The Disc Throwing Smash Hit Returns In Windjammers 2
From the early to mid-90s, arcades have seen copious amounts of success no matter the company. Capcom of course took the world by storm with Street Fighter 2, Namco and Sega were big on their Racing and Shooting titles, and SNK found a niche in the fighting game market as well. There were many other companies who were riding the wave of success while developing innovative titles at the time. One such company was Data East and one such title was 1994's Windjammers. It's deceptively easy to play yet hard to master gameplay made it a hit among those who played during the arcade era. Thanks to the many ways inquisitive players can play Windjammers nowadays, its popularity had increased, enough to warrant an interest in Windjammers 2.
The company that would be in charge of its development was DotEmu, the team behind another modern revival of a popular franchise from the 90s. Following their success with Streets of Rage 4, including the DLC expansion Revenge of Mr. X, DotEmu had their eyes on the sequel on the game that recently celebrated a quarter of a century. While most of the DotEmu staff were fans of the original Windjammers, it was the surprise success of the console ports of the original arcade title. The goal, much like Streets of Rage 4, was to offer fans of the original an entirely new experience without removing what made Windjammers the friendship-ending party game it grew out of reputation.
Despite Being A "Sports" Game, Volleyball Knowledge Need Not Apply
When it comes to arcade titles, it's tricky to define exactly what Windjammers 2 is, as it takes the best of several all at once. At first glance, the game is a flying disc/ultimate frisbee sports title, possibly the first and only of its kind. At least, it was but it would appear an ultimate frisbee sports title is in development. It's best to think of the "flying disc sport" as a neat aesthetic as Windjammers 2 is deeply rooted in fighting games as much as the original was.
All six players from the original Windjammers return with four newcomers, bumping the roster to 10 unique players. Each player has their distinct pros, cons, and personality. Characters with similar stats play differently from each other, offering strengths on different courts than others. Each player has a unique "super attack" that completely changes the way the opponent must defend against their assault.
It's All In The Timing
Each player also represents a country, further amplifying their personality as they yell out their attacks in their native tongue. That, in itself, I felt was a cool touch that the original couldn't reproduce with the technology at the time. There are many details added in Windjammers 2 that were not at all possible in the original title yet veterans of the arcade classic will feel right at home. Players picking the series up for the first time will feel overwhelmed by the seemingly random attacks from both their character and their opponents.
As someone who had played the original briefly, I always felt this way. Rallies between two players would suddenly give a player an advantage, shooting the disc at a much faster velocity than their opponents. The speed of the disc thrown is dependent on the timing of the counter as well as the disc thrown. Throw the disc too late and the disc will throw slowly, giving the player enough time to parry the shot. Throw it fast without a direction and the player can just as well shoot it back with a complicated direction of their own. Each court has side barriers that can be used to change trajectory at will, which combined with super attacks, can cause the disc to fly at blinding angles.
Windjammers 2's City Is As Vibrant As Streets Of Rage 4's
There are many courts for the players to duke it out, each with their own gimmicks or lack thereof. Courts range from average size and fair score dividers like the Beach to courts with dividers that can block a disc's trajectory abruptly like the Rooftop. Some courts are wide, some are narrow, others play by their own rules. One of the new courses in the game, the Casino, bends the rules of scoring with each score dependent on the disc thrown, naturally taking the appearance of poker chips. This means points scored can range from as low as 1 to as high as 8.
The hand-drawn art direction, sounds, and music are as amazing as DotEmu's efforts with Streets of Rage 4. The characters in the original Windjammers oozed with a personality from their intros, win and loss animations, and their portraits. In Windjammers 2, the personalities of the characters are fleshed out during gameplay thanks to the vibrant high-definition graphics. Even the court backgrounds, from the cheering audience to the background music, carry the spirit of Windjammers 2.
Unfortunately, Windjammers 2 Is Being Held Together By Duct Tape
As amazing Windjammers 2 is from a visual, gameplay, and overall fun perspective, the biggest flaw is the game itself. For single-player content, there's only an arcade mode and a versus mode to play via local multiplayer. In a competitive game such as this, there is no "Training Mode" in a traditional sense. There is a tutorial mode, but it's as useful as the old-school SNK arcade games that vaguely tell you how to play the game. While the controls are unchanged from the original release, there are more potential players than those in the Windjammers community.
Unfortunately, this leads to a predicament where those who don't know the inner workings of the title are left to fend for themselves. Fortunately, the Windjammers community is rich and helpful, with many Discord servers and offline events that feature the game as side tournaments. Without knowing any of this, the average player will be quick to deem the game as "dead in the water," but look hard enough and potential players will discover a dedicated player base to help the wayward.
Players can create a tutorial mode by adjusting the settings in the VS Computer mode to make it so that you're playing on infinite time with a high score count and a near-irresponsive CPU opponent. The problem with this approach is that it makes DotEmu's fixation on capturing the arcade magic of Windjammers prevail over a traditional "at-home" release. It wouldn't have been much work to offer a tutorial system where the players can try out certain combinations and get the basics of the game down.
Despite A Rough Launch Windjammers 2 Is Filled With Hope
I recall a similar issue with Streets of Rage 4 that the devs eventually fixed in future patches, which leads me to believe that over time they will do the same to Windjammers 2, I hope. Regardless, at the time of this writing, there were over 300 total players online with cross-platform enabled. That's not a bad number for a game such as this, but for a game that has just been released having less than a thousand active players is concerning.
Overall there's a lot of potential for Windjammers 2 to connect to an entirely new player base that co-exists with the series veterans. While work from the community is slowly making this a reality, it would be great for the developers to reach out to the same community that garnered interest, to begin with. Come what may, the dedicated will be playing Windjammers in tournaments and sessions. With the game being released on Game Pass, Windjammers 2 is a great party game that may question your friendships more than Mario Party's reputation in doing the same.
Windjammers 2 is available on PC, Xbox One, PS4, PS5, and Switch