Cotton 2 (Saturn) review
"Beams of white light streak across the screen, flaming scarlet dragons roar from the wand, bright blue frozen enemies bounce off the walls, and in general lots of things explode and shatter in ways that look oh-so-painful yet oh-so-pretty. This witchy little tale offers a lot of opportunity to use, abuse, and master your techniques — all in a world that's so beautiful that you'll blissfully drool the whole way through."
Sometimes you know you're in for something special. Maybe it's the bright, vivacious cover art. Maybe it's the cute-as-heck, free 12-month calendar packed inside. In this case, you'd be right — Cotton 2 is indeed something special. Yet another excellent Saturn shooter, yet another available only in Japan... but not ordinary by any means. True enough, the first Cotton was a typical Turbo shooter, full of personality but not terribly unusual; however, the Sega Saturn's episode is oh-so-much more!
Since the first game garnered its own fair share of fame, developer Success immediately set about re-assembling a cute, yet grim, fairy-tale world. In Cotton 2, you take control of lovable little witch "Cotton" (or, once you win the game, her feisty rival Appli). Accompanied by your nearly-naked fairy friend Silk, who really doesn't do much except yell at you during the intermissions, you'll float and fight through mist-covered castles, rolling green hills, and even the ocean depths. No, flying through water makes no sense at all — but it looks really cool, and the puffy little lobsters are incredibly cute! Since each level scrolls through multiple segments of scenery, the eyes never grow weary. Populated with well-animated, hand-drawn creatures that look like they stepped straight out from The Nightmare Before Christmas, Cotton's world left me breathless with delight. Top-hat doffing demons fly through the world, vegetable-spewing Jack O'Lanterns soar through the sky, venus flytraps chomp at Cotton's broom, and winged demons from hell hurl their pitchforks through heaven's skies. But even though they're demons from hell, they're so stylish that you can't help but want to hug them 'til they pop! I suppose what I'm saying is, the game takes a grim tone yet somehow keeps it light-hearted and fun.
It all picks up a notch once you actually start shooting. Beams of white light streak across the screen, flaming scarlet dragons roar from the wand, bright blue frozen enemies bounce off the walls, and in general lots of things explode and shatter in ways that look oh-so-painful yet oh-so-pretty. Of particular note, most of the backgrounds rely on dark colors (such as deep violets behind the grey mists) that contrast brilliantly with both the brightly colored enemies and the dazzling mayhem flying from your hands. Curses upon the (current) lack of screenshots: it's well-nigh impossible to describe the incredible depth of color through words alone.
The eyes are but a single sense; it take more than simple parlor tricks of light to conjure forth a truly magical world!
Whereas the original Cotton used what could best be described as an odd mix of rock/techno/pop, this version takes a more Synth-Classical approach to the soundtrack. This results in melodies demonstrating incredible richness of theme, yet still contemporary in nature. Perhaps the best part is that the music never repeats. The levels are long, but the musical tracks are even longer.
Unfortunately, you can't play the tunes straight off the CD, and there's no music test mode to be unlocked... a glaring omission since the music is so damned amazing!!! In all seriousness, from the intro theme, to the ending theme, to the music on the frigging options menu, it's a magical experience like none other.
But in today's world, everyone knows that sweet visuals and sound alone, while important, aren't enough to make a truly great shooter.
The thing that stands out in Cotton 2, and I mean really stands out from all the RtypeThunderforceGradius-wannabe's, is the immersive gameplay. The depth of technique involved here simply drowns the competition. Cotton might have "only" five different weapons, but the depth of this game is all in how those weapons are used.
Let's start digging. Not only can you tap the A button for a quick dose of eye-pleasing pain, but you can actually perform special attacks! Tap down twice and shoot: you drop a rolling bomb. Press back then forward for a concentrated blast of blazing fire, raging wind, or so on. Forward then back? A Contra-style spread shot, be it multitudinous rays of light or shards of ice. And that's just scratching the surface.
Now let's dig a little deeper. Not content to carry a single weapon at a time, Cotton instead carries a supply of up to three. Why? By pressing C, you unleash your currently-brandished weapon in a single, ultimate attack: crimson red dragons, white-hot giga beams, massive tornadoes, or fragment-filled icestorms. Then, you're left with two weapons. Fortunately, replacements are plentiful (as are powerups to increase your basic shot power).
Does it end there? Of course not! Dig all the way down and you'll unearth a fount of creativity. You see, although it looks like a shooter, Cotton 2 thinks it's a platformer. As you wind and wend your way through each level, you can actually grab and throw the enemies with a single button press. If you tap the button repeatedly, you can club your foes to death with the bodies of their buddies! Tired of dodging the pitchforks being thrown at you by hellfiends? Just catch the pitchforks in mid-air and throw them right back at 'em! On top of that, you can actually rip the heads off dragons and hurl the cute, befuddled noggins at the decapitated bodies. Now if that isn't cool, I don't know what is. Forgive my exuberance, but that's exactly what this game is — exuberant! It's really really easy to pick up and learn, but it's abnormally deep and insanely fast-paced and... well... fun!
I would be remiss if I failed to mention the chain combos. When you hit an enemy with a powerful shot, it's trapped in a ball of energy. For example, hit something with a firestream and it becomes a fireball. You can then pick up the fireball and throw it! As it bounces off enemies, it racks up "chain hits" (and sometimes lights those enemies on fire too!) If you shoot out lots of firestreams, you can rack up the biggest combos this side of Marvel Vs Capcom 2, soaring into the 20's, 30's, and — yes I've done it — even the 40's! Of course, Cotton 2 is nice enough to save your high combos (and high scores) in backup memory. And the better your combos, the more "life up" and "power up" items you earn.
But there's another Cotton game for the Sega Saturn...
Yes, you could instead buy Cotton Boomerang, which features a lot more bullet-dodging (a la the modern breed of manic shooters). But if you're looking for technique and outright fun, Cotton 2 fits the bill. Since the innovative controls make this game completely different from the competition, anyone expecting to play "a cute Gradius" will die quickly and miserably. Almost no enemy in this game can be killed in a single (normal) shot. You have to use your special attacks. Cotton herself is rather large, making it hard to dodge everything on the screen. You have to use the grab feature and chain combos to protect yourself.
But! If you are a fan of platformers and shooters, then this witchy little tale offers a lot of opportunity to use, abuse, and master your techniques — all in a world that's so beautiful that you'll blissfully drool the whole way through. It might not be the absolute best game of all time, but Cotton 2 is unique and worth every shiny penny.
Staff review by Zigfried (March 27, 2004)
Zigfried likes writing about whales and angry seamen, and often does so at the local pub.
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