Long before the existence of a Disc Jam, there was a game found only in arcades called Windjammers that first explored the same sort of framework. Released back in 1994, it saw players engage in a one-on-one match where they toss a disc back and forth across a net while trying to confuse the opponent and gain points by having the disc bounce back and forth from one wall to another before scoring like you would in air hockey. Flash forward to today where Windjammers 2, a sequel developed and published by Dotemu, is now available to play on consoles and PC to help fuel nostalgia for those who spent hours huddled around the original in the arcade or introduce newcomers who weren’t around for the original.
Windjammers 2 Review
So is the sequel worthy of wasting a pocketful of tokens? To its credit, the game stays true to both the spirit and the look of the original in both its character and level design. Beyond that, quick matches and subtly complex controls still exist here as well. As you might hope with a gap of 28 years between the games, the sequel has also improved on some aspects of its predecessor by adding more characters and levels, online play, and some new strategies that can be useful to unleash in the heat of a long rally. Unfortunately, the game does remain stuck in the past in some ways by not offering the kind of rewards and customization that we’ve come to expect from titles like this.
Let’s venture under the panel in this Windjammers 2 review to have a better look at what aspects might entice any remaining arcade fans and what might keep this game confined to a dark, lonely corner.
What I Like
Rather than trying to re-invent its look, the developers have opted instead to lean heavily into the aesthetic of the original. The decision proves to be a smart one considering that even though the style may have been rather commonplace back in the day, its return now in 2022 is like a warm blanket for those who were around at the time. For the younger set who didn’t get to experience the wonder of arcades, the visuals are likely to stand out from the rest of the pack because they’re still striking for the same reasons they’ve always been.
The vibrant pastel and neon colors of the characters and environments leap off the screen, drawing you into the action. Though the animations have been updated to make them a little smoother, they still retain some of their choppy charm without looking ugly or causing too much frustration during matches.
Gameplay & Controls
The basics of each match in Windjammers 2 are fairly straightforward. The aim is to get to 15 points in order to win a set (or be ahead in points when the 90 second timer runs out), and coming out on top in two sets will secure you victory in the match. The specifics of the point system will change a little depending on the locale, but the way that you score those points will always be either by flinging your disc over the net and into your opponent’s goal or making your opponent miss the disc by having it hit the ground and come to a stop on your opponent’s side of the court.
As with so many arcade games (ask anyone who has tried to master all of the Street Fighter 2 moves), Windjammers 2 is easy enough to pick up but also has plenty of depth. It will take time to master new maneuvers and figure out the best times to unleash them during a match.
First off, you’ll want to get a handle on the different ways that you can throw the disc, as it’s simple to make it go in a straight line and bounce it off the walls, but it’s a little harder to execute the nasty curves that will keep players on their toes. You can also perform a lob shot when you’re holding the disc should you want to try to take advantage of a slow opponent who is positioned in an inopportune spot on the court and might not be able to get to it before it lands.
A huge part of a good offense in the game though is playing good defense. You can always slide if you need to catch a disc that’s just out of your reach before it reaches your goal, but being in a good position and getting in front of a disc will open up more counterattack opportunities. From there, you can slap shot it back to them, hit a drop shot just over the net, or pop the disc up in the air to give you even more options. Once the disc is in the air, you can get under it to charge your shot or jump up for it and smash it on your opponent’s side. When your power bar is fully charged, you’ll be able to unleash an assortment of special shots that are dependent on whether you’re on offense or defense (and which character you’re using). If you’re quick (or lucky) enough to grab a special shot, you’ll be able to pull a reversal and send it right back at them.
Needless to say, that’s a lot to wrap your head around during a fast and frenzied match. That said, I hope the explanation illustrates why these controls are accessible yet reward a lot of practice while leaving plenty of room for strategy.
Characters And Levels
All 10 of the characters in Windjammers 2 are proud representatives of specific countries (shout out to H-Max, a fellow Canadian) and are balanced in such a way that that they have certain strengths and weaknesses. There aren’t exactly a lot of categories to separate them from each other though, so the only real choice you have is whether you want to go with someone who has more power or speed (or an equal mix of both).
