Geek to Geek Media was provided with review copies of both games.
During Shmuptember (a themed-gaming month dedicated to Shoot ‘Em Up games), one of the games that really stuck with me was Cotton Reboot. This light and breezy cute 'em up had a great combination of charming aesthetics and engaging mechanics; I've been craving more ever since. Thankfully, I didn't have to wait for long for a second and third serving. Two of the series' 16-bit entries, Cotton 100% and Panorama Cotton, were recently ported to Nintendo Switch! I played through both these games on my Twitch channel and found them to be a really interesting look into shmup history.
Cotton, the candy-loving witch, returns!
Before I get into the reviews of each game, I should point something out first: these are straight ports of retro games, not remasters. They include a few modern conveniences such as save states and rewinding but are otherwise unchanged from their original forms. Since these games were originally Japan-exclusive, all of the cutscenes are still in Japanese. Only the menus are in English.
Cotton 100% is a horizontally scrolling shoot 'em up that was originally released on the Super Famicom in 1994. Between these two 16-bit entries in the series, Cotton 100% is the most direct follow-up to the original Cotton. It features similar mechanics to its predecessor in which you collect gems to level up your shots and have several elemental magic special attacks. Unlike the original game, you can freely switch between your magical attacks and the amount of damage they do varies based on enemy type. The story of Cotton 100% appears to be very similar to the previous game; however, I can't say for certain because I can't read Japanese.
Compared to the previous game for Sharp X86000, Cotton 100% is a substantial upgrade in visual presentation. The sprites are far more detailed and animated with more personality. The levels also feature more intricate designs with more detailed backgrounds and a larger color pallet. Despite the Super Famicom's reputation for struggling with rendering large numbers of sprites, I was pleased to find that the game ran smoothly without any significant slowdown when enemies swarmed the screen. Another aesthetic improvement compared to the original Cotton was the music. In particular, I was bobbing my head to the boss battle music during each encounter.
Gameplay-wise, Cotton 100% sticks to the horizontal scrolling shooter formula pretty closely with a few exceptions. Like which magical special attacks you use in a given situation makes a big difference, especially during boss battles. For example, when fighting the tree-like boss in the beginning of the game, using a fire spell can take the enemy down almost immediately. Boss battles also deviated a bit from genre norms by occasionally featuring puzzle-like elements. For the final boss, I actually had to look up how one of its attacks worked. There was a trick to avoiding it rather than just relying on reflexes like in most shmups.
While Cotton 100%‘s ability to render detailed backgrounds and big swarms of enemies is impressive, it can make for very chaotic gameplay. In the later stages, I would occasionally lose track of where I was in the chaos or get pinned down by the sheer number of enemies. This brings me to Cotton 100%‘s difficulty: it's far from a smooth curve. I found that I sailed through the first few stages easily and then started getting wrecked very abruptly. Compounding this is the fact that the game only gives you 3 continues. Experienced shmup players won't have an issue with this but it could prove frustrating to less skilled players. I was definitely thankful to have save states at my disposal when I needed them.
Another thing to note is that Cotton 100% repeats many elements of the previous game. The environments featured in each stage follow the same pattern as the original Cotton. The game also features several bosses that are essentially reimagined versions of bosses from the first game. Fans of franchises like Kirby or Castlevania will be used to this sort of repetition, but it would have been nice to see more originality.
I also noticed a bug during my playthrough. In the aspect ratio selection screen, the game remained locked at an unusual 1:1 ratio regardless of what I selected.
Cotton 100% is a worthy follow-up to the iconic original game and a solid horizontal shooter in its own right. Picking this game should be a no-brainer for fans of the original Cotton or Cotton Reboot. For everyone else, this game is a tougher sell. It's an enjoyable shmup but there are plenty of other options in the genre on Switch available for less than Cotton 100%‘s asking price of $15. Thus, I recommend that Cotton newcomers check out Cotton Reboot first and revisit this one if they find themselves hungry for more.
Link to stream video: https://www.twitch.tv/videos/1206950338
Geek to Geek Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Overpowered Elemental Spells
Panorama Cotton is a faux-3D rail shooter that was originally released on Sega Mega Drive in 1994. Unlike the fairly faithful Cotton 100% for Super Famicom, Panorama Cotton represents a radical departure from its predecessor. In this game, Cotton flies into the screen shooting down enemies through a series of abstract and surreal environments. The closest points of comparison to how Panorama Cotton plays would be Space Harrier and Afterburner.
Panorama Cotton‘s strengths largely lie with its aesthetic qualities.
Featuring a pastel color pallet and an art direction that could best be described as “nonrepresentational”, flying through the worlds of Panorama Cotton feels like a fever dream. Beginning with somewhat normal skylines, the game's level design progresses through undersea areas, crystal towers, and eventually psychedelic colorscapes. A given level may transition between these environments (to the extent they can be called that) with seemingly no rhyme or reason. When I stopped trying to make sense of it and just let it wash over me, it was certainly an experience. The game uses this freedom from convention to do some interesting things. Examples that stuck with me are a horizontally scrolling section that has Cotton smashing through walls of a tower and a chase sequence through… well, I'm not quite sure if it was supposed to be water or the sky but it was certainly pretty.
The enemies in Panorama Cotton were similarly divorced from any kind of cohesive aesthetic. Often I didn't fully understand what the creatures in my path were, but I could certainly blow them up and make big numbers appear on the screen. Based on this, I can only assume that I was doing the right thing. Seeing what new bizarre things the game would throw at me in each level was definitely interesting.
The visual design of Panorama Cotton is nicely complemented by a dreamlike OST full of bouncy dreamlike FM Synth tracks. Two of my favorite pieces were this game's dancy rendition of the “Tea Time” music and the vaguely Asian-inspired “The Great Gallery”.
While I can gush with ease about this game's aesthetics, its gameplay is a different matter. Even in a game with straightforward designs, faux-3D gameplay creates challenges with depth perception. When you couple this with Panorama Cotton‘s chaotic nature, interpreting what is happening on the screen can be very tough. On top of this, the game does some creative things with camera angles that can further obscure your view. In many cases, Cotton herself obstructs part of the screen that you may need to see.
I usually play shmups on the normal difficulty, but for Panorama Cotton, I had to turn it down to easy pretty much immediately. Having the game cut me some slack with respect to difficulty made it much easier to get my bearings. Once I got the hang of it, Panorama Cotton‘s gameplay proved to be quite simple. As long as I kept moving and kept shooting, things seemed to work out. I felt like the more traditional Cotton games rewarded finesse a bit more than this one.
While Cotton 100% is a well-made but by-the-numbers shmup, Panorama Cotton is kind of a mess. The thing is, it's a really artistically and historically interesting mess. If you're like me and fascinated by the progress of game design during the transition from 2D to 3D, Panorama Cotton is definitely worth experiencing.
Cotton fans, of course, should also pick this up to see what this experimental entry in the series is like. For general audiences, however, they are probably better off sticking with either pure 2D shmups (e.g. the original Cotton or Darius) or playing something truly 3D (e.g. Starfox). Considering that Mega Drive cartridges of this game go for over $700, I'm really glad there is finally an accessible way to play this game now, but it's certainly not for everyone.
Link to stream video: https://www.twitch.tv/videos/1206950339
Geek to Geek Rating: 3 out of 5 Rides on the Yellow Submarine
In case the rest of this article hasn't made it clear: Both of these games are extremely niche products. If you are already a Cotton fan or are really into the preservation of rare retro games, these offerings are a rare treasure trove. For pretty much everyone else, I recommend checking out Cotton Reboot first.