America - Front
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By Evan Norris 22nd Jan 2022 | 1,625 views
If you haven't heard of Windjammers before, no one would blame you. Even in video game circles it's a relatively niche property. Born in the arcades in 1994, and subsequently ported to Neo Geo home systems, the flashy sports game found a very loyal cult following but never managed to reach a mainstream audience. Now, roughly 25 years later, the series has a new chance to shine, courtesy of a sequel, Windjammers 2. It takes the snappy, arcade gameplay of the original, expands the roster, deepens the mechanics, and adds a few bells and whistles. Is it enough, though, to make Windjammers a household name?
Windjammers 2 plays like a combination of air hockey, tennis, and dodgeball. It's a 1v1 sports game set in a tennis court-shaped arena where two contestants, each on one side of a central net, attempt to throw a disc into the other's goal on the far end of the court. If you understand the basic tenets of Pong, you'll understand Windjammers 2, even if the latter has far more rules and commands.
Like any good arcade-inspired game, Windjammers 2 is easy to pick up and incredibly difficult to master. Here are the basics: you'll move in eight directions with the left stick, slide and shoot with B, jump with X, and perform a number of special moves — lobs, curved shots, tosses, smashes, drop shots, slap shots, and power shots — with some combination of timed Y, B, and A button presses. The fundamental moves, including sliding and shooting, are simple enough and will allow you to perform adequately on both defense and offense, but only by mastering more advanced maneuvers like power shots, charges, and reversals can you compete with the best of the best online.
Regrettably, learning all these moves is trickier than it has to be. The developers at Dotemu installed a "How to Play" section in the main menu, which technically covers all basic and advanced moves, but it doesn't provide the necessary context for each action. What Windjammers 2 desperately needs is an interactive tutorial where players can input the commands themselves or, even better, a full training mode where they can experiment with commands and tactics. As it stands now, you'll need to learn the hard way. It makes the game feel more than a little intimidating.
Fortunately, you have several different avenues to learn on the job, so to speak. From the Windjammers 2 main menu, you can select Versus, Arcade, and Online. Versus allows you to play locally against another human or the computer. Arcade is a globe-trotting single player campaign. And Online, unsurprisingly, allows you to strut your stuff in ranked matches online.
Versus mode is pretty straightforward, so let's unpack Arcade and Online. Arcade is the main single player component of Windjammers 2, and it plays similarly to an early arcade fighting game. You'll compete in a series of 1v1 matches, interspersed with short mini-games (think the car-busting bonus stage from Street Fighter II), before you face off against the reigning champ. Overall, Arcade mode is fine but a tad undercooked. It's essentially just a sequence of versus matches with a short character-specific epilogue at the end. There is definitely room here for a more robust single-player experience.
That said, it's in Online mode where Dotemu expects players to spend the majority of their time. It's the first mode listed on the main menu, after all, and clearly the most developed. From the Online sub-menu you can participate not only in ranked and quick matches, but meet up with friends in private lobbies, check your online stats, and see how you measure up in online leaderboards.
It makes sense, too. Thanks to its remarkably balanced and complex mechanics, Windjammers 2 demands to be played competitively. No character or move feels overpowered, and there's almost always a reversal or defense associated with a particular offensive strategy. Here's hoping the online community embraces the title and starts contributing to its "meta" game.
In terms of content, Windjammers 2 boasts an international roster of 10 playable characters — six returning from the original Neo Geo days and four new faces. The new folks include Jao Raposa, a speedster from Brazil, and Max Hurricane, a slow-moving but hard-hitting Canadian. To complement the 10 characters are 10 courts, each with unique dimensions and rules. Some sport bumpers within the net that cause the disc to bounce in unexpected ways. Then there's Casino, which randomizes the point values of goals after each reset.
On the graphical front, there's bad news and good news. The bad news: gone are the chunky sprites of the Neo Geo days. The good news: those sprites are replaced with some handsome hand-drawn characters and stadiums that feel modern and energized. Music is similarly energized, and a nice companion for the high-stakes action. "Court Arena" is especially good; it deserves to be played over a training montage in a 90s sports movie.
Windjammers 2 probably won't take the video game world by storm, but it's an entertaining sports action game nonetheless. It features a robust online mode and plenty of characters and stages. More importantly, it boasts exceptionally balanced and deep mechanics that will make it a darling in the competitive gaming scene. The single player and training options could use more time in the oven, certainly, but the overall product is solid. Hopefully we won't have to wait another 25 years for a new installment.