If it doesn’t say Wham-O, it isn’t a Frisbee
Making a sequel to Data East’s 1994 arcade game, Windjammers, is a tricky proposition. It isn’t really a sequel we need. Windjammers delivered pretty well on its thesis of how everything, even an antique video game like Pong, could be improved with a heaping dose of ‘90s ‘tude. But here we have Windjammers 2, and it has a lot to prove.
Namely, it has to prove that you can stuff more cream into an already perfect eclair and not have it explode. Windjammers was known for its easy to learn, difficult to master gameplay, and piling anything on top of that risks having it buckle.
Windjammers 2 (Switch [Reviewed], PC, Xbox One, PS4, Stadia)
Released: January 20, 2020
Windjammers is the sport of trying to find how far up an opponent’s goal zone you can jam a plastic disc. It’s simple, swing that saucer past the other guy and into the other side and gain points. Accumulate more points until they’re sufficiently humiliated or time runs out, and you win.
The obvious improvements here lie in the aesthetic. The graphics are redone in a “hand-drawn” style while the music is higher in quality while retaining the unique ‘90s vibe. The roster of Frisbee flingers has been expanded to 10 from the original’s six. There are also 10 arenas in all to choose from, double what was available in the original game. Thankfully, there’s now a Junkyard court, so you can complain about how it gives your opponent an unfair advantage because they’re trash.
Those are the most immediate changes, but the more impactful ones are under the hood. Notably, the game stretches the controls from a simple two-button arcade game to four. Five if you’re feeling sassy. Added to the throw and lob buttons is jump and deflect. Jump allows you to grab the disc out of the air and smash it down to the opponent’s side of the court, whereas deflect does just that, immediately sending the projectile back at the opponent.
Technically, you could already deflect by throwing the disc the moment you caught it, so I suppose the only advantage to smacking it is that it might catch an opponent off-guard. My issue with playing Windjammers 2 was that the throw button is also the dash button, and you’re almost always dashing to intercept the saucer. Asking me to take my finger off the dash button was a tricky proposition since I felt like my momentum was best maintained with just the throw and lob.
However, it should be noted that online play wasn’t available to me and I don’t know any professional Windjammers, so I didn’t get a lot of time to hone my strategy against fickle-brained humans. Maybe those extra two buttons would make a difference in throwing off someone who isn’t fueled by math, but I spent most of my time with Windjammers 2 competing with the programming.
The fabled fifth button isn’t technically necessary. It’s the “EX” ability, and while it’s R on the Switch version, you can also press throw and lob together to trigger it. Simply, a special bar was added that gradually fills throughout the course of the match, and when it’s full you can either use it to immediately hurl a powered-up plate or send one that’s on your end of the court into the air.
Previously, you would perform these charged chucks by standing under an airborne disc for a sufficient amount of time. Out of all the additions, the EX meter is probably my favorite. I fail to see how more fire on the court could do anything but make Windjammers 2 more radical. More opportunities to speed up gameplay and instantly put on the pressure is just so satisfying. Catching a powered-up throw and reversing it back at your opponent feels so good.
The arcade mode is decent fun when you’re don’t have a plus one. It takes you through a series of matches, allowing you to choose between two different turfs up until the final round. Two bonus rounds are also inserted, but unfortunately, I have to reveal that you don’t get to trash a car. Still, the mini-game where you throw your frisbee to be fetched by a good boy entirely makes up for it.
Which is something to keep in mind: Windjammers 2 adheres very closely to its arcade roots. The rather minor but impactful changes almost make it feel like it could have been released two years after the first Windjammers. That will probably be a relief to the original game’s following, but anyone new to the series should know what to expect. It is largely a game that is designed for versus play, and while there is a single-player option, you most likely will only get your money’s worth through competition. If that doesn’t interest you, neither will Windjammers 2.
I also need to point out that Windjammers 2 has the mentality of a fighting game. While you can get by mashing buttons, the real action starts when you gain the ability to read and react better. The potential for high-level action is there, but I wasn’t able to really see or experience it.
It makes judging the new additions difficult, as I’m not sure how they will affect competitive play. From my perspective, the only major gameplay improvement is the addition of the EX gauge, everything else feels less meaningful. However, it really depends on how the community utilizes them that will define their worth. Whether or not players will prefer the simplicity of the original or the added pizzazz of Windjammers 2 is going to dictate whether it’s a success, a failure, or somewhere in the middle.
For what it’s worth, I enjoyed my time with Windjammers 2. It sucked me in for hours as I slaved over a hot arcade stick. The single-player is very challenging, but it can only hold up the overall product for so long. It’s also not as transcendental as something like Streets of Rage 4 was in its revival of an old formula. It is as it says on the box: a sequel. It might as well have come out in 1996 for all it adds.
But it’s also $20, which I think is the right price if a sequel is exactly what you’re looking for. It’s also made with a scoop of love for the original title, which comes across in its faithfulness and overall appearance. Dotemu obviously put a lot of effort into pleasing fans, but it’s going to be that particular player-base that makes the final assessment on whether or not it’s a disc worth catching. The best I can do is tell you that it’s at least worth the sand in your shoes.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]