WINDJAMMERS (Data East/DotEmu) on PS4/Vita
When I was just entering into my teenage years, the Neo Geo had already attained mythical status in lunchrooms across America. Its graphical and audio capabilities far exceeded those of its console contemporaries. It was pure power and boasted a library of some of the greatest fighters and side-scrollers of the day. The console itself carried a hefty price tag of nearly $700, and games were well over $100 a pop. No one in my circle of friends could afford it, but everyone knew someone who claimed to know a kid at another school who possessed this monstrous gaming machine. The rest of us just hoped to find a Neo Geo MVS in a nearby pizza parlor or arcade. Even if we were fortunate enough to come across this arcade cabinet, it was a rarity that one of the six playable games would be Windjammers.
For a system known best for its quirky collection of fighting games, Windjammers was always going to be an oddity. It’s basically Pong wearing a very 90s skin. Players choose one of six competitors from the US, Japan, Italy, Spain, Germany, and the UK. The five men and one woman representing their home nations are all bulging with muscles, decked out in bright colors, and brimming with 90s attitude. They throw a disc back and forth in an attempt to get past their opponent into either three or five point scoring zones. The first to reach 12 or more points wins the set, and winning two sets defeats one’s opponent. Get past all six rivals (including a clone of the chosen character) to win the game. It’s a very simple core concept that offers a surprising amount of depth and replayablity.
The true beauty of Windjammers lies in its simplicity. Players can move in eight directions using the D-pad or thumbstick. One button both dives for the disc and throws it. Another button lobs the disc high in the air to keep opponents on their toes. Throws can be modified with spin or backspin by using fighting game-like circular movements on the thumbstick. Hit the throw button just as the disc is caught for a super speed throw. Catch the disc at just the right time after it gets knocked up into the air for a special throw unique to each character. That’s pretty much it. Easy to learn. Difficult to master.
DotEmu has done a laudable job of bringing this lost Data East classic to a new generation of gamers. The sights and sounds of competitive disc throwing all scream neon 90s. There are new game modes including taking on endless opponents, honing one’s skills in two minigames (throwing a disc to a dog across a beach laden with sunbathers, or actual bowling with discs), and both ranked and unranked online versus modes. Perhaps most importantly, the controls are spot on. Every movement feels precise and responsive. The music is upbeat, and the characters’ voice clips drip with nostalgia. Competitive couch play is an absolute blast and definitely embodies that desire for “just one more game.” Windjammers is clearly a game that represents the zeitgeist of its time. Simple, straightforward controls are perfectly balanced with heart-stopping moments of drama and overall fun. I dare anyone to play Windjammers without a smile on their face. It’s an excellent reminder of just how much fun can be had playing a game archetype as old as video games themselves. (Data East/DotEmu) by Kris Poland