Windjammers 2 Review: Return Of A Classic
Reviving a nearly thirty-year-old Neo Geo series is certainly a risk. Even for the team at Dotemu, who gave us back Streets of Rage after twenty-six years, that seems nuts. Windjammers is an amazing game, but it’s a niche title with hardcore fans who expect a very specific thing. That’s quite different from a series like Streets of Rage, which at its peak released multiple entries for a much wider audience.
Making this all the more challenging is that Windjammers was an incredibly simple and intuitive title. Basically a more mechanically diverse version of Pong, two opponents throw a disc back and forth, trying to hit the wall behind their opponent. You could throw the ball, dash to get to it, and throw a lob as a change of pace. There’s undoubtedly strategy and the ability to manipulate those skills a bit, but it was a game any player could figure out quickly. Messing with things risked the game’s delicate balance.
A Classic Feel
Dotemu seems to have understood this, though, because while there are definite changes, they’re subtle enough that players will pick them up quickly and can still step right in and have fun. You have a few more options for strategy, but you can still get by with the same moves old players have always known. Slap shots allow you to send the disc right back at your opponent with no delay and can catch players off guard. A jumping throw lets you catch the disc in mid-air and send it back with power too. They’re both useful moves but hardly essential, though I’m sure high-level players will be able to find the best uses for both.
New EX moves are more essential. Each character has their own unique special move that, after building up a meter, you can attack your foe with. For example, one character sends a wide arcing shot while another has the disc teleport around the arena to confuse your opponent about where it’s coming from. These moves are highly effective, though nowhere near unstoppable. They strike an excellent balance of being useful while not being overpowered. If your opponent has their EX meter built up, they can also use it as a counter instead of as a weapon, slowing things down so they can get in position to stop the shot. If I’m losing and my opponent’s meter is close to full, I’ll often save mine to make sure I have a counter, and they can’t use their EX move to take me out.
New Faces, Old Favorites
All six original Windjammers characters return, so if you’re a big fan of the great Gary Scott, you’ll be able to bring him into play. Four new characters are present as well, however, allowing for more choices when it comes to what you value when choosing one of them. Each character has not only slightly different moves, but a different balance of power and speed. Who you pick can have a huge impact.
While every character has a lot of personality, helped by the beautiful new art style Dotemu implemented here, they aren’t all as capable in a match. Most of the roster is highly competitive, but balance seems to be a bit of an issue at the moment. Not to the point where you can’t get good enough with any character, but power characters seem a bit overpowered at the moment. Faster characters without the same power aren’t unplayable, but you’ll have to be a lot better to compete with them. This held true both against human players and the AI.
Roll The Dice
New stages provide a ton of variety and are one of my favorite parts of Windjammers 2. You’ll still have the simple arenas of the original game, but now they’re a bit more dynamic. Some courts have the most vulnerable area behind you, worth extra points, shift and grow from point to point. Seeing it double in size makes it harder to cover, but that’s true for your opponent as well.
There are now several arenas with mid-court barriers that can deflect the disc off in a new direction, still perhaps my least favorite type of stage, but they certainly allow for additional strategy. My favorite stage may be the new casino level. Here the score isn’t based on where the disc ends up but rather on the disc itself. Each disc is randomly generated with a different point total. Some may be worth only a single point, while others are worth eight. While it isn’t the most fair option perhaps and certainly won’t be popular in the high-end tournament scene, it leads to thrilling matches where players never feel out of things. This led to some exciting matches that had me leaning forward on the edge of my seat, gripping my Switch extremely tightly.
Not For The Solo Player
Balance issues aside, the one thing missing in Windjammers 2 is any sort of interesting single-player content. There’s an arcade mode here where you’ll take on a series of AI foes to become the champion, but that’s the extent of things. It’s very basic, with the most interesting choice being between two choices of opponent at times. A couple of mini-games break this up, but only Hot Dog Distance was at all interesting, and even that’s a pretty mediocre diversion.
Some kind of true single-player mode, a campaign with actual goals, and a story could have elevated Windjammers 2 in the extreme. Keeping things focused on the competitive multiplayer options may satisfy long-time fans, but I fear it will make it harder to grab the interest of new players.
Better With Friends
Still, that competitive multiplayer is pretty fantastic. The AI is pretty strong here, but there’s nothing like taking on another skilled human opponent while the game’s excellent soundtrack pumps away. The time I was able to put in against other players reminded me how wonderful a competitive game Windjammers is and made it clear that despite some changes, Windjammers 2 fully captures that.
While the local play is certainly an option if you have people nearby to challenge, the online performed brilliantly in my testing. It is worth noting that the number of people online is pretty limited at the moment since the game isn’t out yet, and that means the servers weren’t feeling the strain they will at launch. Still, few games I’ve played in recent years have felt better online even prior to launch. The netcode here was fantastic, keeping up easily with the fast-paced action. In hours of testing, I never once felt like the connection slowed me down, or harmed me, even playing on a Switch in handheld mode. When I won, it was me winning, and when I lost, I had earned it. What more could I ask for?
Windjammers 2 will more than satisfy fans of the original who are looking to take on their friends. The gameplay is tight, wonderfully balanced, and manages to add additional depth without compromising the series’ intuitive feel. A bit of balance on the roster could still help, and I do wish we had additional single-player content to keep those who prefer to play solo coming back, but this one is still well worth your time.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: Switch (Reviewed), PS4, Xbox One, PC, Stadia; Publisher: Dotemu; Developer: Dotemu; Players: 2; Released: January 20th, 2022; ESRB: E for Everyone; MSRP: $19.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Windjammers 2 provided by the publisher.