Thanks to Dotemu for the review code
Title: WINDJAMMERS 2
System: Xbox Series X
Release Date: 01/20/2022
Taking place ten years after the original game, new and old combatants return to the Windjammers championship! It’s a pure arcade story, so there’s pretty much nothing to it besides of that.
The original Windjammers, ported to PS4 and Switch a long while ago, used some pretty stellar pixel art and the power of the Neo Geo to deliver a stunning looking sports experience. Flashy animations, gorgeous backgrounds, and exciting music led to a pretty unforgettable multiplayer experience, which I praised when covering the PS4 port.
So how does this sequel evolve the presentation, nearly 30 years later? Well, the sprite art is gone, which I’d normally consider a downgrade in most circumstances… But shockingly, they didn’t do the predictable jump to 3D! Rather, they went for a gorgeous cartoony look, which captures a lot of the animations from the original game pretty damn well: so much so, that it feels like the next natural step up rather than a downgrade. The animation is still smooth, the character designs, even for newcomers, are still great, and the music is still excellent, with the OST here sounding closer to the Neo Geo CD version of the original than the AES, carrying the Redbook Audio tradition nicely.
The menus and UI are pretty substandard though, but they get the job done. Granted, the original Neo Geo game didn’t have much in terms of menus either, but what’s here works just fine. Characters all still have their own voice clips, fully recorded from the ground up, and while I do miss some of the older samples, a few of the newer ones fill the void decently well, even if a few characters sound a bit strange.
A lot of what I noted about Windjammers in terms of the core concept applies to the sequel, too, with the main goal of each match being to outscore your opponent in points by using the flying power disc to score points, pong-style. In the original game, you just had your main throw and lob at your disposal, with charged moves to master by standing underneath a lobbed disc, leading to a simple, yet easy to learn formula to play around with that was immensely fun in a multiplayer setting.
Here in Windjammers 2, not much seems to have changed at first, since a lot of the same tricks that you could pull off in the original game, you still can here! The characters are a mix of old and new, each still differing in speed and power stats, so there’s some experimenting until you find a character that’s right for you. Yet as you get used to playing some matches, you’ll quickly notice the new mechanics added here to try and freshen up the experience. The biggest two come in the form of a jump and a reflecting move, which adds some pretty cool ways to counter your opponent. You can even use a power shot upon filling up a meter, which either can devastate the opponent and prevent them from catching it, (unless they use a well timed counter, that is) or create a shockwave that’ll send an airborne disc up high for you to jump and grab.
At first I was stubborn and hesitated from using these new moves, trying to stick with the original mechanics, but over time I found myself gravitating towards both new moves, especially the jump due to how fun it can be to interrupt power shots and lobs by jumping in their way, and I found myself using both this and the reflect to have a decent time in the Arcade mode, which works pretty much just like the last game, being a gauntlet of several stages and two bonus levels.
Unfortunately, the arcade mode is frankly a terrible way to introduce yourself to the game if you’re a newcomer, since the CPU is absolutely ruthless even on the easiest setting. While that tense difficulty is pretty fun for returning players such as myself, it does prove to be quite the annoyance when trying to get the new mechanics down, to the point I actually recommend using the local Versus mode as a training method instead. With that said, the Arcade mode still provides brief enjoyable bits of fun, and a great way to challenge yourself, but sadly it pales compared to the arcade original, since the scoring here is just for the sake of gaining extra continues: no leaderboards here! The two minigames on offer, the returning dog frisbee catch game from the original and a new reflecting game, are also not playable outside of the gauntlet, which is absolutely bizarre considering how Dotemu’s port of the first game allowed you to mess with the minigames for practice and high scores.
Once you’ve had your fun with the arcade mode, there’s little else to check out: indeed, Arcade mode is the only offline mode here, which is a big shame considering the core gameplay is still solid, and there’s not even any scoring incentives to mess with offline. Thankfully, there’s the online multiplayer, which is your typical ranked affair… And is really, really good. Seriously, I was very skeptical on this game due to the middling quantity of content and the aggressive AI, but luckily the multiplayer was here to show me where the game shines. Here on Xbox, you have crossplay with the PC version of the game, thus allowing for a pretty healthy pool of players to match with, and once I got into PVP battles, I was impressed by just how great the netcode was! It truly did feel just as smooth as fighting a CPU, and that’s thanks to the implementation of truly excellent rollback netcode. It was these matches with fine random players where Windjammers 2 was the most fun for me, and I can definitely see this being a pretty popular competitive game if it continues to get healthy updates, since outside of ranked and private play, there isn’t too much else to do here either.
In the end, Windjammers 2 packs a ton of fun into a beautiful looking package, despite the shallow content on offer. The new mechanics worked excellently once I got the hang of them, and playing with real people online and IRL showed this game as one of the most engaging multiplayer games I’ve played in a while. Unfortunately, a good gameplay loop doesn’t excuse the fact that Windjammers 2 has barely any content to speak of, let alone solo-focused content.
Without so much as a practice mode, this is a game with a higher learning curve than it should have, so even the outstanding gameplay can’t really save this from being dependent on your mileage. If you enjoy multiplayer, then the rollback netcode and crossplay with PC will be an absolute bliss, with Gamepass sure to keep the player pool active for a good while. But if you were hoping for score chasing Arcade action or ways to practice offline, you’re out of luck. Still, if you enjoyed the original, especially from a multiplayer standpoint, then this is an absolute must-have, since the online multiplayer is stellar and the new mechanics do just enough to add extra layers of fun to an already great sports title.
I give a Windjammers 2 a 7 out of 10.