Developed By: Studio Saizensen, Success Published By: ININ Games, Strictly Limited Games Categories: Shoot'emUp Release Date: 05.20.22
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. 2021 was a killer year for Cotton as a series. Not only was it the series 30th anniversary, but we also got a whole bunch of new games. From the rad remake, Cotton Reboot to the surprising re-releases of 100%, Panorama. Finally ending up with a brand new game in the series, Cotton Rock n’ Roll, or how it’s named in the west, Cotton Fantasy. First in arcades, now at home.
Success and Studio Saizensen’s work shouldn’t be too unfamiliar with readers of The Switch Effect as I’ve covered a handful of their games before. One game to keep in mind is Umihara Kawase Bazooka. While that was a bit of a spinoff to the Umihara Kawase series, it also was a game that was more of a celebration of the franchise. It also was a crossover game between the works of Success and Studio Saizensen, including Cotton having an appearance. In a way, Cotton Fantasy is very much like Umihara Kawase Bazooka. It’s a celebration of Cotton and of course, is a crossover game, with some of the same folk you’d see in Bazooka.
Lets catch up on the Cotton games since it’s been a hot minute since I’ve covered any. They’re what people call “cute’em ups”. Which is just a way for people to point out the more quirky, cute or sexy varieties of the shoot’em up genre. Stuff like Parodius or Twinbee. Cotton is a horizontal shooter (which I vastly prefer to vertical in all honesty), where you control the titular witch. She loves these candies called Willow. Like, go all hog wild over them. The games all have stories, including Fantasy, but at the end of the day it all revolves around how Cotton can be coerced into helping and saving the world from an evil force…through candy. In Cotton Fantasy, there’s a giant Willow, it’s a bit ominous, and the fairy Silk needs Cotton once more.
The gameplay of the Cotton games is as follows. You can shoot, and you have magic. Not unlike Twinbee, you want to pay attention to certain colored objects that you can shoot for powerups (and magic). While in Twinbee it’s bells, in Cotton is crystals. Red is Fire, Blue is Thunder, and Green is Wind. The Yellow crystals exist purely to just give more experience. Experience in Cotton is to make your shots more powerful and the difference between level 1 and 5 is tremendous.
In Cotton Fantasy, it’s not just for your magic attacks, which act as a bomb or sort compared to other shoot’em ups. It’s also for your main shots. Red is more of a quick shooting machine gun, Blue is like a spreading shotgun, and Green is closer to a homing attack. Cotton Fantasy does have something new however, giving you a special attack. This is something that can really help with a few things if you’re in a huge crowd, maybe overwhelmed.
I don’t think I’d be able to avoid mentioning the whole score factor of Cotton. Magic (bombs) are usually used as a last resort to clear out incoming fire, right? Well, in Cotton this also comes with giving you Bells. Bells give you points, lots of points. Getting more gives you a multiplier for all other points earned too. Not only does your magic do this, but also those special attacks.
Everyone is Here!
Cotton Fantasy is like I mentioned earlier, a crossover game. While story wise, it really isn’t at all, in terms of gameplay, it most definitely is. How does this work exactly you ask? Well, you don’t just play as Cotton in Fantasy. You play as a handful of girls from different games, including Umihara from Umihara Kawase! Every character is unique. The way they shoot, their magic, and especially their special attacks. Lets cover Umihara’s special attack for instance.
You did play Bazooka, right? A key mechanic in that is the BAZOOKA, which has you capture an enemy to shoot it right back. It works the same way here, grab an enemy with your fishing line and just BAZOOKA it right back near a bunch of enemies to get a bunch of bells and start a nice combo. Appli, another witch, from Cotton 2 grabs an enemy, then can spin them around like a buzz saw, allowing you to run into those big groups.
Fine and Ria are the really interesting characters. Fine takes no damage and cannot lose lives. Instead, she works off of a timer. You get hit, the you lose more time. Collecting crystals earns you more time. Ria is the kind of character you play as if you wanna play risky. You’ll need to “Buzz” right passed enemy fire. This makes you stronger and stronger, soon allowing for a devastating bomb to get fired off. I played a game like this last year named Risk Factor that this really reminds me of. Ria won’t have crystals, but she is also incredibly powerful, especially if you play well.
On top of all of this, each character has their own unique stage to go through. To play these, then subsequently unlock them, you’ll have to beat the game as the character linked to them. There’s 9 stages by default in Story mode. You’ll be playing these a lot. Though after beating the game with a character, an extra appears. These are all cute throwbacks, though personally, I find it a bit offputting to play these stages as anyone but the character they’re for. Some seem a little more balanced for that too. All that said, you might get sick of that intro stage by the time you unlock everything.
Like an Arcade in Your Pocket
So as you can see there’s a lot to do in Cotton Fantasy. As a fan of the genre, it really is honestly an anomaly to see a game in it that has replay value outside of scores. There’s even harder difficulties including adaptive difficulty. Something I’m probably never going to touch due to me being frankly terrible at these kinds of games despite loving them. Stages themselves aren’t too difficult for me, but I falter when it comes to some of the bosses. I can recognize patterns, but do get nervous when some bullet hell moments happen. Bosses all have multiple phases too, though you might not see some if you take them out fast enough. Though in the case of boss 1, you might think it’s dead when the second phase happens. It’s got me a few times.
One thing I will say that I wish more games would do, as I love it is including an option to show your hitbox. Hitboxes in Cotton Fantasy are displayed as a small heart right in the middle of your character. What this means is that you can probably slide through waves of shots better than you’d think. Some levels are still ridiculous, but not that ridiculous.
I did mention earlier this is a cute’em up. The implications of which mean that Cotton Fantasy is a very colorful game. It’s really pleasant to the eyes. Character models aren’t exactly groundbreaking, but they’re cute and it’s never an issue to see them. Infact, Cotton Reboot had a bit of an issue of clutter and the score multiplier going a little crazy. Not the case this time. It can get busy, but never to that extent. Add that with how much variety there is in stage, enemies, bosses, and characters. You got quite the looker. Though this does come at the expense at times of the framerate seeing a bit…off? Not choppy or laggy, but I felt a tad bit of a slowdown at points.
Rock and Roll is Right
Considering the game is called Cotton Rock n’ Roll in Japan, one would hope the music is good. Ho boy is it good, not disappointing at all, even set right next to the rest of the series. It’s certainly not the first thing to pay attention to when playing, but it did stand out. Definitely going to be a listen to outside of the game kind of soundtrack. Makes me glad I’m not in a loud arcade where you’d barely be able to hear the music.
If you’re a fan of shoot’em ups, get Cotton Fantasy. If you’re a fan of the Cotton series, get Cotton Fantasy. It’s great, it’s the rare game in the genre I feel that actually incentivizes having the player replay the game again and again outside of just higher and higher scores and 1CCs. Like before, Strictly Limited Games has an amazing looking physical release. The standard edition should be shipping by the time this review goes up and the collectors edition, of which comes with a Cotton Nendoroid should be shipping soon!
Buy Now: $39.99 Digital –
*Game Download Code graciously provided for the purpose of review