I’ll be honest. I had no clue what the first Windjammers was about when I was offered to write a review for its sequel. I took one look at the game footage and loved what I saw. Colorful comic book-ish art style, fast-paced action and great old school rock music. The first Windjammers was released for NEOGEO and became a popular arcade game in Japan.
It was then ported to the PlayStation 4 in 2017. Windjammers 2 is now published and developed by DotEmu. There is quite a bit that was fun while learning to play, and many not so fun aspects that can really ruin your experience. My review is based on the Arcade mode since Online Play was not available for review copies.
First things first
Windjammers 2 is a mix of air hockey and volleyball with a disk. The goals on each end of an arena have a yellow and red area at their goal lines. You have a variety of throws, hits, blocks and jumps at your disposal to get that disk past that line for 3 points in the yellow, or the more difficult 5 points for the red goal lines. You will have 3 matches before the final match, and some interesting and fun bonus rounds in between.
In each round, you can choose between two opponents. If you notice their stats beforehand, you can plan out your strategy accordingly before you start the next match. Don’t forget, just like any classic arcade, you have a limited amount of continues before game over. You can earn more continues as your progress via an experience/points bar that fills over time.
At first glance, WJ2 looked great. It has a modern colorful retro art style that looks like it popped from the pages of comic books that were popular in the 80’s and 90’s. The jamming of the electric guitar and rock music will send you back just as far. Even the characters have a 90’s aesthetic. Cliché character designs aren’t always a bad thing. Especially when you’re aiming for a particular era feel. I think the look of WJ2 is great and hits all the nostalgia feels.
Choose your character!
Even more nostalgic goodness, the character select screen will take you back to the early days of Street Fighter and many other classic arcade games. Each character has two simple stats: Speed and Strength. Some will have more speed, which allows better movement and disc throw speed, while others with strength in their arsenal will throw, block and hit harder, knocking down opponents. Those hard throws will sometimes even blast right through an opponent and sink right into your goal, even if they block!
Aside from the character design, there really isn’t much of a personality on any of them. They don’t speak and each character ending can sometimes leave you wanting more. Take the American G. Scott. He looks like a character straight out of the 90’s T.V. show American Gladiators. That’s all you get from him aside from his celebration win after each match. Another character, K. Wessel from Germany has the same physique and almost the same stats. Either of the two would barely make a difference in the gameplay so it all comes down to miniscule preferences, country region and ending. I think if there were more stats to choose from, then everyone could stand out more.
Step into the Arena
Each match takes place in different arenas. Some are as simple as a beach volleyball court, while others are on more solid ground like a basketball court, gym, junkyard and more. There are very subtle differences in each arena but sadly, still don’t give enough variety. Some areas have obstacles that will bounce and block your disk throws, sometimes throwing it off its intended course. This adds a great of learning and adjustment to each match, forcing you to change up your game. Again, that’s about the only challenge a level can offer…except one.
The Casino level. This was by far the most unfair level, and I would tell anyone to avoid selecting it unless you want a punishing challenge and have practiced enough to handle its arena. The casino level changes its goal points from 1-8 points at any point during the match. So as good as you are, you may score on your opponent and end up with 1 point, while your opponent scores next and it makes 8 points. Not only that, but the flashing lights and colors can throw you off and possibly confuse you to where the disk is at. This caused me to miss so many blocks and grabs as well.
Bonus levels are offered every two matches. The only two that I played were a disk catching level where you earn points for each disk caught and a disk throwing game where you control a dog. The dog dodges any oncoming obstacles as it runs along the beach and if you catch the disk as it lands, you earn points. Points are only useful to fill a meter to earn you extra credits/extra lives to continue if you arrive at a game over screen.
How about that gameplay?
This is where I am most critical of WJ2. I think this game would be fun with online play. Player against player offers unpredictability and fair challenge…I stress the word fair. Playing against A.I. opponents are extremely unfair and sometimes borderline cheating. Maybe my skill wasn’t up to the par with what Windjammers would have wanted, but even on easy mode, I straddled the line of fun and frustration. I truly hope I am the only one that feels this way.
It’s almost as if the AI knows where and when something will occur before I input my commands. Those commands alone can be frustrating to input since there is a severe lack of a practice mode and a proper tutorial. I simply had to play arcade mode and lost over and over before I began to understand how the disk is thrown and maneuvered around. Not to mention how to block, use special attacks, curve throws, lobbing and jumping. The only tutorial it offers is simple text and images on what a move should look like. The least the game can do is show a video! I’ll sometimes think I’m inputting commands in properly only to get different results, then lost my shot.
Don’t get me wrong. The game is fun once you know what you are doing. There is a steep learning curve to master this game. I invite that type of challenge. Sadly, arcade mode needs a lot of work. I only wish I had online play available just to see if I truly learned and progressed in WJ2 or did I just get lucky each round. That final match was brutal and went through all my credits, ON EASY MODE! Some endings can be funny but are very short and offer little to no character development.
Want to play again?
I can’t stress enough how this game does not hand-hold and can be difficult to master. Once you get the hang of it, it can be fun. I worry that many will be put off early into the game and give up. There needs to be a practice mode and a proper tutorial mode. I will try my hand with online play and see where I land on my skills once the game releases January 20, 2022. I think there is some replay value if you stick with online play. There aren’t any skins to unlock, no new levels, new endings or characters. What you see is what you get. If you want some good online competition, give Windjammers 2 a try, just don’t expect much else in the content department.
This review was written based on a digital review copy of Windjammers 2 for the Nintendo Switch provided by DotEmu.