They just don’t make them like this anymore, do they? French outfit DotEmu is fast establishing itself as retro revival specialists, and Windjammers 2 is another immaculate effort from the Streets of Rage 4 studio. This game of Frisbee blends the best of Pong and Street Fighter to make for a white-knuckle reboot of Data East’s legendary NeoGeo disc flinger, and if you’re looking for a game that’s easy to pick-up but incredibly challenging to master, then it should be top of your list.
At its core, this is the same as the 1994 original, but the developer has layered in some subtle new gameplay systems to add to the intensity of matches. Games are divided into a best-of-three scenario, where 15 points will win you a set. You need to defend your side of the court, catching the Frisbee to prevent it from going into your goal. Goals are divided into different points categories, where the middle may be worth more than the sides depending on the stage.
It’s Pong at its most rudimentary, but systems are then layered on top to spruce up the loop. You can, for example, add curl to your shots by rotating the analogue stick in semi-circles when you throw it, and you can also slide to catch the disc when it’s out of reach. More advanced players will be able to bat the Frisbee up into the air, and positioning their character underneath it while it falls will allow them to launch charged attacks that are more difficult to defend.
And then come the new mechanics which will give even experienced players something to think about: you can now use drop-shots to nestle the Frisbee just beyond the net and put overly defensive players out of action, or lob those who step forward too far. You can also use special moves, triggered with a meter, to either initiate a defensive play on a hard to reach Frisbee or an offensive one which stands a chance of pushing your opponent into the net.
All of this makes for chaotic rallies which ebb and flow like a great tennis match. The action is frantic and heart-pounding, and its elevated by an outstanding art style which explodes off the screen without losing any readability. You’ll be competing in a number of arenas, ranging from traditional stadiums through to junkyards and boxing rings. The presentation is pin-sharp, with returning characters from the original and a handful of new faces.
The arcade-style campaign is light, and sees you running through a half-dozen stages punctuated by a couple of minigames. It exists largely for practice against the AI, but a nice map selection screen documents your progress and retains the old-school arcade feel. Ultimately it’s playing in local or online modes where the release gets its mileage, however, with both methods supported.
Unfortunately, due to the pre-release nature of this review we’ve been unable to play enough matches online to give it a fair shake just yet, so we’ll be updating this page post-release once we’ve spent more time with it. Our initial impressions of the rollback netcode are positive, but we want to play a lot more on release servers before committing to a final score.
There’s no doubt the skill-based gameplay lends itself well to competitive play, though, with such a high skill ceiling making it a highly replayable title. It’s just a shame the overall package is so light, lacking the kind of cosmetic unlocks and items that are so crucial to the longevity of releases like this today. It would have been nice if the developer could have integrated different costumes and Frisbees to obtain, just to beef up the package overall.
Windjammers 2 is an almost perfect revival of a classic 90s franchise. The sequel strikes an immaculate balance between new and old ideas, and presents the classic sports gameplay so vibrantly that it’s hard not to be captivated by it all. There could, admittedly, be more meat on its bones – but it’s online, with the gameplay’s high skill ceiling, where the longevity will be found. We still want to spend a little more time testing this component, but our early impressions of the rollback netcode are positive to say the least.