Panorama Cotton Review: Some Games Are Best Left In The Past
I’m not quite sure who Panorama Cotton is supposed to be for. This scrolling shooter, reminiscent of titles like Space Harrier and Star Fox, was a technical marvel when it was released on the Sega Mega Drive (Genesis for us US kids, though this one never made it to the states) back in 1994. Even now, it looks nice in a way a game like Star Fox simply doesn’t, thanks to its clear pixels and colorful palette. In an era where these graphics aren’t going to impress anyone, though, it really doesn’t have anything to offer.
You can mostly ignore the story here. If you’re playing the game and don’t speak Japanese, you’ll almost have to. This is a lazy port, and while all the menus are in English, the story hasn’t been translated. It doesn’t seem like we’re missing much. A synopsis of the game shows that the witch Cotton and her fairy friend Silk are back together again, trying to stop someone from burning the willow candy Cotton loves so much. It goes along with the cute vibe of the series, but I don’t think we’re missing much.
Competent Shooting, Poor Performance
Actually playing Panorama Cotton puts you in a 3D shooter, which feels very much like Space Harrier. You’re constantly flying forward, blasting whatever is put in front of you. You move around the screen to dodge obstacles, collect items and power-ups, and never stop shooting. You have a health bar that you can recharge as you gain more points, and over time you’ll level up, giving you additional power. Taking hits can actually cause you to level down as well. A magic meter on-screen continuously gives you more abilities, such as fire. These are hugely useful when the screen gets full, though one downside is that once you start using one, you’re locked into it—no canceling out of these spells.
Panorama Cotton loves to fill the screen with foes, though I rarely found it overwhelming. It actually has a solid pace to it. The framerate, though, leaves a lot to be desired. It isn’t unplayable or anything, but while things move well when the screen is empty, offering a surprisingly smooth experience considering when the game was made, it slows to a crawl when things get busy. Since that happens a lot, there are long stretches where things just don’t feel good.
Bosses provide some of the highlights of your quest. Through five levels, you’ll face a ton of bosses and sub-bosses, each with a unique attack pattern that requires timing and memorization to take down. It actually does a surprisingly good job of capturing the feel of the larger Cotton series, feeling more like a 3D shmup than many games in the genre tend to. This attention to capturing the core of the series extends to the post-level tea collecting period, which put a smile on my face the first time it showed up. You can tell that the people who made this actually love Cotton and wanted to find a way to make this game still feel like a cohesive part of its series.
A Lazy Update
This port is a lazy one, not offering much in the way of replay value. You can play the game as it originally existed back in 1994, or a more modern take which includes options like save states, rewind, and, if you’ve beaten the original version of the game, a cheat menu. These are basic updates for any classic release, though, and outside of some solid visual options like a CRT filter, there’s little that feels special about this version of the game.
All of that adds up to a game which I’m not quite sure why is releasing. I know it’s technically to celebrate the Cotton series’ anniversary, and if there ever were a time to put it out in the west, I suppose this is it. Who is this game for, though? Nobody is going to be impressed by the graphics today, outside of considering them in context. That’s impressive in a way, and I suppose how much that matters to a person will vary from person to person, but for me, it means very little in 2021. I can appreciate them for what they are, but when the game is releasing on the Switch, it competes against games on the Switch. The gameplay is clunky today and, while a bit of fun now and then, doesn’t stand up to similar games released in the last 27 years. Normally the game could at least bank on nostalgia, but nobody in the west has any real nostalgia for it, it never released here. So who is supposed to be playing this? A few fans of the series who are curious but don’t want to spend the absurd price of the Mega Drive cartridge (which saw an extremely limited printing originally) are about the extent of it.
Panorama Cotton was an incredibly impressive title in 1994, and nobody can take that away from it. Judged in 2021, though, there’s little reason for anyone to play it. It simply doesn’t hold up against similar titles. Clear and colorful visuals and competent shooting mean it isn’t exactly a chore, but nothing about it stands out today. This is a prime example of how some games are best left in the past.
Final Verdict: 2/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch(Reviewed), PS4; Publisher: ININ Games; Developer: Success, Ratalaika Games; Players: 1; Released: October 29th, 2021; ESRB: E10+ for Everyone 10+; MSRP: $14.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Panorama Cotton provided by the publisher.