You wait ages for a Cotton game, and then six arrive on PS4 at once, celebrating the series' 30th anniversary in 2021. Welcome to the Fairyland, where developer Studio Saizensen has in the cauldron boiled and baked Cotton Fantasy: Superlative Night Dreams (Cotton Rock 'n' Roll in Japan) as an all-star horizontal shmup. The witch Cotton swoops on her broomstick — alongside a fairy called Silk providing protective option satellites — to whimsical tunes through 2.5D background visuals that stretch beyond the expected haunted forests, depicting castle gardens, ancient ruins, an Egyptian Cotton level, and even outer space.
Yet, perhaps this sweet treat of a brand new Cotton game should've been left longer in the oven, as some extras have been cut compared to Cotton Reboot!. While Cotton Fantasy has online leaderboards, it misses out by not including the reboot's two- or five-minute Time Attack modes, or the better value of extras like the X68000 port of the original Cotton.
Furthermore, it only has a Training Mode for each unlocked stage, whereas the option for save states or rewind features would've given the player more choice over their skill progression, as the eight main selectable stages take 45 minutes to complete including anime cutscenes (35 minutes of gameplay). There's also a missed opportunity to have included multiplayer, or expanded the new Argentum Clavem Tea Time stages to adopt Panorama Cotton's style of 3D shooter gameplay, beyond collecting bonuses. With a digital price tag of £34.99/$39.99, Cotton Fantasy's in direct competition with a pricier bullet hell release like PS4's Deathsmiles I･II, too.
The game's best design choice is how its variety of playable characters significantly alters the gameplay mechanics. Cotton Fantasy's Producer, Shinya Nagatomo, told Issue 231 of Retro Gamer magazine that "It's an all-star game with not only characters from other games, but also new systems from other Success games". This means controlling Ria incorporates the risk/reward Buzz System from Psyvariar, and you can unlock playing as the final boss character, Tacoot, with wand flinging abilities. It's these deeper systems, and unlockable stages that make Cotton Fantasy an intricate cute-'em-up that core shoot-'em-up fans will relish mastering and replaying.