Released right as fighting games emerged in arcades, Data East's Windjammers was a genre mashup that was ahead of its time. With a basic gameplay loop that recalls the simplicity of Pong, this competitive flying disc contest shines thanks to a unique 90s style and a deep moveset that keep games exciting. DotEmu's Windjammers 2 maintains the balance that made the original a cult classic with just a smattering of new content. While those new to the game will face an uphill climb against online competition, it's worth the effort to master every trick shot and flashy super move that Windjammers has to offer.
At the most basic level, Windjammers plays like tennis with flying discs instead of balls and rackets. Players throw or hit the disc back and forth and score when they can land it behind the player into one of several goals. Players get more points for hitting certain areas of the court or making their opponent miss a throw, and flashy moves make things speed up to ludicrous levels. Volleys can go on for minutes at a time, building speed with every hit and testing even the most hardened reflexes. Just as often, a single well-timed serve can land in the goal thanks to curved throws, spikes, and screen-shaking volleys.
Windjammers 2 offers a roster of flying disc warriors with different stats and unique special moves. Whether you're after a speedy athlete or a powerhouse, there's a perfect choice waiting in the wings. From the start, you'll need to go through a lot of trial and error to figure out exactly who to stick with, and the game could do a better job of showcasing each character's unique aspects on the select scren. Returning characters come into this sequel largely unchanged, meaning that those with Windjammers experience can pick up right where they left off. Anyone going in without a main will probably end up hitting brick walls of progress in the arcade mode as they find their footing amidst the expanded roster.
The rest of Windjammers 2 has new features sprinkled throughout what is otherwise a modern-day reboot of a cult classic. New arenas like the casino change up gameplay by making each disc worth a randomized number of points no matter where they land, leading to a different type of two-player battle. A new super move lets fighters jump into the air to spike the disc at their opponent, leading it to either land in an unreachable spot or spin on its side straight into the goal. Windjammers 2 undoubtedly nails the fundamentals, but these new wrinkles add more complexity to a game that was already difficult to master in its original form.
The lack of new player reachout is something that extends throughout the entire Windjammers 2 experience. The tutorial is a series of still images explaining the controls, and the rest of the menus make no effort to actually explain what makes flying disc battling so special. This would be fine if Windjammers 2's easiest difficulty was welcoming to this type of player, but even someone familiar with the game for years like me felt the heat against the final few battles. In a way, this all mimics the experience of walking up to an arcade cabinet sight unseen, but I feel like that's one old-school experience that doesn't need to persevere into 2022.
Perhaps this lack of accessibility just comes from an adherence to making one of the purest arcade experiences of recent times. Windjammers 2 is no-frills in a way that caters to quarter junkies, presenting just an arcade ladder and a versus mode that runs locally and online. Whatever you pick from the main menu loads in a snap and bursts onto the screen in a wave of colorful action. I just wish that there were one or two more modes to bring the game into modern times. Still, the presentation adds to the momentum of the speed back and forth gameplay and brings the excitement of what came before to a game that will please those with modern sensibilities and a willingness to learn the old ways.
The most drastic changes to the Windjammers experience in 2 come from the presentation. Continuing the style of the DotEmu-published Streets of Rage 4, this sequel replaces pixel art models and tinny voice samples with hand-drawn sprites and crisp audio. It's a striking game to look at, and the visuals do a great job of keeping up with even the fastest rounds of back and forth action. There are animated characters in each background and other small details that make it clear that the presentation took ultimate precedence in this release. For Windjammers fans, this game will certainly stand alongside the NEOGEO original as a timeless classic.
Windjammers 2 nails what it sets out to do by offering existing fans a brand new game that sticks to what made the original such a hit. Those looking for a fully-featured arcade conversion will be left wanting, and players picking up the game for the first time will find a tough road to glory. However, anyone with arcade skills or a few friends to play with will find a lot to like in DotEmu's reimagining. It's a shame that there wasn't an effort to add just a few more modes or features to the rock-solid fundamentals on display, but I understand the feeling that you don't want to fix what isn't broken. At the end of the day, there is finally another Windjammers, and it is good.
TechRaptor reviewed Windjammers 2 on Xbox Series X via backward compatibility with a copy provided by the developer. It is also available on PC, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch and will launch into Xbox Game Pass.
- Slick presentation
- Arcade-perfect gameplay
- Fast and furious competition
- Steep learning curve
- Limited feature set