One of the great things about the current state of gaming is that it feels more likely than ever that your favorite relic of the past is going to be dusted off and redistributed by one publisher or another. All it takes is mass public recognition, the cursed words of a hype man, and a little licensing magic. Or at least, that's the story of Windjammers, the premier NEOGEO flying disc fighting game of 1994. An underappreciated arcade classic in its heyday, this PS4 update brings online play and a few new modes alongside an accurate emulation that maintains the pixel perfect gameplay experience.
At first glance, two characters throwing a disc from a top down angle might seem simplistic, but all that fades away once you grab a controller. This is a game in the grand tradition of Bushnell's Law, and I found that I could have a competitive game with just about anyone after a practice round or two. It's extremely easy for players to grasp the "combat," which combines quick reaction times with executing fake outs and mastering chaotic stages. Even once you know what you're doing, you'll still find yourself dashing in the wrong direction plenty, giving your opponent an easy few points and driving your need to best them.
Framed as a worldwide sports tournament, Windjammers has six multinational athletes to choose from, each with their own balance of power and speed, as well as a unique special move. One character might cover the disc in flames and whip it around him while another might electrify it and roll it along the side of the court. In addition to those, you can also execute power up lobs and supersonic throws that are very difficult to fight against. These flashy feats are tricky to pull off in the heat of the moment, but learning how to capitalize on opportunities as they happen will separate the novice players from the tournament champions.
Abilities like these tilt the game away from a pure sports experience and into a riff on the Street Fighter style of competition that was all the rage in the mid-90s. Outside of specials, you have a lob and a curving shot to change up your strategy and confuse your opponents. The curve shot requires a dragon punch motion with your joystick, which I found to be unreliable during actual gameplay. In fact, that combined with the loose control you have over your character's sliding give the entire game a sense of unpredictability that can be fun as long as you know what you're getting into.
As you climb the arcade ladder, you'll also run into two mini-games, and this re-release has standalone versions of those games complete with leaderboard support. Dog Distance will have you running along the beach as a canine trying to get as far as you can before catching a flying disc in your mouth. Flying Disc Bowling challenges you to knock away as many pins as possible for as many frames as possible in a short time limit. Both of these are fun diversions but don't really stand up to all the much scrutiny.
So yes, if all you're looking for is an affordable entry into this neon drenched world of flying discs, Windjammers on PS4 is a great fit. The game works flawlessly in single-player and local multiplayer. You can complete the arcade ladder or just keep going with a convenient endless mode. I was somewhat disappointed that you couldn't jump into a game as a second player during an arcade playthrough, but that's only coming from a traditionalist perspective and has no real effect on the proceedings. Once you get into the right menu, this game is right up there with modern day couch co-op games like Overcooked and Nidhogg, and should become a staple of gaming get-togethers this fall.
What does cause some trouble is the game's online modes. Servers seemed to be up and down all throughout the game's launch period, and I was only able to pair up with players reliably on one day that I tested the service. Even then, connections didn't hold past one or two matches, and I saw everything from frozen emulation to sped up background music. When I was able to find a match, the gameplay didn't suffer even with 100ms or more of latency, which makes the significant time I spent queuing up in menus all the more unfortunate.
Despite a collection of updated menus and character art surrounding the package, the main game of Windjammers has not been touched in the audiovisual department. You get the standard assortment of filters to trick yourself into thinking that your 55 inch 4K screen is a CRT, but I always prefer as many crunchy pixels as possible. As far as the soundtrack goes, there are some great selections here, including a few hip hop tracks that have lyrics straight out of a recording session for Anarchy Reigns. The menu music is iconic but loops far too quickly, which someone realized during development if the convenient "turn menu music off" option is any indication.
Windjammers is a small and simple package, but that's alright. This arcade game adaption keeps the all important gameplay intact, and being able to play with friends locally outside a retro convention will be enough for a lot of folks. If you're looking for a thriving online community, I'm not sure if this is going to be your jam, as inconsistent servers are going to scare away all but the most dedicated beach dwellers. Outside of that, I can find no real reason to dissuade players from picking up this radical re-release. Get ready.
Fast and frantic gameplay, crunchy pixel graphics, and local multiplayer that will have you playing with friends all night. Outside of a less than stable online experience, Windjammers on PS4 is the rip-roaring arcade experience you remember.
- Exciting Fast Paced Matches
- Radical Presentation
- Accurate Emulation
- Unstable Online Servers
- Maddening Menu Music Loop