Some of the slightly older generation of gamers among you (namely those around my age) might remember a NeoGeo classic by the name of Windjammers. Originally made by Data East in 1994, honestly it’s not one that I actually remember, but that is probably because I never had a NeoGeo, nor played in arcades in my youth.
While Windjammers then disappeared, emulations of it remained popular among arcade enthusiasts, especially those of the Fighting Game Community (FGC). It was through the FGC that I had heard of Windjammers, and although I knew it was considered almost an off-shoot of the FGC in itself, I never got round to finding means to play it.
Windjammers re-released in the west on modern consoles August of last year, on PS4 and PSVita, which, again, I somehow missed. But when I got the email saying that there was a review copy for the new Nintendo Switch port available, I was all over that!
The “Modern” port of the game is handled by DotEmu, and adds online multiplayer to the game, meaning you can recreate those old-school arcade rivalries from the comfort of your own home.
Windjammers is a pretty basic game at its heart, very roughly somewhere between Pong, Air Hockey and Tennis, but with very 80’s & 90’s dressed worldwide frisbee “Stars”. There is a selection of 6 different characters, with varying Speed and Power stats and different Special Moves, a handful of different stages to choose from, which, as well as differing aesthetics, offer different layouts of goals, nets and other features to mix the gameplay up.
At first glance when I sat down with Windjammers I thought that it looked much like that aforementioned cross between Pong and Tennis, and thought it an odd combination for the FGC fans to love like they do. But after getting an hour or so into the game, I saw it. It plays like a fighting game! Not in the traditional health bars and combos kind of way. But in the special moves, footsies and positioning kind of way.
There are different inputs, along with aiming, that allow you to throw your frisbee in a variety of different ways, from curved throws which can bounce unpredictably, to lob shots that can be difficult for your opponent to get the catch timing right for (often resulting in sliding away from the frisbee just as it lands).
Much like fighting games, reactions play a huge part of Windjammers. From the more obvious tennis like positioning to react which way your opponent is going to launch the frisbee, and where it will then bounce to. To getting the timing right on catches to launch power shots back their way – or even reacting to the opportunities to do the special move shots.
Windjammers is very much about getting your opponent into a position where you can exploit their characters’ weakness, be it their lack of speed to get to a shot to the opposite side of the field, or forcing them right to their goal line where a special move shot might rebound them into the goal even though they might’ve caught it.
Gameplay mechanics aside, Windjammers offers a few basic modes of play, a single player arcade mode where you work your way through all of the characters and maps, again very like those found in fighting games (complete with score boosting bonus stages!). And then both online and local forms of versus mode, with local play on the Switch offering both wireless cross console multiplayer, and classic same screen multiplayer.
Being a port of an age-long past, the game defaults to a 4:3 aspect ratio, with the gaps that modern 16:9 screens then give filled in with character portraits. Though both the gap fill and aspect ratios themselves can be altered in the options. If you opt for a 16:9 aspect ratio it simply stretches the game to fit, something I’ve generally not opted for on ports like this – I prefer the original look.
Similarly there are a few sound/music options available, I think these mostly referred to which NeoGeo board’s sound you wanted the sounds to match.
Windjammers is a game that just kind of transcends time. Because of the popularity of 8 & 16 bit indie games, and ports etc, the graphic style doesn’t look dated. And unlike many old-school game ports the controls remain solid to this day. Its a game that is great fun, and well, just works regardless of its age.
The Switch port is particularly well suited, because it is a great game to play on the go. The simple analogue stick and two buttons control scheme work great for JoyCon multiplayer action whenever you’ve got a chance to stop. Similarly the graphics work well for fast paced action on a smaller screen (I often struggle with more modern multiplayer games on the small screen at a distance). And of course, as I often repeat in Switch game reviews, one of the most important aspects for on the go games for the Switch, is being able to play them in short bursts, which suits Windjammers perfectly.
Windjammers is already out on PS4 and PSVita, and the Nintendo Switch version releases this Tuesday, the 23rd of October, 2018.
I’m going to be playing a whole load of this on my lunch breaks, and eagerly look forward to the sequel, Windjammers 2, due next year!