Welcome back to the world of Cotton, a game series focusing on the shenanigans of a pint size, sweet-crazed witch who will destroy anything in her path to get her hands on said eponymous sweets, known as Willow.
The Cotton series – which began in 1991 and was never released or officially translated for the West – is a sub-genre of the schmup genre, known as a “cute-em-up”. The game mechanics are the same as its more renowned sibling, but the cute-em-up genre distinguishes itself by having cute characters and enemies for you to blast into oblivion. The stories themselves are also usually wacky and nonsensical as the games are really just about having fun while aiming for high scores.
Back in July, Cotton Reboot! was released. A remake of the original Cotton game – you can check out our review here – which paved the way for the following two games in the Cotton series to be released in the West, specifically Cotton 100% and Cotton Panorama.
To be clear, both of these games are standalone releases but for this review, we’ll be taking a look at both of them with a final score that speaks for each release.
Cotton 100% is the follow up to Cotton: Fantastic Night Dreams – or Cotton Reboot! if you’ve picked that up already. Mechanically and stylistically, the game is similar to its predecessor. Once again, as Cotton, you’re on your way to find yourself a Willow treat and defeat evil along the way. A side-scrolling schmup, Cotton 100% does make some changes to the game’s systems that help it stand out somewhat from the first game.
That said, the game reuses many sprites from the first game, including background elements, which make it feel like more of a redux of the first game, a remake in its own right. The magic system has been changed up as well. At the start of the game, you’ll choose your magic load out, giving you three spells to use that you can swop between. Your attacks have also been separated as well. Now there’s a bomb button for your bombs rather than one attack button for both your bomb and projectiles. The experience system that powers up your attacks is still in play, along with magic crystals that enemies drop. This time though, they only grant experience when picked up. Some enemies will drop power-ups but the ones you really want are the enemies that have a fairy circling them. Killing these guys convinces the fairy to join you and helps to further empower your projectile attacks.
One hit kills are still the order of the day with each death weakening your attacks, costing you a fairy, and dropping the amount of experience you have accumulated. As a schmup, Cotton 100% is on the easy side, even on normal. The last couple of levels do introduce a degree of cheapness, especially with that final boss, but it’s hardly unmanageable. The harder difficulty settings simply turn the enemies into massive bullet sponges.
This re-release for the game doesn’t come with much in the way of bells and whistles. There are two game modes, Standard and Challenge. Standard is the original game updated with some of today’s amenities, which include save states, cheats, and a rewind feature. Challenge mode is the original version of the game without the aforementioned features thus really making them the same version if you don’t use those features. There’s a CRT filter overlay that you can tweak and finally, you can change the game’s screen ratio.
Visually, Cotton 100% is still a pretty looking pixel adventure. It may not be very challenging unless you’re rolling on the harder settings, but it is a fun time to blast your way through. Sadly, the game still hasn’t been translated meaning that if you want to know what’s going on in those wacky cut scenes, you’re going to have to wiki it.
Panorama Cotton, the third game in the series, is actually the most intriguing of the releases. It ditches the side-scrolling 2D gameplay for a pseudo on-rails shooter in the vein of Sega’s classic Space Harrier. Gone too is the traditional fantasy game designs in favour of a more visually trippy experience. It may ape Space Harrier far too much in terms of how forward momentum works and the enemy movement, but the developers have tried to break up the pace and sense of movement by throwing in “side-scrolling” sections as well where Cotton flits back and forth across the screen as the camera pans to left or right into a new area.
Some of Cottons traditional mechanics make it into this game as well. You can still use magic and the experience bar still exists to level you up. Enemies still drop crystals as well, but the drop rate seemed lower than in previous Cotton games. Your lives now act as a health bar, with each hit taking away a point from it. You can refill your health bar with rare drops from enemies or on reaching certain scores (which grant you extra points/lives). Cotton also has a speed setting now as well with three gears to choose from. Travelling at higher speeds through environments ups the difficulty considerably. Enemies may not be tougher, but the increased speed coupled with the number of obstacles you can crash into (or enemies) makes up for that.
One of the few issues I did have with Cotton Panorama actually had to do with it running at a faster speed. Obstacles, especially of the moving variety, don’t move smoothly towards you so much as they skip animation frames and smash you in your little mage face. Of course, this is a limitation on the technology powering the game and the hardware it was running on at the time of its original release, but it’s frequently responsible for chipping away at your lives.
Of the two games, Cotton Panorama is the much longer title with more replay value. Levels run on longer than in the two previous games but, like Space Harrier, the desire to memorise enemy patterns to hit higher scores is incredibly addictive.
Like Cotton 100%, Cotton Panorama is a similarly bare-bones release. The story text hasn’t been translated, so it’s back to a wiki to figure out what’s going. There’s the modern enhanced version of the game with save states, cheats, a rewind function, and the ability to turn off cooling on your projectile attacks. In the original release, which is here sans any of these upgrades, your shots would essentially overheat and your rate of fire would drop. Both versions of the game have a normal mode and score attack mode. Finally there’s the CRT filter overlay and the ability to change the screen ratio.
Any time you’re looking at retro re-releases, you have to go in knowing exactly what you’re getting. Unless the games have been radically overhauled, they’re a sign of the times in which they were made. One thing, however, will always remain true and that is that good gameplay will almost always stand the test of time.
As bare-bones as these re-releases may be, both Cotton 100% and Cotton Panorama stand up quite well today in the gameplay department, though Cotton Panorama is the more addictive of the two. They may not push today’s hardware at all, but their significance towards the creation of the cute-em-up genre shouldn’t be overlooked. Most important of all though is that they’re just fun to play for however long the campaigns may vex you.
A review code for Cotton 100% and Cotton Panorama was provided to Gameblur by the Publisher
Cotton 100% And Cotton Panorama (Nintendo Switch) ReviewCotton 100% And Cotton Panorama (Nintendo Switch) Review
Gameplay8/10 Very Good
- Both titles are still fun to play
- The 2D art of Cotton 100% still stands up well
- The in-game story text hasn’t been translated
- More could have been done with these releases