Review: Cotton Fantasy

Last year’s Cotton¬†Reboot!¬†brought the long-running cute-em-up series to the modern age and ushered in a new era for the series as a whole. The revamped version of the original game shined a light on a franchise that never got much love in North America in its early days and being a somewhat-forgotten entity of the past until the reboot. Since then, we’ve seen a resurgence for the franchise with the first two games getting ported to modern hardware and now Cotton Fantasy — the first original entry since the behind-the-back Dreamcast game Rainbow Cotton in 2000.

Cotton Fantasy keeps the same core gameplay as Cotton Reboot! intact but adds in a lot more variety when it comes to playable characters and that alone changes up the action quite a bit. Cotton is an all-arounder with the ability to do a forward-facing shot or get a pickup to do a spread shot alongside a charge shot. Luffee uses a powerful laser that deals out a ton of damage and slices through foes quickly, but its small straight-line nature makes it trickier for busy screens since it can’t take out a lot of foes quickly. That kind of work is best done by Fine, whose default spreadshot is fantastic. She’s a timing-based character and has to take out foes to earn more time on the clock and she has no live system to work with, however, so it’s tougher to keep a high score session going with her. Ria is a great choice for those wanting a spreadshot, but she also does damage to enemy shots and can deal out damage in more ways than other characters. Kawase from the Umihara Kawase series appears and does a lot of damage with a wider attack ranger of flying sharks, but can also trap enemies with her lure. She’s a fantastic choice for those wanting to add strategy to the mix, or one can just plow through enemies quickly with her better-than-standard attack radius and damage. Appli is slower than most, but deals out a lot of damage per shot that connects and each attack type is deadly in its own way.

Every character operates off of having a different affinity for the in-game crystals collected from fallen enemies. Some will wind up with a better attack radius, while others will see that cut down but see a big uptick in how much damage is done. The player can keep shooting the crystals to get their desired result, which is a nice touch. You’re never fully stuck with a weapon choice you don’t like unless the auto-scrolling prevents you from hitting it that one more time needed to change it over to the color you want. It’s a great mechanic and something that helps ensure that players can always have fun and be in control of the experience.

The core gameplay is very much like Cotton Reboot! — so players of that will feel right at home. There’s more stage and enemy variety here than in that and it helps keep this cute-em-up fresher than most. Levels go from bright and cheerful to dark and brooding some of the best areas being set at night with an ominous moon in the background. There’s a lot of life to the world as well, with shifting set pieces to keep players on their toes while also sinking damage in if those obstacles aren’t eliminated in time. The only major flaw in Cotton Fantasy is that it’s all too similar to the reboot without much variety. Behind-the-back gameplay would have been cool to see, but is relegated to special stages between levels that offer up a taste of what could be done in that style. Maybe it’s a tease to get players used to that viewpoint, because it’s easy to see a Rainbow Cotton remake being done in that style down the road. That would also manage to be unlike pretty much anything else on the market as it’s a rail shooter, but one with a more limited viewpoint and more akin to a Space Harrier title than something like Panzer Dragoon.

Visually, Cotton Fantasy looks exactly like one would expect for a follow-up of Cotton Reboot!. The art style is identical and it’s visually pleasing with a lot of colors visible across every stage. The 2D playing area works nicely with polygonal environments since it’s used to make the game more like the series as a whole and the use of a 3D space kept to 2D does enable occasional shifts around to new areas to help mix things up. Enemy animation is good overall and it’s easy to see when enemies are getting weaker and to plan your attacks around their movements. It’s clear that a lot of work went into making Reboot! look good and that same approach has held up nicely for this entry as well.

The soundtrack is cheery with a few catchy tunes in the mix, but there’s more variety here than usual for the genre. There’s heavier fare for darker stages and the intensity nicely amps up during boss battles. The sound effect work as a whole is impressive, with each shot type sounding different and that leading to a different feel for each weapon. The laser offers more precision and has an effect befitting that, while the wider spread shots aren’t as impactful-sounding but offer up more overall damage to more things and so the player will hear that reflected in how many enemies are being taken out at once. It’s more satisfying to use each kind of weapon for different reasons — with one being more immediately-satisfying in the laser, while the other offers that same effect spread out over more time.

Closing Comments:

Cotton Fantasy nicely follows up on the reboot while also sticking too close to the formula, feeling like an extension of what the reboot was visually and in terms of gameplay. It does feature more variety with behind-the-back action, but it feels like a waste to have that relegated to bonus areas instead of integrating it into at least one action stage given that the prior entry in the series was behind-the-back fully and this feels like a tease. Other than that shortcoming, Cotton Fantasy is a tremendous experience and a ton of fun for anyone who enjoyed the series before or just got introduced to it via the reboot. It’s an excellent side-scrolling shooter and one with a lot of visual and audio variety.

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