Ever since releasing on NeoGeo in 1994, Windjammers has been something of a cult classic among retro gamers. Over twenty years later, it finally has a modern home console release so let's find out if it lives up to its reputation.
For the uninitiated, the sport of Windjammers is a cross between Frisbee, tennis, and soccer. Your aim is to hurl a disc over a net, past your opponent, and into their goal. You get either three or five points for a successful shot depending on which part of the goal you score in. Twelve points wins the round in a best-of-three games format. To keep things interesting, you have a range of different shots at your disposal. You can lob or curve the disc and tapping the shoot button just as you receive it makes for a faster return. Each of the characters also has his or her own unique power shot which usually flings the disc off on some unpredictable trajectory at increased speed.
As you can no doubt tell from the screenshots, this version of Windjammers isn't a full-on remake but rather a re-release with some additional features, the most notable of which is an online component. That means the original graphics have been left untouched. There's even a CRT filter you can enable in the options menu just to make it more authentic. Of course, the visuals appear dated today but nevertheless, they still burst with colour and have loads of character. Speaking of characters, you have six to choose from. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses but generally speaking, some are fast with weak shots while others are slow but pack a punch. Each also has a signature special move that can be triggered with a well-timed button push. These differences make for a good deal of variety in how each character plays and mastering them is your key to success when you're faced with tough challenges.
Windjammers includes a single player arcade mode and both online and offline multiplayer. Arcade pits you against six opponents whom you'll have to defeat sequentially to be crowned the king of disc-hurling. There are three difficulty levels ranging from incredibly easy to almost impossible. Additionally, these match-ups are punctuated by two bizarre mini-games: one in which you have to toss a Frisbee for a dog then run after and catch it as the dog. Another is bowling where you use your disc to knock over pins. These are definitely an original distraction from the rest of proceedings but as their only purpose is to increase your score, they ironically feel pointless.
Battling the AI gets stale after a while so you'll soon want to seek out human opposition. Unfortunately, the offline versus mode offers very few configuration options and as a result, you're left with one-off matches that feel largely inconsequential. Playing online is more compelling as ranked play puts you into a league where you can earn or lose points depending on the outcome of the match. If you win enough points, you'll be promoted to a new league and face tougher opponents. It's a bare minimum of progression but it at least gives you something to work towards. Playing against real people also makes for some much more exciting games than facing the computer. Rallies can be fast and furious and matches are so short and volatile that you can be on the verge of losing one moment only to turn it around with a quick flurry of well-placed shots or super moves.
Windjammers' diverse character roster really comes into its own here. In one match, you might be pitted against a sluggish opponent with deadly throwing ability and then you could face a much more agile foe with special moves that you'll need to learn to telegraph if you're going to shut them out. This ensures each contest is sufficiently different from the last which keeps the gameplay fresh. Things are made more unpredictable by the court selection. The six courts come in different sizes which affects the success rate of certain shots and some have small barriers atop their nets resulting in some haphazard ricochets that can outfox even the best players.
Although things work well most of the time, I personally have some issues with performing certain moves. Curve shots in particular feel very awkward to pull off as sometimes they work and other times, I just end up throwing the disc harmlessly straight to my waiting opponent. Maybe I'm not cut out to be a Windjammer but regardless, I think the text-based tutorial could have done a better job of explaining exactly when certain buttons should be pressed in order to perform advanced moves properly.
The fact that it's still fun to play over two decades after its initial release is a testament to Windjammers' quality base mechanics. It's a classic case of good gameplay being more important than graphical improvements. The short arcade mode and barebones offline versus component make it feel somewhat limited but it's still worth picking up for a quick blast of nostalgic arcade sports action.
- + Base gameplay still holds up today
- + A diverse set of characters who play differently from one another
- + Online matches can be exciting
- - Certain shots are very hit or miss
- - Offline multiplayer could have done with some more options
- - Lack of modes makes things feel limited