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Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita
Genre: Online Multiplayer
Publisher: DotEmu
Release Date: Aug. 29, 2017


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PS4 Review - 'Windjammers'

by Cody Medellin on Dec. 7, 2017 @ 12:00 a.m. PST

Windjammers is a fast-paced head-to-head arcade game where two players face off on a court, and throw discs at the opponent's goal zone to score points.

For many gamers, the Neo-Geo is synonymous with fighting games. Outside of the Metal Slug franchise, the system's big hits tend to be the Samurai Shodown titles and the long-standing King of Fighters series. The system is also responsible for a number of other fighting games, and many titles that appeared on the arcade console have shown up on other platforms, so it's easy for people to experience the system's titles. There's still a number of games that didn't make the jump to a home console and have garnered a cult status among Neo-Geo die-hards. One of the games that fall into this category is Windjammers, an odd sports game with some basic fighting mechanics that has surged in popularity recently. Sensing a golden opportunity, developer Data East and publisher DotEmu have decided to bring the title to the PS Vita and the PS4.

Windjammers plays like a version of one-on-one soccer with some tennis thrown in and using flying discs instead of a ball. You select one of six different characters and the court you want to play in. A line judge throws the disc to a player, and the goal is to get the disc into the opponent's net. The goals are wide but split up into zones so you can score either three or five points, depending on where the disc lands. As a player, you can toss the disc in a curve or straightforward. Hitting walls causes the disc to bounce without losing velocity, so in most matches, players ricochet the disc to get an angled shot. You'll also see players dashing around their side of the court to cover as much ground as possible. Matches are split into three sets, with the winner reaching at least 12 points in two of the three sets.

While that description covers the sport angle of the game, the fighting aspect is apparent in several different ways. The characters have different stats for speed and strength, so you'll have varying degrees of movement on the court as well as how hard the disc can be thrown. Players have special moves that can be executed via half-circle or quarter-circle motions in conjunction with a button press, and that results in things discs moving at 90-degree angles or in a circular motion. All of those moves are set up by standing to catch the disc and flipping it in the air before the move is executed, giving the player early warning that something spectacular is about to happen. The courts differ greatly in scoring zone size and the placement of things like tiny walls on the nets, which change the disc trajectory and throwing strategy.

The result is a game that can be as simple or as nuanced as you want, but it remains enjoyable throughout. Watch novices play the game, and you'll see that luck plays a big role in scoring, and you'll see dropped discs when players forget to position themselves properly. The action remains frantic even in this situation, so the matches are still fun to watch. Hand the game to pros, however, and you'll see tense matches where special moves are used frequently, and only mistakes allow for the most basic of goals. No matter what your skill level, the games are quick, so every moment counts.

For the most part, Windjammers hasn't seen any significant changes. From a presentation standpoint, the game retains the same Neo-Geo look and sound, which will please both arcade fans and Vita fans, since playing on the portable comes with no drawbacks versus playing on the PS4. Various options exist, like scanline emulation and changing between 4:3 to 16:9 screen ratio, and they look nice and don't mess with the base graphics. The art style still holds up, despite being over 20 years old, and the soundtrack fits the game without indulging in a heavy '90s vibe.

From a gameplay standpoint, the changes are minimal at best. Beyond the expected story and versus mode, you can play the two fetch and bowling minigames on their own. They're neat distractions but don't stand on their own, especially since the bowling game retains the time limit from the arcade version. There's also the option to play arcade mode with an infinite amount of credits if you find the presence of only five continues too restricting.

If you plan on playing this solo, you'll find Windjammers to be rather lacking. The game only has six characters, so the arcade ladder is very small since there aren't any boss-only players. Play on easy difficulty, and the game can still provide a challenge, but try anything tougher than that, and you'll swear it's cheating. With no bonuses such as galleries, there's isn't much for the solo player to sink their teeth into. Trophy hunters will find that a majority of the virtual trinkets are related to grinding, so the endeavor is less than enjoyable. That can be disappointing, but the game always seemed to be focused on the multiplayer aspect.

Where offline play is as raucous as expected, online play is where the interest is. The bad news is that the niche status of the game means that the online community consists of very few casual players and a host of pros. If you're coming into the game fresh, prepare to get slaughtered online. If you stick with it or are a pro, you'll find that the online performance is quite good, even with bad connections. Controls remains responsive, and while the search for a match can sometimes be longer than the match itself, the option to have a rematch immediately afterward means you can squeeze in a good amount of time with one opponent before moving on. The only drawback is that you can't customize things like match scores or times, but that's something arcade fans have had to live with for a long time.

Windjammers is a good example of how solid gameplay can remain enticing, even if only a few additions are made to the overall package. It lacks some meaningful modes for the solo player, but it makes up for it with a good enough multiplayer component for both online and offline play. The best part is that the core gameplay elements and the presentation are left virtually untouched, which is perfect since any changes would ruin the game's spirit. It remains a quirky game that local multiplayer fans need to have if they want a fighting game experience without necessarily having to learn a bunch of complicated maneuvers.

Score: 8.5/10

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