesn’t do it justice. Characters just look way too small onscreen, and the courts, while colorful and visually appealing, are a bit too static. This perspective just doesn’t let the gorgeous character models shine like they did in Wonder Boy or Streets of Rage 4. At the very least, the game runs at a buttery smooth framerate at all times.
Windjammers 2 is, at its core, a Neo Geo sports title for the year 2022. Take this as the best kind of compliment possible. It’s a really challenge but stupidly addictive arcade gem that might be hard to master, but oh so rewarding once you get a hold of its mechanics. A perfect fit for a portable like the Switch, it’s fast-paced, devoid of loading screens, pleasing for the eyes, and filled to the brim with content. Will this become an eSport, a staple in the competitive gaming scene? I don’t know if such a niche premise like this will captivate a large audience, but I for one hope this becomes popular. It’s certainly way more fun to watch these over-the-top matches than a regular match of FIFA.
A great mix between hand-drawn visuals and the characteristic art style found in most Neo Geo titles. The top-down perspective doesn’t let these visuals shine as much as they should, but it’s still very pleasing to the eyes.
Confusing at first, given the game’s lack of a decent tutorial system, but once you learn all of Windjammers 2‘s intricacies, you’ll absolutely love this gameplay loop. There’s a lot of room for experimentation and strategizing.
Cheesy voice samples get on your nerves pretty quickly. The soundtrack isn’t exactly bad, aiming to emulate the sonic style from older Neo Geo games, but it’s not as memorable as the rest of the game’s presentation.
Fun Factor: 9.0
Windjammers 2 is pure arcade fun. It’s hard to master, but oh so rewarding once you learn how to play it. It’s fast-paced, creative, and addictive. Also, it’s a phenomenal fit for a portable system.
Final Verdict: 8.5
Windjammers 2 is available now on PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch, and Stadia.
Reviewed on Switch.
A copy of Windjammers 2 was provided by the publisher.