I wouldn’t blame you if you don’t know that Cotton is a 30-year-old game, rather than a brand new Nintendo Switch release. Even as a huge fan of bullet hells and Japanese shoot ’em ups, I only recently learned about the 1991 arcade shooter. I think that’s part of what makes this Cotton Reboot! release so exciting, though. Witches and magic are one of the staples of the shoot ’em up genre, and big names like Touhou and Deathsmiles likely took a lot of inspiration from Cotton, one of the earliest entries in that witchy bullet-hell sub-genre. Now, 30 years after the release of the first game in the franchise, a fresh port has arrived on modern consoles to help give new life to this dormant franchise.
If you just want to dive into a flawless version of the original experience, this game has you covered. Cotton Reboot! features a solid port of the 1993 Sharp X68000 version of Cotton. This is essentially the ultimate edition of the original arcade release, with a bunch of improvements and enhancements that make it the ideal version of the game to plenty of fans. There’s a lot of silly charm here that will make newcomers fall in love with the game too, though.
Story scenes with anime-style art precede each level and introduce your two characters — child witch Cotton who genuinely only cares about candy, and fairy companion Silk who only manages to convince Cotton to save the world by telling her she can totally find some giant pieces of candy if she does it. You may be fighting floating eyeballs and giant fire demons, but there’s a consistent cute style across the whole game that makes it hard not to smile when you see it all unfold.
Now, a lot of current-gen ports of old-school shoot ’em ups will just toss in minor graphical improvements or UI changes and call it a day. Cotton Reboot! might as well be a full-on sequel though thanks to Arrange mode. This extra mode features brand new art and audio for the entire game. While your protagonist Cotton is still rendered in pixel sprite form, backgrounds have been upgraded to gorgeous hand-drawn versions, and stylish particle effects accompany the bullets and explosions that litter your screen. It genuinely looks and feels like a brand new game, but part of that also comes from how much it changes up the gameplay mechanics.
The original Cotton is a pretty basic horizontal shoot ’em up. You have a standard bullet beam, an optional groundward bomb attack if you find Silk in each level, and a scoring system that rewards you for picking up crystals dropped by enemies. It’s a simple and methodical shooter, but the Arrange version cranks things up to 11 and becomes a frenetic, fast-paced experience.
Everything is more in Arrange — Cotton has bigger bullets, a bigger amount of enemies fill the stage, and crystals float in place on screen instead of dropping to the ground. If you shoot a floating crystal, your bullets will diffuse through it and come out the other side with a totally different and way stronger shot pattern, which rewards you for lining up crystal shots on tricky bosses or enemy swarms. Crystals change color as you shoot them though, and depending on what color crystal you pick up, you’ll level up one of several different magic abilities Cotton can now dish out. Instead of the standard screen-clearing bomb attack, Cotton can also unleash a dragon flame attack or a lightning blast.
Arrange also offers the peculiar Fever mode. Score enough points and you can activate this ability, which temporarily beefs up your bullets and turns any destroyed enemies into massive bonus-point icons that you can grab to boost your score. Everything in Arrange mode comes together to create a really rewarding and fast-paced experience, but Fever mode is the one awkward wrinkle.
There’s already so much happening on screen at any given time, but when Fever mode kicks in and your entire screen is full of giant point icons, it’s nearly impossible to spot enemy projectiles or even enemies in general. One particular lava-themed level had so much visual activity that activating Fever mode was essentially an instant suicide button. Still, it’s impressive to see how much of a different experience Arrange mode is, and it essentially gives you two different titles to learn and eventually master.
There are a few other modes in Cottton Reboot!, but nothing too extensive. There’s a 2- or 5-minute-long Time Attack mode that sees you fighting endless enemy waves to rack up a high score, and online leaderboards let you share and scope out scores with other players. I’m a sucker for bonuses like art galleries or achievement systems in re-releases like these, but there isn’t really any of that in this game, unfortunately. You have some decent system options, but for a prestige bullet hell re-release like this, there really aren’t any big bonuses to speak of. At the end of the day though, what’s most important is that both versions of the game contained in Cotton Reboot! on Nintendo Switch are fun, adorable, and must-plays for any shoot ’em up fan.
A review code for Cotton Reboot! was provided by the publisher.