This week I combine both a retrospective and a review as today’s topic has recently seen a re-release to virtual shelves after 22 long years. Windjammers first hit the scene in arcades way back in 1994 before making a sojourn to the home on cult-favourite console the Neo Geo. Being someone who had never played the game back in its heyday, I decided to put a birthday PSN voucher to good use and picked it up off the PlayStation Store.
Though the game was originally developed by Data East and published by SNK, French company DotEmu have handled the port to the PS4 and Vita, and they have done a solid job with it. The game looks true to its arcade roots, and DotEmu have added online multiplayer along with the already included local multiplayer.
Windjammers is one of those games that is somewhat difficult to explain. The best description I could think of would be air hockey crossed with Street Fighter. Like air hockey, there is a puck/disc that needs to be thrown past your opponent into a goal to chalk up enough points to win the game. However, both players also have special power moves that they can unleash upon their hapless foes at a moment’s notice, most of which can be so powerful that the force of them can propel both disc and player into the back of the unforgiving net!
The gameplay is both simple and challenging, especially against the CPU on the hardest difficulty. Each of the six selectable characters can dash across the screen at a touch of the “X” button, which helps with catching especially speedy throws from the opposing player, but as a rally progresses, you are given less and less room for error as the disc reaches near impossible speeds. The throwing player is unable to move once they catch the disc, so releasing it quickly, speedily and accurately is a must if you hope to attain victory.
All six of the characters have different attributes, which gives the game a slight tactical aspect as well. For instance, big German Klaus is far more powerful than the more slender Japanese entrant Hiromi. However, Hiromi’s lack of strength is offset by having increased agility and speed, which means she can overcome the muscular man from Deutschland by using wits and accuracy. But if Klaus can unleash his desired gameplan, he can power straight through the dainty gal from Nippon before she has a chance to get her bearings.
Having characters with different skills and unique special moves encourages the player to try everyone out until they find one they are comfortable with. Despite this, the single-player experience is rather thin, and you will soon see everything the game has to offer. This isn’t really something DotEmu could do much about and is a regular pitfall that comes with porting games from the arcade to the home. Ultimately, arcade games are created to consume coins as opposed to producing long-term mileage. Even if someone manages to get everything “arcade perfect” when moving a game to a domestic setting, the overriding reality is that the arcade and home experiences are intrinsically different from one another.
DotEmu have tried to counteract this by introducing the previously mentioned online multiplayer. However, I must be honest and state that, despite multiple attempts, I have never been able to find a match online. Sadly, whenever I’ve been on, I appeared to have been the only person traipsing around on the servers. I’ve tried logging in at different times to try and find a match, and still had no joy. This is perhaps to be expected considering that Windjammers was a niche game with a cult following even back in its heyday. It’s disappointing as I would have loved to have played some matches against online opponents so I could give you an idea of how smoothly the game ran.
Despite that area of disappointment, I have really enjoyed my time with Windjammers. The beach setting is bright and colourful, the six playable characters ooze charisma and the gameplay works an absolute treat. The six different courts all have their own unique quirks, which means you have to assess each one differently.
You’re also given the option to mess around with the sliders and match-winning criteria in local multiplayer, which gives the game a fresh breath of life if you happen to have some friends round. Each match is normally played over three sets, with 12 points being the winning margin. However, in local multiplayer you can bump it all the way up to 25, which leads to some crazy battles. Having played a bit of the local multiplayer, I can confidently say this is a great game to play with your mates should you get the chance. It’s high tempo, exciting and isn’t overly time consuming.
Developer: Data East
Platforms: PS4, PS Vita
Release Date: 1st September 2017