Cotton Fantasy – Review
Follow Genre: Arcade game, shoot-em-up
Developer: Success
Publisher: ININ, Strictly Limited Games
Platform: Switch, PS4, PC
Tested on: Switch

Cotton Fantasy – Review

Site Score
8.8
Good: A wide variety of playstyles
Bad: Feels overpriced
User Score
10.0
(1 votes)
Click to vote
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Rating: 10.0/10 (1 vote cast)

Well, this one has been a long time coming, hasn’t it? Everyone’s favorite candy-obsessed witch, Nata de Cotton, has been celebrating her 30th anniversary on modern consoles through a slew of ports of older titles, but with Cotton Fantasy, we’re now getting a completely new title in the series. Titled Cotton Rock ‘n’ Roll in Japan, Cotton Fantasy doesn’t just herald the return of Nata de Cotton herself, but she brought along some friends as well. Is this new entry in the series as sweet as the candy that Nata de Cotton obsesses over or is it rotten in the tooth?

Story

Side-scrolling shoot-’em-up titles typically tend to focus on gameplay rather than on story, and when they do include a story, it’s usually a sci-fi tale à la Gleylancer or G-Darius. Of course, the cutesy fairy tale setting doesn’t really lend itself to an epic space opera, but then again, the Cotton series refers to itself as a cute-’em-up rather than a shoot-’em-up. That said, there is a story present in Cotton Fantasy, but just like previous titles in the series, it’s a light-hearted affair that follows a very similar premise to previous titles in the series. Once again, a catastrophe befalls the kingdom, and it’s up to Nata de Cotton to save the day. This time, the willows are vanishing. Given that these trees are the source for willow candies, our candy-obsessed heroine needs only a little push (and the promise of a lifetime supply of willow candies) to get out there and deal with the mysterious entity that is making the willows disappear. One thing we should note is that the story doesn’t change depending who you decide to play as, which was a bit of a letdown. On the upside, there are far more cutscenes than in previous entries and these are a joy, filled with humor and great artwork.

Graphics

As you’d expect, Cotton Fantasy sticks to the established character designs that we’ve come to know and love from previous titles, albeit slightly updated for a modern-day audience. Rather than the pixel art from the original, cutscenes are now presented as hand-drawn manga art, in a similar vein to the redrawn art from Cotton Reboot, with exaggerated expressions, and it works fantastically. Guest characters from other series -more on them in the gameplay section- are drawn in the same style as the rest of the game, and this works well enough. As for in-game visuals, the game feels optimized for Switch, even during the most intense action sequences. We didn’t notice any frame drops or stutters during our time with the game, though admittedly this may have been because we got caught up in the frantic on-screen action. The various environments and 3D models for the characters and enemies may not push any visual boundaries, but within the world of Cotton, they look fantastic.

Sound

The music that accompanies Nata de Cotton during her quest sounds suitably retro and feels very fitting for the on-screen action, more so than had this been a fully orchestrated OST. Keyboard tunes and techno beats add to the intensity of the action, as do the excellent sound effects. Voice acting is limited to Japanese voices, but this is very fitting of the game’s overall style, and the cast does a good job of complementing the exaggerated facial expressions of the characters during cutscenes. We also got a kick out of hearing the cast yell as they unleashed powerful attacks during the levels as it really drew us into the action even further.

Gameplay

Rather than experimenting with the established core gameplay of the series, like Panorama Cotton did, Cotton Fantasy sticks to what it does best: you’ll navigate through a gauntlet-like level filled with enemies and shoot them using magical spells, picking up items that power you up along the way. At the end of a level, a boss awaits you and you’ll need to take it down. Cotton Fantasy doesn’t bring anything new to the table in this regard, but that didn’t bother us as the simple formula remains rock solid, even after three decades, and the series has never felt more accessible than it does here. Of course, just like the previous titles, the key to beating Cotton Fantasy is persistence and replaying levels over and over again as you memorise enemy attack patterns and aim to beat your own high score. Cotton Fantasy is a fairly short game in terms of how many levels there are, but developer Success is counting on the near-infinite replayability of the game to pull players in. This time, the replayability and longevity of the game is multiplied thanks to its main gimmick.

Said gimmick is that a bunch of additional playable characters are joining Nata de Cotton herself, and each of them comes with their own playstyle. These characters mostly consist of guest characters from other series, such as Kawase from the Umihara Kawase series and Psyva Ria from Psyvariar. We imagine that for Western audiences, this is their first time meeting these characters as they hail from niche series that enjoy far more popularity in Japan, but perhaps Success hopes that their inclusion gets Western audiences to look into their other IPs. Initially, there are six available characters, and there is an unlockable secret seventh character as well. While Nata de Cotton herself is the most straightforward character to play the game with, the other characters dramatically alter the flow of Cotton Fantasy’s gameplay. Take the character Fine (from Samvein) for example: when playing as her, you’ll notice that there is a time limit that you need to clear the stage in, but also that she doesn’t have a set number of lives like the other characters do.

Because the playstyle for each character is so unique, each time you start a run with a different character feels fresh, even if you’re already familiar with the layouts and enemy waves of the stages. Each character also gets a unique level specifically tuned to their playstyle, alongside the introductory stage, five main levels (which can be tackled in any order), the final stage, and two bonus levels. Our main concern was that mastering six (or seven) different playstyles would be a lot to wrap our head around, but each character also has her own tutorial. On top of that, the controls are tight and responsive, making for a game that is just as welcoming to newcomers than it is to veterans of Cotton’s frantic cute-’em-up gameplay. Compared to previous titles that we’ve looked at, Cotton Fantasy feels not only more accessible, but also like a much more complete package in terms of content, though we still felt like the €39.99 asking price felt very steep.

Conclusion

Forget what we said about Cotton Reboot: if you want to give the Cotton series a try, there is no better entry point than Cotton Fantasy. It’s a fantastic little game, and giving each of the seven available characters a distinct playstyle was a stroke of genius as it keeps things fresh and it dramatically improves the longevity of the game. The only real downside here is that the game feels overpriced, but if you can pick it up on sale, then this is a no-brainer.

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Rating: 10.0/10 (1 vote cast)
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Cotton Fantasy - Review, 10.0 out of 10 based on 1 rating
SebastiaanRaats


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