The makers of Streets Of Rage 4 once again demonstrate their talent for creating sequels to retro classics, with frisbee sim Windjammers 2.
Unless you were lucky enough to see it in arcades, or owned a Neo Geo console, ‘Windjammers’ probably conjures images of sailing ships more than it does head-to-head frisbee showdowns. Originally released in 1994, the frenetic sports title has maintained a small competitive following through to the present day – bolstered by a 2017 re-release on modern consoles, which added online play.
There’s a reason Windjammers has endured over the decades; the fundamentals are still a blast. It takes the basic design of Pong and energises it with the speed and complexity of a fighting game. Taking place inside a small, enclosed arena, you select a character with unique attributes and special moves and try to throw a frisbee (or ‘flying disc’ – frisbee is actually a trademarked name) into the opponent’s goal. The other obvious comparison is air hockey, as you ping the disc off walls and direct shots towards any openings in your opponent’s goal.
This sequel from developer Dotemu, who ported the original Windjammers and worked on Streets Of Rage 4, attempts a difficult balancing act between nostalgia and the necessity for something new. With the original still enjoyable and widely available, this sequel has to offer a distinct enough experience or substantially expand upon it to justify its existence. Windjammers 2 succeeds in some respects, but its rigid faithfulness to the franchise’s arcade heritage can hold it back.
The most obvious change for the sequel is the visuals. Although there’s still a strong, neon-hued 90s influence, the game now looks more like a modern anime mixed with the hand-drawn aesthetic from Streets Of Rage 4. But where that game looked scrubbier, to match the mean streets of Wood Oak City, Windjammers 2 is a vibrant summer getaway that’s filled with colour – in the character roster, the boldly designed menu screens, and the punchy animation effects.
As well as the artistic changes there are also some new moves at your disposal. There’s a slapshot which quickly deflects back throws heading in your direction, a dropshot which knocks the disc a short distance over the dividing line, and an EX special move tied to a gauge which fills during a match. They sound like small additions, yet they open up a wealth of options during the tense rapid-fire volleys where every split-second decision counts.
The most impactful addition is the ability to jump and slam the disc at the ground, granting you points if your opponent fails to intercept before it touches the floor. This makes Windjammers more closely comparable to badminton. Every time a disc is tossed in the air, you’re now deciding between charging a special move or making a jump to catch it mid-air and slam it the ground before your opponent has time to respond.
The points awarded for hitting the ground are less (two points, compared to three or five points from a normal goal – depending on the zone you hit), and there’s other moves to counter the throw’s velocity, so the new option feels nicely balanced, with the core objective of scoring traditionally still very much incentivised.
The amount of moves in Windjammers 2, however, presents a steeper learning curve than the original, which might prove less enticing for newcomers or casual multiplayer matches with friends. It doesn’t help that the only tutorial offered is a non-interactive slide show, which might have worked for the original but here feels like a stubborn and inelegant solution when the timing of certain moves is so critical.
There are options to remap controls, and a versus mode for couch multiplayer or facing off against AI opponents, but the absence of a dedicated practice mode feels counterintuitive to the game’s high skill ceiling – especially when trying to master advanced techniques like rolling smash shots and spin throws. It might be less of an issue for players familiar with Windjammers but 28 years after its cultural heyday it’s surprising how little effort there is towards onboarding new players.
While Windjammers 2 is designed for multiplayer scraps, the main new mode for the sequel is Arcade: a single-player run through five matches across a city map. There’s multiple difficulty options, and the enemy AI is challenging even on easy, but there’s little incentive for repeat runs aside from short outros for each character. These help flesh out the world’s personality a bit but, again, it feels lacking compared to modern standards.
The limited options might be less bothersome to players who simply want Windjammers with revamped visuals and added complexity. The core experience is just as thrilling and kinetic with the added mechanics, and there’s stacks of personality in the dynamic arenas – including a standout Casino stage where a roulette wheel dictates how many points each goal is worth.
How stable online matches will be remains to be seen once it’s released, but there’s leaderboards and ranked progression to keep players coming back. The only major hiccup is the lack of cross-play across platforms, with PlayStation and Nintendo Switch versions locked to their respective ecosystem, although Xbox and PC players can play against one another. As such, you’ll probably want to pick up Windjammers 2 wherever you have the most friends.
For better and worse, Windjammers 2 doesn’t attempt to preach to the unconverted. This is a bright and punchy successor designed to re-energise interest among fans of the original, and while it will likely pick up some new followers along the way, the lack of tutorials and new incentives feels like a missed opportunity to cast a wider net. Less Windjammers 2 then, more Windjammers 1.5.
Windjammers 2 review summary
In Short: An admirable refresh of a cult classic, with excellent presentation and thoughtfully implemented new mechanics, but it’s held back by its reluctance to modernise in other areas.
Pros: New graphical style and character designs fit the franchise’s spirit, with some excellent animation work. New mechanics add exciting layers of complexity to matches. Core gameplay is still a blast in multiplayer. Great soundtrack.
Cons: Poor tutorials. Arcade mode feels perfunctory and lacks incentives to keep playing. Limited modes generally, outside of multiplayer.
By Adam Starkey
Follow Metro Gaming on Twitter and email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
For more stories like this, check our Gaming page.