Windjammers 2

You’d be forgiven if you’d never heard of Windjammers. It was a Neo Geo sports title that released way back in 1994, but over the past decade, it’s become something of a cult classic. The reason people love it so much, as far as I can tell, is that it’s fast and snappy, and it feels amazing to play. It works really well as a competitive title, which has given it a slot in the EVO tournament series (which mostly focuses on fighting games).

While the original game is incredibly fun, it’s also kind of barebones. There are some deeper mechanics under the hood, but overall, it could be described as a faster, modern reimagining of Pong. But the simplicity is a huge part of the appeal, I think.

Either way, considering this title is approaching its 30th birthday, it’s probably time for an update. Enter DotEmu, a development studio that has a major focus on reviving old game titles. For instance, they’re one of the studios behind Streets of Rage 4, and they’ll be publishing the upcoming Metal Slug Tactics.

DotEmu re-released the original Windjammers back in 2017 on PS4 and PlayStation Vita, and then in 2018 on Nintendo Switch. This version stuck mostly to the original, but there were a few subtle tweaks. For instance, the game timer was extended and the character categories were renamed (from Beginner, Medium, and Expert to Light, Medium, and Heavy). More impactful, though, they added online multiplayer support, which allowed the game to be played as it was meant to be — competitively — from the comfort of your own home. Unfortunately, in 2022, those online servers seem pretty empty, so the re-release lost the online portion of its luster (the single-player Arcade Mode is still a blast, though).

On January 20, 2022, DotEmu finally released a full-fledged sequel, Windjammers 2, which I’ve been playing for the past few days.

Windjammers 2

Now, one thing I should point out before I go any further is that I played Windjammers 2 in the week leading up to launch, which means I wasn’t able to test out the online mode before publishing this article. All of my time with this game was spent in Arcade Mode. To be fair, all of my time with the original Windjammers was spent in single-player modes as well (Arcade Mode and the minigame mode), so I can still make a one-to-one comparison.

When I picked up the game for the first time, I found it to be a little bit off-putting. I had played the original recently enough (about a week before Windjammers 2‘s launch) that there was still some fresh muscle memory, and Windjammers 2 feels a little bit slower to me. It’s not that the gameplay itself feels slower; it’s that matches last longer, since the target score has been increased from 12 to 15. In the original game, I almost never see the match timer expire (the PS4 version has a 99-second timer), but with Windjammers 2‘s 90-second timer, it happens quite frequently.

And part of this is that A.I. opponents seem like they’ve gotten better at blocking and worse at scoring. This means you’ll have a lot more back-and-forth instead of the rapid-fire scoring you can achieve when you really get into a groove in the original game.

Additionally, there are a lot of new moves to wrap your head around. I think part of this was just to make the game systems feel more complex, giving players more options for trick shots and blocks for competitive play. But honestly, I don’t know that Windjammers needed a bigger moveset. Again, a huge part of the draw is the pick-up-and-play simplicity.

But any negative feelings faded pretty quickly. I ended up reading through the game’s tutorial (which is just a text- and image-based slideshow) to work out how the new mechanics function, and then I tried again. I found myself warming up to the slower pace and the new mechanics, and I was less than an hour deep before everything clicked and I started having a ton of fun with it.

Windjammers 2 - Junkyard

I should emphasize that this experience is based on the fact that I so recently played the original. Players who are new to the series might have a smoother onramp — or maybe a bumpier one? I can’t really say, because my own experience is of very recently coming off the original (to be clear, I played the PS4 port of the original, not the original Neo Geo version).

Content-wise, Windjammers 2 features almost everything from the original, with a bunch of new stuff added, though there are a couple notable exceptions. The Concrete map is nowhere to be found here, which probably isn’t a dealbreaker (Concrete was probably the worst map in the original game). An omission I did find myself lamenting, though, is the removal of the bowling minigame, which I actually really enjoyed.

But the most baffling thing left out of this stew pot is the ability to just fire up a minigame without having to play through Arcade Mode. The PS4 re-release of Windjammers does have this feature, and it’s great. Especially if, like me, you enjoy the bowling minigame, which you can just play on repeat endlessly if you’d like. In Windjammers 2, you’ll hit minigames at specific points in your Arcade Mode journey, and then the game will spend the rest of its time pretending those minigames don’t exist. And that’s a shame, because the Hot Dog Distance minigame is the only part of the game where you can play with your dog.

Windjammers 2 - Hot Dog Distance

But really, the meat of the game is Arcade Mode (and, hopefully, competitive play after launch). And Windjammers 2 really shines here. Like the original, the gameplay feels incredible. It’s still ridiculously satisfying to chuck a frisbee at the wall and watch it ricochet off of a bumper, then bounce off a wall, and then crash into the goal behind your opponent while they’re attempting to block the pre-ricochet trajectory. Corner shots are still thrilling, especially when you have a course where the corners are red.

Some context here: In Windjammers, goals are split into yellow sections and red sections. Yellow sections are worth three points, while red sections are worth five. So if you get good at corner shots, and you’re playing a map where the corners are painted red, you can rack up your 15 points pretty quickly — not as quickly as you could in the original game, mind you, but pretty quickly nonetheless.

A couple of the new courses have little gimmicks that make them feel slightly different than the older ones. For example, the Rooftop course features bumpers that actually move when you bump them with a disc, and the Casino course tallies your score based on the number that’s printed on the disc rather than which section of the goal you hit. I especially love this latter gimmick, as it makes the Casino course feel completely different than anything else in the game.

Windjammers 2 - Casino

With these new gimmicks, which alter the gameplay slightly without feeling like a departure from the spirit of the original game, I could actually see a healthy DLC roadmap in the future. If DotEmu decides to pursue this, I would love to see them experiment with fresh course gimmicks (and maybe even use DLC as an excuse to bring back the bowling minigame!)

Windjammers 2 ultimately won me over. It didn’t grab me quite as fast as the original game, but it managed to grab me all the same. The delightful core of Windjammers is still very much here, just with a few extra layers of stuff piled on top. And really, I’m pretty sure that’s the best possible thing for Windjammers 2 to be. After all, the Windjammers disc is a wheel that needed no reinvention.

I was given an early review code for Windjammers 2 on Nintendo Switch, but the opinions expressed here are my own.

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