Cotton Series Review thumbnail

Cotton Series Review

All the games plus Guardian Force Saturn Tribute

A.J. Maciejewski

Written by for Rapid Fire Reviews on 🧚‍♀️

Cotton has been around since 1991 so let's explore this delightful series of shmups in its entirety; well, except for the Pachinko machine.

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Note: some of the reviewed titles below may suffer from slight input lag via their Switch ports which may affect gamers' enjoyability although some folks may notice it more than others. If this is fixed in a patch then I will update this note to reflect that fact. For now, each one of these games has been reviewed here for what it represents despite any performance issues so please keep that in mind. v1d30chumz 3-235-186-94

Cotton: Fantastic Night Dreams

The very first Cotton game released in '91 which delighted Japanese arcade goers. It wasn't very well-known in the west with the only console port being for TurboGrafx-CD in North America but that all changed in mid-2021 when a remake entitled Cotton Reboot! released worldwide. Not only is it a phenomenal remake, it also includes the X68000 port from 1993 which many would argue is a superior version to the original arcade release although I still wish that the arcade version would be made available at some point.

Cotton Reboot! Review

Cotton 100% Review Switch ★★★★☆

As the console follow-up to the original, Cotton 100% is a solid shoot 'em up that has stood the test of time in all of its colourful charm.

Cotton 100% screenshot
It might look simple but Cotton 100% is jam-packed with fun

Cotton 100% released for both Super Famicom and PS1 in Japan and I actually have the PlayStation version. Needless to say, it's great that modern gamers now have easy access to it and this Switch adaptation does a decent job of porting the classic with a few modernizations such as cheats and a rewind feature. Cotton 100% is played by shooting, deploying bombs, and casting magic which can devastate your adversaries. You actually get to choose your array of spells before each run which makes the gameplay a bit more customizable and as you blast enemies, collect gems and fairies, and level-up your abilities; you'll turn from a pea-shooting witch to an unstoppable force. As a result, it's a very satisfying formula with enjoyable boss fights and a bubbly whimsical atmosphere.

For a console shmup from 1994, Cotton 100% has held up exceptionally well with its distinct style and enjoyable magic-based gameplay.

Cotton 100% gameplay video →

Panorama Cotton Review Switch ★★★☆☆

The same year that Cotton 100% released, a silly spin-off game also came out in the form of Panorama Cotton for Sega Genesis.

Panorama Cotton screenshot
Panorama Cotton isn't a great spin-off but its silly world will make you smile

Without a doubt, Panorama Cotton is clearly a take on Sega's classic arcade rail shooter Space Harrier. However, I'd argue that it's not nearly as enjoyable because its gameplay feels kind of disconnected with your shots being tricky to aim precisely and the visuals are quite jumbled, too. On the plus side, the classic magic system is well-adapted to this formula and unleashing things like fire dragons is rather satisfying to watch as it takes out some enemies ahead. Overall, I'd say that it's a worthwhile nostalgia trip for those who are curious about all things Cotton and it can provide a bit of fun if you fit that description but the gameplay remains somewhat unsatisfying.

Panorama Cotton is more of a retro curiosity than it is a long-lost treasure but there's still no denying how charming its trippy world is.

Panorama Cotton gameplay video →

Rainbow Cotton

Believe it or not, Panorama Cotton actually got a follow-up with Rainbow Cotton which released for Sega Dreamcast in 2000. It follows the same basic gameplay formula although the graphics are rendered in full 3D. This might sound cool but it plays very clumsily to the point where it's just not fun. It looks pretty, though, so it's worth watching someone else play it for a bit but that's about it.

Cotton 2 - Saturn Tribute Review Switch ★★★★☆

After a few console excursions, Cotton 2: Magical Night Dreams brought the series back to its arcade roots so let's get shooting!