As mentioned previously, they do all have their own unique special shots, and the fact that some of these seem to be a little easier to counteract than others might influence decisions. Aside from that, you could also base your selection of character entirely on looks alone, as they all have their own flair and semblance of a personality. (Hint: if you move your analog stick in a circular motion on the character select screen, you might just unlock a hidden character.)
The locales where you’ll play your matches, which range from the beach to the lawn to the arena, are more than just attractive background scenery because they each come with their own set of rules and obstacles. Some see goals and misses worth more points than others, while some relocate the areas where you’re able to score the maximum number of points. This forces you to target and guard an entirely different area of the goal. There are certain locations where you’ll have to deal with blocks attached to the net that can cause your disc to ricochet off of them or sometimes pop into the air after striking them. These all help to add more dimensions to every match and possibly alter your game plan based on where you might be playing.
What I Don’t Like
To be fair to the game, they do have a section titled How To Play, and it does outline the basics of the game and more advanced techniques. However, it’s not without its limitations. If you’re someone like me who learns much better through doing something rather than, say, being shown a single image and what buttons to press to accomplish the action, you might end up a little confused on how to properly perform some of the maneuvers.
With the understanding that part of the experience of old arcade games was figuring out some things on your own, it would be nice to at least be sure that you had a handle on how to do everything before jumping into a match. A simple tutorial where you go through every move and are also able to demonstrate how to pull them off successfully would go a long way in getting you ready to properly jam.
While the design of the characters and how they’ve been balanced in their abilities is appreciated, it’s still disappointing that this consequently means there’s no option to create your own windjammer. This kind of customization has become such a staple of these kinds of games that its absence can’t help but leave an awfully big hole, especially when it’s easy enough to see how it could be incorporated into the game. Aside from the obvious of being able to dress your character in all manner of clothes and accessories, another huge way people could differentiate themselves from others is by having the chance to use their own personalized disc whenever serving that showcases a little more of their own style.
As a consequence of the lack of customization in the game, the online play can’t really offer much in the way of desirable rewards, and it’s hard to want to play a game for too long if it doesn’t feel like it’s worth your time. There’s a system of gaining and losing points based on what happens in your matches, and you can theoretically ascend to a higher rank, but there’s no tangible return that can be felt on the court for your accomplishments. Though this once again may be true to its arcade origins where your only reward would be getting to insert your initials into the game for your high score, it leaves me without much incentive to continue picking up the disc.
Limited Game Modes/No Crossplay
At the risk of sounding like a broken record at this point, the game’s limited game modes at least make some sense when you consider that old-school arcade games typically didn’t offer all that many either. Since it’s no longer 1994 though, the expectations now are to have more than just the standard arcade single-player mode where you face all of the characters one by one, a local two-player option and bare-bones online capabilities that are offered here.
The ability to organize a small tournament with a group of friends would make things a little more interesting. The lack of crossplay also exacerbates the problems as the matchmaking pool in online play can get fairly small. The addition of more platforms in the mix would really help alleviate this issue.
In trying to recapture what made the unique arcade game so enjoyable, Windjammers 2 hits the mark in both its retro graphics and nuanced gameplay. Though they could stand to perhaps be explained a little better, the controls provide all the depth you need to allow for varied strategies. The playable characters are colorful in every sense of the word, and the way they have been tuned with their own strengths and weaknesses makes all of them viable options depending on the way you want to play. The different environments help facilitate unpredictability in your matches with more than just their eye-catching scenery, as their separate scoring systems and obstacles can affect your game plan.
It’s in the updating of the original though where the developers have fallen short by not making much of an attempt to bring some aspects up to modern standards. The limitations of the game’s modes recalls the old joke of one guy at a restaurant saying, “The food here is terrible” and another saying, “Yeah, and such small portions,” because there aren’t that many modes and even the ones here are not all that great. The online mode is hampered by a lack of cross play that makes it more difficult to find matches, and the fact that there’s no way to customize your character creates a void of desirable rewards for online accomplishments.
In short, it’s a game that feels a bit stuck between worlds. The gameplay has been updated to fit into the modern times, but the way you play these sort of games together has not quite been updated to the same degree.
Windjammers 2 is available on just about every major console and PC.