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Review: Windjammers (PS4)

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  • Review: Windjammers (PS4)

    What's Old is New Again, But Still Kind of Old.

    Windjammers is a blast from the past, for both better and for worse. The game excels at being a fast-paced game that relies partly on reflexes, partly on skill, and partly on actual strategy. The colorful 16-bit graphics look just as great now as they did back in 1994 when the game first came out for the Neo Geo. In fact, I would argue that right now is the perfect time for this Windjammers revival given how many new games are out there that ape the visual style without actually being retro. The game even features a lovely 4:3 aspect ratio mode for purists while also offering a 16:9 mode that stretches the view out. If you stick to the 4:3 ratio, the remaining space on your television is filled with art work for the two competing players. There are also scanline filter options in addition to things like a CRT filter. I chose to play it with the 4:3 aspect and no additional filters applied just as a matter of personal taste.

    My first experience with the game came roughly a year or two ago when I watched Giant Bomb play the original Neo Geo release. I watched a group of friends and colleagues having a great time, laughing in between rounds of intense, fast-paced gameplay. It was right then that I knew I had to play this game somehow. Similar games have come out since then with more in the pipeline but when it comes to original there just isn't anything like it.

    At its core, the game is rather simple. Matches are one vs. one matchups on what is essentially a glorified tennis court. Instead of using a ball, a flying disc is used. The object is to get that flying disc into the three-point or the five-point goals behind your opponent. It is also possible to score two points if your opponent bobbles the disc and it hits the ground on their side, though these are quite a bit rarer. The first person to score 12 points wins the round. The first to win two rounds wins it all. If you want to have longer rounds, you are free to adjust the settings for your local competitive rounds.

    There are six different characters to choose from in Windjammers. They all hail from different parts of the world, all have different personalities, and all have slightly different stats spread across a few different attributes like speed and power. Perhaps most importantly, they all feature different super moves for you to use.

    Even though the game makes use of just two buttons, the gameplay has a surprising depth. On offense, you have a basic lob and a more powerful throw. Shot direction can be modified by pressing a direction on a stick or the d-pad while throwing the disc back. The timing of the throw is also important. If you catch and throw immediately, your shot will be more powerful than if you held onto the disc for a second or more. Curve can be applied to your shots by doing motions such as down to forward (think fighting game motions) as you throw the disc back. On defense, you are able to dive to catch an opponent's throw. Often, this dive will result in the disc popping up into the air. A marker appears on the ground and if you position your character in that spot, they will start to charge up for a super shot that will require some incredibly fast reaction times from your opponents to counter. Some very intense (read "fun") moments happen when two skilled opponents are constantly sending supers back and forth to each other.

    Windjammers isn't strictly a multiplayer affair, but that is where the real fun lies. The single player experience is rather barebones and the difficulty is about what you would expect from a game that originated in the 90s. Easy is too easy and everything else results in opponents that are mind readers. A few mini-games are included but their novelty is rather short lived. I would have loved to have seen these mini-games fleshed out a bit for this release. The included bowling style mini-game is good fun but not when there is a time limit in place. Without a doubt, multiplayer is where the real fun lies, be it playing against a friend on the other side of the couch or state. Yes, Windjammers features the ability to play online and aside from the addition to a basic online ranking system is the main addition in this 2017 release of the game.

    Playing Windjammers online is a rather "interesting" experience. It is also the reason why this review has been delayed as long as it has been. In the month or so since the game was in my hands, I encountered nothing but trouble when it came to playing online against random opponents. Errors would constantly pop up. My opponent and I would disconnect before the actual match would even begin. These weren't one-off experiences by any means, these happened on a very regular basis. I would honestly say that 90% of the games I tried to play online resulted in disconnects. Judging by what I would read online, I was certainly not the only one having these issues. The games that did connect successfully felt perfectly fine. There was no perceived lag or stutter in any of these games once connected. And to be frank with you, the matches that did connect were some of the most adrenaline pumping online experiences I've encountered in a game. I'd put them right up there with the likes of Rocket League and PUBG.

    I waited to see if patches would address the issue or issues where online play was neigh unusable. They did, but they took a little while to get there. A handful of patches have come out since release with the latest coming just this past week. Since these patches have been released, the online experience has been much better than it ever was at launch. Disconnects and matchmaking woes are now the exception rather than the rule. However, these issues should not have been as prevalent as they were at launch.

    Outside of the technical issues with online, the problem with a game like Windjammers is the fact that it lacks a number of staples that consumers have come to expect from games that thrive on their multiplayer experiences. There are no unlocks to be earned. There is no character progression. You cannot create or customize any characters. What you see is what you get, and what you get is six characters, six different courts to play on, a shallow single player, and a multiplayer that barely worked for a few weeks after release. The core gameplay still holds up but if you grew up needing to customize everything or rank up all the time, you won't like the online multiplayer component to Windjammers.

    It is important to note that none of this takes away from the solid foundation of "pure fun" that Windjammers is built upon. It works well as a title that you can pick up and play for a quick fix of a sweaty game or two. It also works well as a game that you can include when you're having a competitive gaming night with your friends. If you're someone that is looking for a lot of depth or modern gaming staples in their games, you will have to look elsewhere.


    Additional Information
    Windjammers (Developed & Published by DotEmu)
    Starting at $14.99 (USD) for the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita via PlayStation Network (Cross Buy title; Reviewed on a PlayStation 4)
    Rated E for Everyone
    This game was provided to Total Gaming Network for review purposes.