Thanks to ININ Games for the review code
Title: COTTON REBOOT
System: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 07/20/2021
In this remake of the original Cotton game (The X68K version, at that), you take control of the famous witch as she goes around to find the Willow candies, which she’s absolutely obsessed with to no end! The plot here is pretty simple, and effective at that, even if the poor translation doesn’t help it much.
Cotton Reboot is broken up into two distinct modes: Arrange mode, which consists of the flashy, brand new visuals and music, and X68000 mode, a faithful port of the famous computer version. Seeing how Arrange mode is the main attraction, that’s worth getting into first, and it’s really good in a lot of ways, yet underwhelming in others.
For starters, the music remixes here are absolutely godly, and Cotton fans will be pleased to know that a bunch of these remixes are just barely below the quality of the legendary PC Engine CD soundtrack. (which is a super difficult barrier to break, so that’s saying a lot!) Lots of intense compositions to get you ready for the shooting battles ahead, along with redone voice work and faithful sound effects.
Maybe a bit too faithful, considering how like the PCE CD version they can drown out the epic music at times when a lot of crystals are collected or when you use rapid fire. Thankfully, this can be entirely fixed via the options menu, though it can only be pulled up while pausing the game, and not before starting it.
The visuals also have a bit of a problem with being too good, since there’s a lot of flashy effects added alongside the gorgeous sprite makeovers. Multipliers and magic attacks will be in your face, and can get absurdly overwhelming to the point it makes you feel like you’re watching a modern Super Sentai show with how much is going on, and I honestly wish there was a way to tone this down a bit. Sure, you can sorta stop it by not using magic or the fever meter, but then that’s basically ignoring mechanics of the game just so you can see better.
Luckily for those who want things to be more simple, the X68K version is here in all its glory, and it’s essentially a perfect port! The sound balance is the same, the visuals are the same, and the amazing music is the same, meaning it’s more akin to the original arcade score over anything else. While I do wish there were different scaling sizes or even border options, since there’s no visual options here whatsoever that I could tell, the default gets the job done well enough, so I feel that if you’ve admired the X68K version of the original game, you’ll be very happy with how its represented here, and it honestly gives me hope for more X68K games to get similar porting love.
Cotton Reboot is a remake of the X68K version of Cotton, which took the arcade game and remixed it with enhancements and tweaks, and that’s exactly what the Arrange Mode has to offer here as well. Cotton and her fairy friend Silk must go through several stages to find the Willow candies, and you do this by scrolling along in this horizontal shooter to blast your way through each level.
You have a pretty standard control scheme, with your typical bomb, shot, and combination shot buttons to mess with, along with a magic button that can be pressed to perform a magical attack, or held for a differing magical move. Said magic attacks come to you in the form of crystals, which can be shot akin to the ones in Twinbee to change color and award differing magical abilities, or point/experience bonuses. You can even hold your shot button plus the magic one in order to charge up a fairy attack, where you throw your fairy Silk at enemies akin to the R-TYPE force pod. While in the original game this was as simple as holding down the normal bomb button, it’s a bit trickier here due to having to hold two buttons at once, and how if you end up letting go of the magic button first, you’ll perform the charged magic attack instead, so it makes me wish you could map the fairy attack to its own button.
Once you get the hang of the powerup system though, Cotton becomes a lot of fun to play. You can collect multiple of the same colored crystals to build up more of that magic, and eventually level it up to higher, stronger power levels, taking a basic electricity shot to a humongous lightning strike, for instance. Of course, getting experience will boost your normal shots in the same way, just as long as you manage to not die while doing so. It takes the essence of Twinbee and makes it more frantic, especially since the crystals can easily fall off the screen if there’s no ground beneath, so mastering these mechanics is key to not only safety and easy victory, but to better scoring as well, since black crystals award major point bonuses at the risk of shattering if abused too much. Once you reach the end of each stage, you’ll fight a boss, and upon defeating it you’ll have a “Tea Time” bonus segment, where you can collect as many tea pieces as possible, or just avoid them all for a huge bonus in points.
New to the Arranged mode is the addition of a fever button, which when activated, causes crazy multipliers to rack up among defeating enemies and gathering crystals, allowing for insane scoring if you time it just right, and build up levels! However, it also leads to the aforementioned annoyance of the multipliers getting so damn flashy that they obscure your view, so it ends up being a hinderance if you’re not already familiar with the surroundings in question. Still, as a scorechaser fan, I appreciated the idea, even if the execution could have been improved slightly.
