Cotton released in 1991 and it's back 30 years later in a newly arranged Reboot so scarf down some candies and get ready to shoot.
Success's Cotton franchise may not be as well-known in the west as it is in Japan but it should be because it's one super-fun shoot 'em up. About a decade ago, I remember jumping through hoops while trying to get my hands on a Japanese PlayStation Network card and once I finally did, I happily downloaded the PS1 Classics Cotton Original and Cotton 100% onto my PlayStation 3 along with a bunch of other shmups. Needless to say, I had a ton of fun with them so when I heard that Cotton Reboot was announced to release here, I was quite excited, especially after reviewing the delightful puzzler KASIORI a couple months back which features Cotton and Silk as playable characters. Now that I've played through this remake, I must say that it went above and beyond to craft a truly great experience.
Cotton may look like a simple shmup considering how cute and silly it is but it's actually quite involving with plenty of complicated systems and mechanics in place. Because of this, it takes a while to learn how to play it effectively since a lot of experimentation is required before you can juggle the right balance of what to execute and when. For starters, your basic shot has you shoot straightforward as well as has your fairy friends drop bombs simultaneously. On top of that, there's a button that allows you to enter fever mode which allows you to increase your score multiplier and there are also magic spells to pick up and utilize. These spells alone are super-complex because there are various colours with different effects, you can level them up, and you can cast them via a couple of different means.
Although things seem intricate already, there are also crystals that you can shoot which makes them change colour and upon collecting them, you can level-up your core shot or earn spells. When you shoot them, they refract your shot to reach a wider area and if you shoot one long enough, it turns black and can award you with a big multiplied score boost. Yes, it's a lot to take in but once you begin to understand how it all works together, the gameplay starts to shine. When you factor in the wacky enemy sprites, rewarding scoring system, gratifying sound effects, arcade-style music, and imaginative environments; you're left with one fantastic shoot 'em up.
Having played the original via the PS1 port, it's easy to see just how much work they put into Cotton Reboot's arrange mode as it's a vastly-improved experience. In fact, playing it reminded me a lot of Cave's DeathSmiles which probably owes a lot to Cotton with its similar Halloween-themed aesthetic. Anyway, you can also play the 1993 X68000 iteration which is cool because you can see how far it's come but why they didn't include the 1991 arcade original is beyond me. Even if the X68000 version is superior, surely most fans would want to play the original to see where it all began. It is nifty that they at least included one of the classic ports, though.
Cotton Reboot also features a 2-minute and 5-minute challenge mode which takes place in an arena and acts as a fun score-chasing diversion. Plus, upon completing the game, you unlock the ability to listen to the soundtrack and watch the hilarious cutscenes again. However, I wish there was more museum-style content because this is an iconic classic shoot 'em up and western gamers like me would love the opportunity to dive deeper via concept art, design materials, interviews, etc. Such content would add a lot of value.
Finally, before wrapping this up, allow me to mention that although Cotton Reboot is an excellent game, it does have some rather frustrating moments that could have been smoothed-over better in arrange mode. For example, you sometimes have enemies behind you yet you don't have the ability to turn around so if you're out of spells, it can be tricky to target them. Also, some boss attacks aren't well-telegraphed so you'll have to memorize a lot of patterns if you want to avoid getting snagged at an unexpected moment.
Cotton Reboot provides an incredible experience for shmup fans with its expertly-crafted arrange mode that modernizes the classic to new heights. In fact, it does such a good job with this that it could be used as a template for any shoot 'em up remake.
- + Arrange mode modernizes the classic in a brilliant and flashy new way
- + Intricate and rewarding gameplay systems
- + Wonderfully imaginative enemies and levels
- - Why isn't the arcade version included?
- - Some scenarios are haphazardly designed
- - Could use more museum-style content