Ever heard of the Cotton franchise? Or its main character, Nada de Cotton?
Didn't think so.
Mostly known as a Japanese IP, it's unlikely you'll have played them unless you hunted them down on some ROM site or were willing to pay for pricey imports. Now though, you don't have to do that.
Officially available in the west, most for the first time, the adventures of the cutesy candy-loving witch can now be played on modern consoles. The first 3 titles have been ported over, with some minor upgrades, to both Switch and PS4. In fact, if you're really interested, you can even read what our boy Rich (@sric360) thought of the first Cotton title by clicking the link below.
Cotton! Reboot Review - Player2Reviews
ININ Games’ new release Cotton! Reboot has quite the long history behind it, but you can be forgiven if you haven’t heard of it before, as one of the only entries to make it to America was on Turbografx.
However, that's not the game you came to hear about today, and what we'll be taking a look at the third entry in the series instead.
Originally released on the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis, and hailing from the long-ago days of 1994, this title stood out as it differed greatly from its predecessors. You see both the previous Cotton games were horizontal scrolling SHMUPs, but with Panorama it was decided they'd go in a different direction. It takes the form of a pseudo-3D shooter, where the action scrolls "into" the screen instead of across it. It's a less commonly seen type of shoot 'em up but if you think of Space Harrier or StarFox, you'll get the idea of what form it takes.
You control the titular Cotton, a cute little witch who loves candy, as she rides her broomstick along a fixed track that'll weave left and right, up and down, and even curves horizontally too. You constantly be flying forward through the stage, but can switch between 3 different speeds at will, and have to move around the screen while avoiding obstacles and using your magic wand to blast at a whole host of crazy enemy types.
As these beasties are destroyed you will earn points towards a high score, and also slowly fill your experience bar a little too. Fill this bar completely and Cotton will level up, doing a little more damage with her wand blasts from then on.
There's a complication though
Taking any damage costs you not only a little chunk of your health bar but robs you of some experience too, causing you to level you down if you're not careful.
There's also a secret weapon at your disposal. Our girl Cotton IS a witch after all and has access to some powerful magic spells to aid her during hard times. Using a fire spell for instance will fill the screen with enemy-seeking fireballs, clearing it of all opponents while also highly damaging any bosses. More spells are collected by destroying enemies and looking out for the ones that randomly drop collectible crystals. Shooting these will change their color, with each color representing a different spell. Once you've decided on a color, collecting the crystal will add it to your arsenal for later use. You can hold quite a few of them too but can't actually select the one you want to use next. Instead, they are cast in the order you collected them and you also can't cast more than one at a time. Canceling a spell once it's cast isn't possible either, and some have long animations, so using them carefully is essential. Luckily, or unlucky depending on your view, they all seem to function more or less the same, as smart bombs, with only the animations and timing differing.
And speaking of animation brings us to the game's graphics and this is where things begin to break down.
Now I'm going to be completely frank here.
I didn't like Panorama Cotton.
And one of the major reasons was because of its graphics and animation. Now I'm sure that back in 94, in the heady days of the Sega Mega Drive, this was probably a bit of a technical marvel. Its bright cutesy psychedelic anime style would have been rather unique at the time. Now though, to modern gamers, it just looks cluttered and busy and rather messy. Cotton seems to be flying through a collection of completely unrelated assets, many of which don't make any sense either, while fighting a random collection of wacky enemies.
And they seem to just appear from nowhere.
Maybe it was just me (although I actually don't think so) but I found the draw distance infuriating here. Enemies and objects seemed to pop in from extremely close and half the time I wouldn't even try to guess what they were supposed to be. Even worse though, when they'd fire off a bullet it would be hidden by the mess of bright colors on the screen, making it almost impossible to see. Or even worse, the big anime head of Cotton would obscure the action itself. Many times it was my character that caused frustration when her sprite was responsible for blocking my view of the oncoming fire from the enemies.
And this was when I was playing on a 65 inch TV, I'll let you imagine yourself what it was like in the Switch's handheld mode.
Weaving between obstacles could be tricky too, even at slow speeds, as they suddenly appear in your vision giving you little time to react. There were even occasions when I found myself taking damage and having absolutely no idea why. Cotton suddenly makes this annoying little yelp and loses health, even though there was nothing else on the screen.
There's also not much that's even been added to the port.
You can play the game in 2 different ways. Firstly is the classic mode, this as it was intended, and plays exactly how it was at its initial release. Secondly is a version with some added modern features to make life easier. You can save/load at any time, creating checkpoints wherever you want. You can change the firing style, making it continuously fast instead of its original style where it slowed to a crawl if the fire button is held down for longer than 2 seconds. You can also rewind the action at any time with a simple button press, giving you a chance to correct any errors you make.
But that's it.
No improved graphics
No improved sound effects
No little extras
In fact, they didn't even bother to completely translate the text.
So you may have noticed that unlike my usual practice when writing, I never included the story in this review. Well, that's because I couldn't.
It's in Japanese.
Now don't get me wrong, the menus and options ARE in English. You'll be able to understand those no problem. It's just the story that, for some weird reason, they didn't bother translating. Shown at the start of the game, this wall of text explains the motivations and reasons for the adventure Cotton is on but is left in its native Japanese. There isn't even any graphics to help infer what's going on, just pages of text. With this being the first Western release of this title, it would have seemed natural to me to translate this and why they didn't do so is rather perplexing. It is just a framing device to be fair, a throwaway story of no real consequence that basically tells you that Cotton is trying to stop the baddies from burning all the candy in the world. The fact it is just a few paragraphs of text though makes it even more difficult to understand why it wasn't localized and its absence speaks volumes about the effort put into this port.
So to sum it up, Panorama Cotton is a port of a Japanese MegaDrive game from 1994. It is a pseudo-3D shooter, in the style of Space Harrier, where a little witch rides her broomstick through a psychedelic world and shoots down a ton of crazy characters. It might have been a bit of a technical marvel in its day but probably won't tickle the fancy of modern gamers. Its clashing colors and pop in make it feel unsatisfying to play, and make following the action on-screen rather difficult. Its added features are basic and barebones, a save function, and a rewind button being the only thing of note. They didn't even bother to translate the story into English. To be honest I can't see who this port is for. It was never released in the west, so there's no nostalgia for it here and shooter fans would be better served by other titles. Maybe worth picking up if you fancy a less popular type of SHMUP, but for anyone else the fun won't last long.
*Note: A copy of the game was provided for the purpose of the review.
Final Score: 4/10
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