We’re in a bit of a “love letter” media period right now. Some old things come back with new things to say, like The Matrix Resurrections, and some old things come back simply to enjoy themselves, and remind yesteryear fans what they loved about the original in the first place, like Scream.
Windjammers 2 falls firmly into the latter category. After successfully resurrecting Streets Of Rage for another bout in 2020, developer Dotemu are up to the same old tricks, bringing Windjammers all the way back from 1994 (before I was even born) with a fresh coat of paint and some brand new ultimate frisbee-style action in this sequel.
Dotemu’s revival is really simple on the surface: two people pelt a frisbee back and forth with enough energy to knock the shit of each other, aiming to put the frisbee past their opponent and into a “goal” area. The point is to put the frisbee where your opponent can’t get it, rebounding the flying disc off walls and even barriers in the middle of the court to send it beyond their reach and bag yourself goal points.
This is ultimate frisbee, but if the frisbee could defy the laws of physics. Catching the frisbee from your foe, you’ve got a precious few seconds to decide how to hoon it: you could bend the frisbee around your opponent, rapidly rebound it off the edges of the court, or toss it up into the air like a volleyball. Simply lobbing the thing back and forth is Windjammers 2 at its most basic; bending and circling the frisbee around your opponent opens it into a rapid game of moving parts.
Windjammers 2 turns into an electrifying test of your reflexes in the defensive phase. Dotemu have extended the slide ability a little compared to the original to cover more ground, so you can go skidding around the court on your knees to quickly intercept frisbees blitzing and bounding towards your half of the court that’d normally be just out of your reach. Here, no frisbee is ever out of your reach - the onus is on your reflexes to see if you can accurately predict its winding path at high speeds to your side of the court.
The reaction times sort of stunned me at first. “This is a frisbee game,” I stupidly thought. “Why is it requiring the reaction times of a CS:GO player?” That starting thought only felt more ignorant the further I delved into Windjammers’ legacy, as I came across EVO tournaments where reaction times rivalled that of Mortal Kombat and Guilty Gear experts going at it. Windjammers is a frisbee game on the surface, but peeling back layers uncovers new aspects of its razor-sharp gameplay - things like piecing together lob-shots with charged shots for new special attacks.
It's the Super moves that are Windjammers 2 at its fastest, though. Every character has one special charged throw that they can let rip whenever in a match - they merely need to charge up by launching the frisbee in the air to themselves. Raposa’s super move has the frisbee firing down one court barrier before teleporting to the other, for example, while Max’s charges it with ethereal firepower before pounding it back at his opponent. Learning each character’s special move is one hell of an undertaking, even more so accurately memorising where the frisbee’s going to go and when, but it’s a surprisingly enjoyable added layer to master once you’ve got to grips with the basics.
Windjammers 2 has some surprising depth in its character roster. Every frisbee player is measured in two attributes: speed and power. Some might lean heavily on the former like Raposa darting around the court, or you could find yourself staring down the blistering biceps of Wessel with supreme power. Although you’ll generally need better reaction times as a meeker character to face off against the dominant power of someone like Wessel or Max, no one character matchup feels broken, as the playing field still allows for everyone to stay on a competitive level.
The Neo Geo classic Windjammers had a pixelated art style where everyone looked a little greasy and worn, like they’d just crawled out an all-night bender. Windjammers 2 has had a big update that smooths off the rough edges from the original for something fresh and vibrant. Then again, if Windjammers 2 is a callback to the era in which the original was developed, it’s absolutely nailed that aesthetic. In 2022, Windjammers 2 looks and feels like it takes place in 1990s L.A., like everyone’s cutting about in the background of Point Break, and every street corner is rammed with Scream-era Matthew Lillard characters.
Windjammers 2 is a banger. I didn’t really know what to expect from Dotemu’s revival going in. I assumed it’d be catering to a very specific audience that didn't include me, and I wasn’t entirely wrong: it doesn’t even give you a tutorial before throwing you headfirst into the mayhem. Once you’ve mastered the basics, though, whether you’re a newcomer or someone steeped in the history of the Neo Geo classic, this is arcade action in simple and enthralling form, beckoning you in with a surprisingly low skill barrier to entry, a dazzling art style, and an eclectic mix of characters to master.