Saturday, July 2, 2022

Windjammers 2 Review: Arcade action made simple and engaging

We are in a kind of “love letter” media period right now. Some old things come back with new things, like The Matrix Resurrections, and some old things just come back for fun and remind fans of yesteryear what they loved about the original in the first place, like Scream.

Windjammers 2 clearly falls into the latter category. After successfully reviving Streets Of Rage for another fight in 2020, developer Dotemu is going back to the same old tricks and bringing Windjammers from 1994 (before I was even born) with a fresh coat of paint and some brand new Ultimate Frisbee-style Action in this sequel.

Resurrecting Dotemu is really simple on the surface: two people tossing a frisbee back and forth with enough energy to smack each other’s shit, with the aim of throwing the frisbee past their opponent and into a “goal” area bring. The point is to place the frisbee where your opponent can’t reach it, bounce the flying disc off walls and even obstacles in the middle of the court to send them out of reach and bag goal points.

This is ultimate frisbee, but if the frisbee could defy the laws of physics. When you catch your opponent’s frisbee, you have a few precious seconds to decide how to honk it: you can bend the frisbee around your opponent, quickly bounce it off the edges of the court, or throw it like a smash into the Air Throw Volleyball. Just tossing that thing around is Windjammers 2 at its most basic; Bend and spin the frisbee around your opponent and open it up for fast-paced play with moving parts.

Windjammers 2 becomes an electrifying test of your reflexes during the defense phase. Dotemu has slightly expanded the Slide ability over the original to cover more ground, allowing you to slide across the court on your knees to quickly intercept Frisbees that flash and bounce to your half of the court, which is usually just outside yours reach. Here, no Frisbee is ever out of your reach – it’s up to your reflexes to see if you can accurately predict its tortuous path to your side of the court at high speeds.

A screenshot of the character selection screen in Windjammers 2

The response times surprised me at first. “This is a Frisbee game,” I thought stupidly. “Why does it need the reaction times of a CS:GO player?” That initial thought only felt more ignorant the further I delved into Windjammers’ legacy when I came across EVO tournaments where reaction times rivaled those of the experts competed by Mortal Kombat and Guilty Gear. Windjammers is superficially a Frisbee game, but peeling off layers reveals new aspects of its razor-sharp gameplay – things like merging lob shots with charged shots for new special attacks.

However, it’s the super moves that make Windjammers 2 the fastest. Each character has a special charged throw that they can unleash at any time in a game – all they have to do is charge up by tossing the frisbee in the air at themselves. For example, in Raposa’s Super Move, the Frisbee shoots down one court barrier before teleporting to the other, while Max charges it with ethereal firepower before hurling it back at his opponent. Learning each character’s special move is one hell of a quest to memorize even more precisely where the Frisbee will go and when, but it’s a surprisingly fun extra layer to master once you get the hang of the basics.

Windjammers 2 has a surprising depth to its character roster. Every Frisbee player is measured by two attributes: speed and power. Some may lean heavily on the former, like Raposa dashing across the court, or you might find yourself staring at Wessel’s flaming biceps with supreme strength. While you generally need better reaction times as a mild-mannered character to go up against the dominant force of someone like Wessel or Max, no character matchup feels broken as the playing field still allows everyone to stay at a competitive level.

Two players in Windjammers 2 hurl flaming frisbees at each other across a small square

Neo Geo’s classic windjammers had a pixelated art style that made everyone look a little greasy and exhausted, like they’d just crawled out of a late-night bend. Windjammers 2 has received a major update that smoothes out the rough edges of the original for something fresh and vibrant. Then again, if Windjammers 2 is a throwback to the era the original was developed in, it absolutely nailed that aesthetic. Set in 2022, Windjammers 2 looks and feels like it’s set in 1990’s LA, like everyone is dancing around in the background of Point Break and every street corner is being rammed with Scream-era Matthew Lillard characters.

Windjammers 2 is a blast. I didn’t really know what to expect from Dotemu’s revival. I assumed it would appeal to a very specific audience that I didn’t belong to, and I wasn’t entirely wrong: it doesn’t even give you a tutorial before you plunge headfirst into chaos. However, once you get the basics down, whether you’re a newbie or someone immersed in the history of the Neo Geo classic, this is arcade action in a simple and addicting form that lures you in with a surprisingly low barrier to entry. a dazzling art style and an eclectic mix of characters to master.

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