Windjammers is a very special video game to me. I’ve dedicated my life to championing it to as many people as possible. While I typically lose them the moment I say that it’s a disc-hockey game with fighting game sensibilities, it’s also a difficult recommendation due to it being 25 years old. Partially because of that, and despite my boiling desire for anything Windjammers, I remained cautious when French developer DotEmu revealed they would be making a follow-up to the beloved classic.
There was always potential that Windjammers could come back bolder than it did previously, sure. If it did, the series could finally receive the attention it deserves. Yet, part of what made the first game so special was how inherently 90s it was. As well, the sensibilities towards making these sorts of titles – titles like the other 2D sprite-based games on the NeoGeo – seem specific to that era.
Thankfully, I had the opportunity at PAX West to go hands-on with Windjammers 2. After numerous heated matches with the game’s animator, Sam YIN, I’m now very hopeful for the series’ future. It’s evident that this iteration will make it much easier to draw people into one of the best competitive video games ever crafted.
Faster, prettier, and just as fun
Windjammers 2 is not created by the development team that conjured the original Windjammers. That’s partially where my initial worry for a direct sequel stemmed. After approaching publisher Marvelous with a pitch for the franchise, DotEmu got to work making a stellar port of the original title for modern consoles. Once they’d proven themselves, Marvelous gave them the opportunity to craft the closest thing to a follow-up.
Imparting the spirit of the original developers, the code is reverse-engineered from the original to work with a hand-drawn presentation. It retains the exact style of gameplay and controls, but it also reaches the fullest potential of its 90s beach-soaked aesthetics thanks to the fluid animation. Windjammers 2, thankfully, respects and builds off the best parts of its predecessor, adding in what the technology of the NeoGeo couldn’t accomplish.
Windjammers 2 has depth, and that’s important
The gameplay has received a slight overhaul though that should be acknowledged. The original Windjammers is much like any good competitive game: simple to learn, but taking a lifetime to master. It’s the type of game where, when playing against others, you may discover strategies and moves that weren’t possible before, despite having all the tools at your disposal from the beginning. It can be played defensively and offensively, and there are drawbacks and advantages to both. Yet, most of the satisfaction comes from a finely-tuned balance that keeps the game feeling fair.
The biggest added feature I noticed, though, was an EX meter that you can build up for special moves. These moves are unique to each character. Among the increased roster in the sequel, they will surely flesh out the overall meta.
After the handful of matches I played (well, lost) against Sam, I walked away from my session beaming. The wonderfully stylish Windjammers is back, and in a way that I’ll be able to easily push people towards when it releases in early 2020. It’s more than I could’ve asked for – a lovingly put together tribute to the original that is giving this title the legs it deserves.