The Witching Hour is Upon Us!
During Week 1 of Shmuptember, I started out with two traditional scrolling spaceship-based shmups. This week's selections were united by a far less traditional theme; they both starred witches! However, in terms of tone and mechanics, this week's selections couldn't be more different. On one hand, we had the cute and straightforward Cotton Reboot. On the other, we had a violent and irreverent shmup-adventure hybrid, Trigger Witch. Over the course of the week, I managed to finish Cotton and play a representative sample of Trigger Witch. Thus, this week's post is going to be divided between a review and impressions.
Geek to Geek Media was provided with review copies of both games.
Cotton Reboot (Switch)
Cotton Reboot is a remake of the classic 1991 arcade horizontal scrolling shmup, Cotton: Fantastic Night Dreams. Featuring colorful cartoony sprites and comedic cutscenes between levels, the original Cotton was an early example of a “cute 'em up”. Cotton Reboot offers a faithful port of the original game as well as a new “Arranged Mode” which remakes the original with sharper visuals, updated music, and additional mechanics. Both games tell a simple story of the candy-loving witch, Cotton, on her quest to track down pieces of the legendary Willow candy.
The version of the original Cotton included with Cotton Reboot is the Sharp X68000 port of the arcade game. While obviously a retro game, it has a clean and colorful look with art and sprites that still charm in 2021. Cotton's unique mechanic is that by collecting gems, you can charge up various spells that pack a bigger punch than her regular projectiles. Charging up these spells can be a challenge as the gems quickly drop from the screen unless the player catches them or juggles them with projectiles. I found pulling this off while shooting down enemies and avoiding attacks to be quite tough. Thankfully, with infinite continues, I was able to make it through all 7 stages and have a generally nice journey into shmup history. However, this mode was clearly not the star of the show.
Cotton Reboot‘s “Arranged Mode” is what it's all about. This version takes the original level designs and enemies of the retro game and updates them to feel like a modern shmup. The graphics are HD, the music is CD-quality, and the gameplay is faster and far more chaotic. With drastically more enemies, projectiles, and gems on the screen, there is a lot for the eye to take in at once!
The mechanics also get turned up to 11 in Arranged Mode. The gems Cotton must collect no longer drop off the screen, making them much easier to collect. This means making more use of magic and leveling up spells for even bigger and more powerful attacks than before. On top of this, gems now diffract Cotton's projectiles, causing a bullet passing through one to hit a wider area and deal more damage. Gems of different colors also add an elemental effect to a diffracted bullet. I found this extra layer of the magic system to be a lot of fun to play around with.
The Overall Package
Regardless of whether you're playing the retro or remade versions of Cotton, the quality of its design shines through. It's easy to see how this one became a classic. With its light-hearted tone, colorful graphics, and imaginative bosses, it definitely stands out in its genre and I had a lot of fun playing it. However, as with most arcade shmups, my time with it was brief. In about 2 hours, I had played through both the retro and remade versions of Cotton. For those that love to chase high scores or compete in leaderboards, there is plenty more fun to be had. However, for a shmup tourist like me, I felt that I had seen what there is to see in a single sitting. Currently, the Nintendo eShop price of Cotton Reboot is $40 (US). In my opinion, this is a big ask for such a lightweight game. Thus, I definitely recommend Cotton on the strength of its gameplay, but those who aren't hardcore shmup fanatics will probably want to wait for a sale.
Link to stream video: https://www.twitch.tv/videos/1153964138
Geek to Geek Rating: 4 out of 5 Willow Candies
Trigger Witch (Switch)
Note: I only got partway through Trigger Witch during my stream but intend to finish it and review it later. Thus, I'll be keeping my impressions short.
Trigger Witch is a Zelda-like action-adventure game with twin-stick shooter combat. Set in a fantasy world in which firearms have rendered magic obsolete, this game tells the tale of Colette, a young witch who has just graduated from the school of “witchcraft and triggery”. However, her graduation celebration is short-lived and she quickly finds herself on a quest to save her kingdom. Similar to other Zelda-likes, Colette's quest involves exploring dungeons filled with monsters and puzzles to acquire key items.
A Strange Juxtaposition
I'll be honest, Trigger Witch initially caught my eye because it features an unusual combination: cute pixel art and hyperviolent gunplay. Mowing down a bunch of colorful 16-bit baddies with a machine gun and leaving a field of blood and visceral behind certainly makes an impression. These visuals are accompanied by a story full of offbeat and irreverent humor. This warped presentation has been very amusing for me so far, but I could easily see it pushing some players away.
Surprisingly Solid Gameplay
Given that Trigger Witch‘s premise (and marketing) is so reliant on shock-value, my expectations for the gameplay weren't very high. To my pleasant surprise, I've been finding that the Zelda-like aspects of this game are actually quite solid. The three dungeons I've played through so far have been well-designed and featured some novel boss battles. The gunplay is simpler and easier than would be expected in a pure shmup, but it works well in this hybrid format. After putting about 5 hours into it, I'm just as eager to get to the next dungeon as I am to see what ridiculous thing will happen next in the story.
Overall, Trigger Witch‘s bizarre combination of elements has been really working for me. I'm looking forward to playing more of it and gathering my more in-depth thoughts on it in the near future.
Link to stream video: https://www.twitch.tv/videos/1153965890
Shmuptember Week 2 Closing Thoughts
This week was really all about challenging the traditional notion of what a shmup can be. Next week, we'll explore a different branch of the genre's history with a focus on shmups for DOS! If you're a fan of retro PC gaming, be sure to tune in to my Twitch channel for Shmuptember Week 3!