Cotton 2 - Saturn Tribute screenshot
Cotton 2 marks a wonderful return for the arcade formula

Although it's technically the 4th Cotton game, 1997's Cotton 2 is the second arcade game in the series; hence its title. This iteration is a port of the Sega Saturn version which is an excellent adaptation of the arcade release that has its own slightly enhanced mode that you may want to switch to before starting a new game. Anyway, not only is Cotton 2 the first multiplayer installment in the series, it also features gorgeous 2D graphics that are a huge step up from the series' humble origins as well as its own clever gameplay mechanics. For example, you can now hold onto enemies and such with a catch button then throw things around in the hopes of getting a score boost if you manage to snag a combo of enemies. There are also special shots that can be deployed with specific button commands and you can seal enemies to generate life recovery items. So, there's a bit of a learning curve yet it's ultimately a very rewarding shmup.

Cotton 2 is much more than a sequel as its clever gameplay mechanics and striking visuals make it stand out as one unique shoot 'em up.

Cotton 2 - Saturn Tribute gameplay video →

Cotton Boomerang - Saturn Tribute Review Switch ★★★★☆

A year after Cotton 2 released, Cotton Boomerang came out which essentially took the established game and turned it on its ear.

Cotton Boomerang - Saturn Tribute screenshot
Cotton Boomerang is such a great remix of Cotton 2 that it's basically its own game

Just like how Cotton 100% is a console remix of the original arcade Cotton, Cotton Boomerang is an interpretation of Cotton 2 yet it changes its gameplay so much that it may as well be considered its own unique game. You'll experience many of the same scenarios, stages, and bosses but this time, you have some nifty mechanics at your disposal with the most notable being the ability to swap between characters which are interesting because you get 3 elemental iterations of both Cotton and Appli (who previously acted as player 2 in Cotton 2) as well as their fairies Silk and Needle, respectively. Each character levels up separately and has their own attacks so swapping between them to take advantage of your current situation adds a layer of strategy. It's also a more intense game than Cotton 2 so you'll really have to give it your all if you want to master this follow-up. Thankfully, using magic is much easier this time around.

Cotton Boomerang takes the delightful Cotton 2 and reinterprets it into a much more action-packed experience that's a ton of fun.

Cotton Boomerang - Saturn Tribute gameplay video →

Guardian Force - Saturn Tribute Review Switch ★★★★☆

Let's take a little detour from the Cotton series and look at another shoot 'em up by the talented team at Success Corporation.

Guardian Force - Saturn Tribute screenshot
Guardian Force may have less character but it still packs a punch

Between Cotton 2 and Boomerang, Success released Guardian Force for both arcade and Sega Saturn. For starters, it's a much more typical shoot 'em up complete with heavy machinery and clever weapons as opposed to fantastical creatures and magic spells. The first thing I did while playing this Switch version is change the controls because Guardian Force is played by shooting and rotating your guns simultaneously and I prefer doing so with the shoulder triggers. For reference, change A to ZL, B to Y, and C to ZR if you want the same setup that I used. Anyway, Guardian Force kind of feels like a Psikyo shoot 'em up with its vertical orientation and constant medal-collecting but it's certainly unique, especially its distinct array of weapons, timed challenges, and awesome stand-out soundtrack.

Guardian Force may not be as charming as Cotton but it offers one heck of an enjoyable shoot 'em up formula that's sure to impress.

Guardian Force - Saturn Tribute gameplay video →

Cotton Rock 'n' Roll: Superlative Night Dreams

With all these Cotton ports and the super-fun Cotton Reboot! releasing this year, you'd figure that would be enough but a brand new entry in the long-running series is dropping very soon in Japan. Going by its trailer, Cotton Rock 'n' Roll: Superlative Night Dreams seems like it'll bring back the classic gameplay in a lovely world with stages that scroll in multiple directions and there's even a guest character with Kawase Umihara who appears to have her own sea creature themed campaign. Here's hoping it'll get a worldwide release!

Cotton Rock 'n' Roll trailer → Cotton Fantasy Review
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Gameplay video playlist for Cotton Series Review
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