Next up is Time Attack mode, which takes the Arranged mode mechanics and throws them in an two-minute or five-minute caravan setting, allowing you to go for points before time runs out, with infinite lives at your disposal. The more magic and less hits you take, the more you’ll be rewarded in bonus points at the end of each run, and this is easily my favorite mode of the entire package, as it fits perfectly for brief sessions and the online leaderboards. The level design in these brief caravan modes is just right, and there’s tons of focus on the scorechasing aspects, making this the best showcase of the Fever mechanic and worth your skills.
For the original X68K mode, there’s not much else to say. The core game is the same as the arranged mode, only without the fever aspect or the flashier graphics, so this is more for the retro purists like myself. Just like Arranged mode, you can adjust the sound balance here as well, and it maintains your settings from that mode. There are several difficulty modes to choose from here, and just like in Arranged, the hardest setting ups the ante and take it to bullet hell levels of chaos, leading to plenty of ways to tweak the challenge to your liking. The controls are exactly the same, meaning you still don’t get a dedicated fairy button to mess with. However, since the scoring mechanics from Arranged mode aren’t all here, there’s less of a focus on chains and fever modes, and more on just surviving the game for as long as possible, and perfecting those end-stage tea times to get the point bonus. It’s actually a bit easier on the normal difficulty here, since I found the lack of flashy effects made projectiles and enemies a lot easier to distinguish here.
Interestingly enough, and I assume this was just a tweak added to the original X68K mode, one thing I noticed when playing the original Cotton on the Astro City mini is that if you continue too many times in a single stage, it just boots you to the beginning of the level as a penalty, while here in the X68K and Arrange modes, you can credit spam in a single stage to your hearts content, even on the hardest difficulty! Of course, trying to 1CC the game is still part of the fun, and you’ll get more points by not dying, but it does at least relieve some of the tension that original Arcade version could cause. Add the extra bonuses and level changes, and this X68K version was easily the right version to base the port off of.
There is one final thing to note before giving my verdict however, and that’s Reboot’s very shaky english translation. I noted this a few times beforehand, but I have to say that Reboot has a pretty bad English translation. The menus are decent enough, and the story segments get the point across fine, but a lot of aspects just feel very rough and stilted to read. Some of the option descriptions are accompanied by horrid grammar, most notably regarding the online ranking features, and most of the game’s text just has a rough sense of polish around it, indicating that enough work was done to change it from the abysmally machine translated version Japan got (and had later patched out), but only enough so that it wouldn’t be as obvious. For starters, the manual is a billion times more legible than the JPN english translation ever could dream of, but even then it still reads a bit weirdly and didn’t seem to be proofread as much as it should have been. I don’t even want to think of how the French version reads if the english text is this rough.
On the bright side, the game still uses the same leaderboards as the Japanese version, so you don’t have to worry about this new SKU diving the community, and the core HUD was always in english to begin with, so this doesn’t really affect gameplay, it just comes off as an annoying lack of polish in this regard.
In conclusion, Cotton Reboot left me with some mixed emotions. The port of the X68K version is absolutely outstanding and worth the price of admission alone, and BEEP did a great enough job with the Time Attack modes and the extra playable character to add some good replay value. However, a lot of stuff here feels rough around the edges, especially the english translation. Of any non-import game I’ve reviewed in my years as a reviewer, this is the biggest game to have a bad translation, which is very annoying when you consider how an english translation was patched out of the Japanese import, presumably to make way for a better one with this release, and to prevent importers from buying the Japanese version early.
Unfortunately, the translation here is only barely better, and thus is super stilted and confusing at parts, to the point it feels as if it was deliberately copying bad 1990 era translations. While it no longer feels machine translated like it did at Japanese launch, it still is far from ideal, and should have gone through another set of proofreading.
You’ll still have a lot of fun with the shooting action here, even if I feel reboot mode goes into overdrive with the flashy effects, and cotton fans should absolutely pick this up, while scorechasing fans will find the mechanics in Time Attack mode to be an amazing dream come true. Still, considering how the import version got neutered for this translation, I can’t help but feel a bit disappointed with the quality of this localization effort, and how it absolutely wasn’t worth the five month wait for this level of text quality. Super great scorechaser, subpar localization effort.
I give Cotton Reboot a 7 out of 10.