Ask a gamer to think of a name that springs to mind when you say the words Neo Geo and chances are what you’ll get back are some of the expected heavyweights like King of Fighters, Samurai Shodown or Metal Slug. Not this guy. I don’t need lunging kicks, swinging blades or explosions from my Neo Geo titles. No, what I crave is something far more exciting. Far more chaotic. Throwing frisbees.
The original Windjammers is somewhat of a cult classic, releasing on the Neo Geo back in 1994 and unexpectedly soaring in popularity many years later with the game even being played at esports events. The game would see a port to all modern consoles and a sequel announcement would then soon follow. The first game was a perfect example of the frequently uttered ‘easy to pick up, tough to master’ label and the sequel makes sure to retain that same vibe that made the original such a competitive treat.
Think of Windjammers 2 as essentially an adrenalin-fuelled game of Pong. Instead of two white lines bouncing a dot around the screen however, you have two muscular-looking athletes hurling around a flying disc at breakneck speeds, flaming trails being left behind. Just like Pong the action takes place within a contained arena, the disc free to bounce off the surrounding walls and points scored for slotting it past your opponent. It’s a premise as old as video games themselves but Windjammers 2 takes that idea and turns it into a true arcade delight. A competitive experience in its purest and most exhilarating form.
Taking on a top-down view, each player can move and dive about their side of the court catching the disc to return to sender and varying everything from direction, curve, speed and throw type. Controls feel tight with characters varying in their movement speed and throwing power – the faster you are, the weaker your throws will be for example – as well as special reality-defying power moves that send the disc grinding along the wall, bouncing wildly from side to side or even moving at 90-degree angles.
Windjammers 2 introduces a number of new tricks to its arsenal though, adding further layers of strategy without complicating and bogging the action down. Players can now leap in the air in order to catch and spike the disc (not too dissimilar from volleyball) as well as perform drop shots, slap shots (that return the disc immediately without a catch) and a new EX power move that charges up over time. Even as a returning player to the series, it did take a little while juggling all the options I had at my disposal however as I continued to play, I would find myself experimenting more with the newer move-set and therefore adding more variation to my playstyle.
It’s not only the characters who play differently with the ten available courts all having their own gimmicks and tweaks. This can include subtle changes like swapping the three and five-point regions in the goals as well as more in-your-face wrinkles like having bumpers in the middle of the court. The new casino court proves a favourite, the floor a dazzling light show with the disc switched out with a gambling chip and points random each rally.
Windjammers 2 keeps things short and sweet when it comes to its mode line-up very much in-keeping with its arcade feel. Players are able to hone their skills against the CPU or others locally and online in exhibition matches. Arcade mode meanwhile is your typical arcade affair where you’ll compete in a series of matches against the game’s cast of characters. While the mode offers little in the way of surprises, the presentation is much improved over the original with a slick-looking map acting as your gateway to each arena and match. That’s pretty much it for Windjammers 2, not so much as an unlockable in sight where even menial extras like colour swaps or different discs to unlock would have added a nice sense of progression. And sure, it would have been neat to see some new modes beyond the expected but between the mix of characters and courts, players will have plenty of variation in match type.
Much like Streets of Rage 4, Windjammers 2 moves away from the pixelated look of its predecessor and instead opts for a more hand-drawn art style that exudes personality. Similarly, the music impresses with a great combination of remixed tracks and new bangers. Overall, DotEmu has done a fantastic job giving the series a modern, fresh look and feel without losing its original cheesy vibe.
The wait for Windjammers 2 has been long but the end result is one that proves the years of patience have been well worth it. With slick and stylish visuals, a head-thrashing soundtrack and edge of your seat moment-to-moment action, Windjammers 2 takes the original Neo Geo hit and brings it up to date in a loud and memorable fashion. As far as arcade experiences go, Windjammers 2 ranks among the most attention-grabbing, competitive and outright fun kicking 2022 off in high gear.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by DotEmu