Cotton Fantasy – Game Review

The Cotton series is nothing if not a survivor. first appearing in 1991, Cotton introduced the horizontal shooter genre to a cute little witch with a cuter, littler fairy sidekick, and it never wavered from that. The 1990s brought sequels and ports, followed by almost two decades of dormancy after the ill-received Rainbow Cotton. Yet Success has never entirely forgotten the games, and the past year saw a remake of the first game plus dubious reissues of Cotton 2, Cotton Boomerangand Panorama Cotton. Yet for those seeking an all-new game that shows us just what made the series endure, there’s Cotton Fantasy: Superlative Night Dreams.

The realm known as Fairyland faces dire circumstances, due in part to a sudden and inexplicable shortage of magical Willow Candy. Desperate to help, the diminutive fairy Silk learns of a legend that foretells the emergence of a savior clad in blue. This could only refer to Princess Nausi…er, the blue-robed witch Cotton. Silk seeks her out with caution, since Cotton has a manic, abusive, all-consuming hunger for willow candies. Yet she’s the best hope for Fairyland, so off she sets with Silk in tow. It’s a simple story, and it’s the only one in Cotton Fantasy: no matter which character you pick, you’ll follow Cotton and Silk in the cutscenes.

That shouldn’t detract from the game’s greatest strength, which is its varied lineup of characters. Cotton has the usual series approach of straightforward shooter attacks, with colored gems bestowing three different forms of magic. These stones can be shot to change their element, and Cotton can carry three of them, unleashing a fierce spell by sacrificing one jewel. Appli, Cotton’s rival, has similar powers but gains the ability to grab and toss enemies just as she did in Cotton 2.

If Cotton and Appli are the basic shooter characters, Success went well beyond that with the rest of the cast. Kawase from the Umihara Kawase series has her trademark grappling line and enemy-throwing powers similar to Appli’s. Luffee from the somewhat obscure RPG Doki Doki Poyatchio has a chargeable laser attack. Fine draws her inspiration from the shooter Sanveine And thus has charging projectiles, a short energy sword, and a novel approach to taking damage: instead of losing a life, she loses time, and she must refill her counter by collecting crystals. The most interesting of the initial set is Ria, an anime-girl version of the ship from Psyvariar. She adopts the game’s “buzzing” mechanic that rewards her for getting as close to projectiles as possible.

Cotton Fantasy provides plenty of space to try out these characters. The initial few stages explore a familiar progression of fantasy backdrops and monstrous foes, but after that you’ll find a selection of levels to explore in optional order. One has an enormous airship swooping in and out of the scenery while our heroines dismantle its forces. Another dives into an Egyptian tomb (a welcome sight ever since Lifeforce for the NES) where blocks and traps are as much a hazard as dragons and ghosts. And then there’s the climactic ascent to an attack cruiser in outer space, complete with a Gundam-like armor upgrade for a broomstick-riding witch.

As a 2-D shooter, Cotton Fantasy It takes it relatively easy at first, but as the levels grow more interesting, so do the patterns of enemy attack and the furious storms of bullets that come your way. Stage-ending bosses dive around the screen, change their forms, and even retreat if you can’t destroy them fast enough. It encourages players to master their chosen character, using their powers to dodge bullets and reduce enemies to harmless bonus trinkets as effectively as possible.

Too bad that Cotton Fantasy doesn’t make any of this remotely difficult. Continues are unlimited and forgiving, returning players to the action with only their scores reset as a penalty. This is unfortunately a routine in today’s shooters, and it forces an unsatisfying choice: either practice relentlessly and try to finish the game on one credit, or just carry on through it with no real consequences, brute-forcing your way past a boss or obstacle. A continue system that kicked players back to the beginning of a stage or perhaps the halfway point would be better, but Cotton Fantasy prefers an all-or-nothing approach that’ll satisfy only those hardcore players accustomed to inventing their own challenges.

Even so, there’s enough in the game’s cleverly arrayed enemy projectiles and level layouts to make return trips rewarding even without a genuine challenge. The various characters all bring new opportunities to experiment and see which stages are easier (and which are harder) depending on your chosen heroine. The grab-and-throw mechanics of Appli and Kawase make for satisfyingly unorthodox play, but Rin might be the most fun character; by grazing enemy fire she’s given occasional brief invincibility and boosted shots, turning the common shooter endeavor of bullet-dodging into a unique balancing act.

Cotton Fantasy also has the colorful anime look of its predecessor firmly in effect. Stages are cheerful and bright (somehow even when they’re set at night), and they vary in their approaches to scrolling and enemy patterns, with only the occasional confusion over where exactly your character is. A few rail-shooter levels, featuring the heroines flying in 3-D skies like Star Fox or Space Harrier, show up full of bonus tea to collect. It’s a little disappointing that they’re just enemy-free interludes instead of full shooter levels, but perhaps Success was afraid of reminding longtime fans of the series-crippling Rainbow Cotton instead of the well-received Panorama Cotton.

Levels bring up plenty of chatter from the characters, though again the only story sequences belong to Cotton and Silk. Their tale is fluffy and familiar material, though it’s amusing to see Cotton’s fondness for Willow treats devolve to a level of addiction that wouldn’t be out of place in Trainspotting or Requiem for a Dream.

A single playthrough of Cotton Fantasy It doesn’t take long, but there’s a lot to unlock, from extra stages to a playable version of the game’s villain. The fun lies not so much in barreling through the levels as much as it does in returning to them with different characters. It’s not perfect in its balance, as some characters make it easier to take damage or harder to tell what’s an enemy and what isn’t, but it’s worth exploring.

Cotton Fantasy is an excellent revival: it recaptures every strength of the previous games while borrowing new ideas from as many other titles as Success could afford. All it lacks is a reasonable continue system, but that becomes less of a problem once you see the game not so much as test of endurance or skills as it is a playground, a vacation worth taking again and again with new friends along for the ride . That’s a rarer thing to find in a shooting game, and it makes Cotton Fantasy an enjoyable standout in any field.

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