Review: “Cotton Fantasy” (PS4, Nintendo Switch)

I can remember seeing the original Cotton in game magazines back in the early 90’s, and thinking how it looked like a game that I would probably enjoy. My favorite games were typically shooters (shoot ’em ups, in modern terms), and I thought the premise of a witch flying around and shooting on her broom sounded like a fun idea. Unfortunately for me, it was coming out for the rarely seen TurboGrafx-16 CD add-on, and I sadly only had the base TurboGrafx card-based system. Even more unfortunate, future Cotton games pretty much remained Japan exclusives. Cotton was just one series that I had to accept not getting to play.

Flash forward to 2021, and thank goodness (and both Success and ININ Games),* the Cotton series has seen a revival, so now I have finally been able to play all these fantastic games that I missed out on. After all this time, I have to admit, I really enjoy the Cotton series! I have already played through a handful of the games as they have been released, and now Cotton Fantasy (aka Cotton Rock ‘N’ Roll in other regions) is the latest in the series to grace modern consoles.

Shoot everything that moves!

However, unlike the other Cotton games that have recently been rereleased, Cotton Fantasy is a brand new adventure starring our favorite candy munching witch. Just like the other games in the series, Cotton Fantasy has a bright and colorful atmosphere. The enemies are mostly fantastical creatures that shoot a multitude of bullets your way. The music is upbeat and poppy, and the voice acting seems good, even if it’s only available in Japanese. Fortunately, there is at least an option for English subtitles this time around, so you can follow along with the story line.

Speaking of story line, it appears that all of Cotton’s favorite candy (called “Willows”) is disappearing from the world. Suffering from an addiction to these Willows, of course Cotton cannot stand idly by and do nothing! Especially not when she has been told that her success will reward her with enough Willows to hopefully satiate her thirst… at least until it’s time for a new game!

NOOOOOO!!!  Not the Willows!

If you have played any of the other side-scrolling Cotton games, then you pretty much know what to expect, as Cotton Fantasy is not entirely different from the previous entries in the series. But even those who have celebrated every title in the Cotton catalog, Fantasy does offer up a few new features that help mix up the game a bit over multiple playthroughs.

Cotton Fantasy’s gameplay consists of you in control of the petite witch flying around on broomback, shooting at pretty much everything that moves… and even some things that don’t move much at all! You have your regular shot, a rapid shot, and you can also charge your shot to use one of your “magic crystals” that you pick up from destroying enemies. Each crystal’s color gives you a different power, so you can shoot the dropped power-up a few times until it changes to the color you want to pick up. However, with the action getting pretty frantic at times, this may be a bit more difficult than you would imagine. Luckily, your charge shot destroys enemy fire, so you can strategically use these to save your witchy butt from trouble, and to get to the power-ups you may otherwise have trouble picking up. You are also given a limited number of “bombs” that destroy enemy fire as well, but seeing as these are not easily acquired, you’ll probably want to save them for only the stickiest of sticky situations.

The game’s backdrops range from forests, to Egyptian pyramids, to skies filled with giant airships. In addition to the main 2D stages, there is also a 3D bonus stage somewhat reminiscent of Panarama Cotton for the SEGA Mega Drive. Graphically, Fantasy is the first Cotton game to feature 3D models instead of sprite artwork, and while the models themselves don’t exactly test the limits of modern hardware, everything still moves smoothly and maintains the same fun, vibrant style of the previous Cotton games. Some of the boss enemies do get pretty large, though!

I ain’t afraid of no ghost!

There are three difficulty levels, and you are given infinite continues, so no matter how bad you are, you should be able to finish the game. If you’re still somehow having trouble, there is also a training mode designed to help you hone your brooming and blasting skills. Of course, the die-hards are going to be looking to top the leaderboards, so that’s where you will need to “git gud,” and strategically pick the levels that you are best suited to maximize your score… because once you lose all your lives, your score resets to zero! Cotton Fantasy is fairly short in a single run, but you can only choose to play so many of the levels unlocked as you play, so each playthrough has the chance to be different from the last.

From the beginning of the game, you are given a choice of multiple playable characters. While each of these characters play a little differently from the next, the story always seems to be from Cotton’s perspective, so nothing really changes from playthrough to playthrough, plot-wise. However, when you complete the game, you are given a new level to choose from on your next playthrough. Once you complete that level, then another one opens up when you finish the game again. It’s a nice incentive to keep you playing multiple times seeing that a complete run can be done in less than an hour. 

Beware the strawberry donuts of doom!

So will you like Cotton Fantasy? Well, if you have played and enjoyed the other games in the series, then I would definitely recommend picking this one up!  It definitely has the feel of previous Cotton games, only kicked up a notch. If you are new to the series, then you just need to know if you are the type who enjoys the short shooters like this, or if you are looking for something more drawn out. Cotton Fantasy is still a classic shoot ’em up at heart, so it may be a bit tough for those who are not fans of the genre. However, with multiple difficulty options and infinite continues, Cotton Fantasy remains open to novices and the hardcore can go for the score and bragging rights! 

As for me, Cotton Fantasy landed at “just right.” Give me beautiful colors, fantastical levels and fast-paced action that doesn’t overstay its welcome, all coupled with catchy background themes any day!

I see why it’s called “Fantasy” now!

*Disclosure: A copy of Cotton Fantasy for PS4 was provided to The Splintering for the purposes of this review.

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