Cotton Boomerang (Saturn) review
"As you play the game and a vicious spitting flytrap smacks Appli down, Needle will zoom in and take her place, in King of Fighters fashion. If Needle bites it too, your third character will take the creepy critters on — all by herself!"
Cotton 2 on the Saturn continued the tale of our huggable and eternally hungry little witch, Cotton, and her faerie familiar Silk. With a feisty rival, special shot attacks a la Street Fighter, chain combos, and the ability to not only shoot but also to grab and throw your foes, Cotton 2 is a tough game to top... and it's got a gorgeous graphical engine that testifies to the powers lurking within the Sega Saturn. The game is shockingly good and definitely worth owning.
So, when Success released Cotton Boomerang a year later, the question was: how could they possibly make the newest game special enough to be worth buying?
How does twice as many special attacks sound? Or perhaps the ability to throw baddies in eight directions instead of just straight ahead, oodles and oodles of onscreen bullets (notably missing from Cotton 2 and most other horizontal shooters for that matter), and eight selectable characters? There's a lot to love in this game.
When you first hit that Start button, the screen that pops up (with awesome music!) lets you pick your character. Select any of three forms of Cotton, any of three forms of Appli, Cotton's bikini-clad buddy Silk, or Appli's demonically living, breathing witch's hat Needle. Not only does each intrepid heroine (or in Needle's case, hero) use different weapons, but they also have varied attack patterns. Appli #2 (colored differently from Appli #1 or #3: "I am a person, not a number") fires homing beams both ahead and behind, whereas Needle launches a full-frontal spreading assault. Or choose Cotton #1 for a traditional, three-pronged fork of fire!
But you pick not only one, but up to three characters, because this game runs on Team Attack Mode! What does this mean? As you play the game and a vicious spitting flytrap smacks Appli down, Needle will zoom in and take her place, in King of Fighters fashion. If Needle bites it too, your third character will take the creepy critters on -- all by herself! Since switching characters only when you die is hardly fun enough, Success has also provided several "CHANGE BOMBS": when you hit that C button, the current girl (or Needle) will duck off-screen, replaced by a new flying friend... And this will all happen amidst a huge multicolored explosion. So, even if you have no remaining friends -- curse the cruel cruel world! -- the Changes can be used solely for their "Smart Bomb" effect.
And you'll need those bombs to take down the vile Demoness.
Yes, the devilish little villainess Urd is back for another beating! This fallen angel has summoned the nastiest bunch of bullies this side of hell to help her out, from adorable-yet-malicious dragon pups flying through cloud-filled skies, to cute-cute-cute eyeballs hopping along obsidian bannisters on one, single leg -- eyeballs that launch MEGA LASER BEAMS, so don't underestimate them!
The amount of firepower these cuddly critters spew blows away 80% of the other "Oh look, only 20 bullets" horizontal shooters out there. Not only will 10 or so phantom skulls phase into the screen from nowhere, but then they'll all fire bullets at you! Meanwhile, the Gigantic Jack-O-Lantern is spewing his cornucopia of veggies, while hurling scads of fireballs that would make Psikyo proud and (if you get too careless) a gigantic white Beam Of Death that covers half the screen.
So, those Change Bombs will come in pretty handy. Fortunately, you have much more firepower waiting at your fingers. There is, of course, the typical rapid-fire shot-pumping action you'd expect from any decent shooter, felling enemies left and right. But Cotton Boomerang features "special attacks": press back then forward for a high-powered mega-stream of fire, ice, or whatnot. Roll your thumb in reverse fireball motions and Cotton or Appli will strafe the ground below, above, or behind. And if you hold that button down, a raging elemental dragon will fly forward when you release. Burn burn burn!
As the baddies are caught in these stronger shots, they will be imprisoned -- perhaps frozen in a glassy ball of ice, or trapped in a raging globe of wind. You can then dash on over and pick them up with a tap of the "grab" button, hurling them in any of eight directions! How better to take out a troupe of Harpies, than by hurling their feathered friend right back at them -- trapped inside a burning ball of Hell! And, of course, that flaming Harpy will light all the others on fire as it touches them, racking up a Chain Combo of 8 or 9 (or up to over 40) hits in the process, which will result in mega-points and massive explosions! Of particular amusement is the tiny sprite Silk, who can engulf an oncoming nasty in a radiating globe of light. When she grabs the glowing orb, Silk nearly buckles beneath the weight as she lugs the monster-ball around the screen, finally releasing it with a mighty, back-arching heave.
Not only is the gameplay beautiful, but so is the scenery.
Take a tour of a lobster-infested pirate ship, with a gorgeous coral reef lining the ocean floor. Rolling geysers of fire burst from the rivers of flame in "Ouch Ouch Canyon" (yes, that's the official name!) -- fly high lest ye be burned! The Demonic Palace is an inverted castle, just like you'd expect to see in Symphony of the Night. In the Snowy Caverns, the entire ceiling is covered in transparent, emerald stalactites. Success went the extra step and programmed in true transparencies -- there aren't any of those famous Saturn "mesh" blemishes here! All the while, MASSIVE transparent blue boulders of ice try to crush you... and the best part is, the boulders only roll if you destroy the icy pillars holding them in place. Environmental interaction: gotta love it!
Finding the right background bits to destroy -- be it the hull of a pirate ship or an oddly-suspicious wall -- is one of the keys to unveiling the crystal powerups that will boost your firepower up to five degrees of glory. If that's too tough, there are also Item Carriers, which carry additional Change Bombs, Shield Barriers, or Power Crystals. But simply using the carriers isn't fun enough -- you can abuse them, too! Yes, GRAB that pitiful Item Carrier (its face looks so sad...) and fling it at an oncoming goon: if it connects, it might explode, taking out any nearby ghastlies! And, if you use a Change Bomb to destroy a Carrier, the ensuing double-explosion will unlock tens upon tens of thousands of points! While spectacular in their own rights, Cotton 2, Thunder Force, and many other shooters only wish they could achieve this level of environmental interaction and action-packed madness. All the while, your adventure is accompanied by a wonderful soundtrack, composed in techno-classical style. And this time around, there's an unlockable music test, so you can actually listen to the fast-paced tunes whenever you want.
The more things change, the more things stay the same.
Not only has Urd returned, but also all of the bosses, and most of the smaller enemies, are visually carbon-copied straight from Cotton 2. They brandish an all-new arsenal of attacks, but graphically the baddies are "same 'ol same 'ol" -- IF you've played the previous game. If you're new to the Cotton world, prepare yourself -- these Ghouls 'N Ghosts need to be seen to be believed! One boss is a Yeti, armed with massive club and equally massive axe. Of course, you can destroy not only the yeti itself, but the individual weapons as well. The truly cool part is the dragons flying in the background -- every so often, one will zoom into the foreground, spitting green gouts of fire. Then, with an earth-shaking leap, the Yeti will YANK a poor dragon pup from the sky and swat you down with it! Oh yes, and for some reason, the Yeti has an enormous fang-laden face in its torso, just in case swinging dead dragons around wasn't interesting enough.
And the last boss? Good lord! Success must have thought the final level in Cotton 2 was lackluster (and indeed it was) because the last battle in Boomerang is insanely beautiful. Each time I play, I try to make it to this fantastic battle. It is a truly worthy end to a beyond-worthy game.
There is so much more that must be seen in this game and so much more that must be said -- unlockable art gallery, training mode -- the list is nearly endless. If you want a taste of shooter mastery, buy this game. You might still find it available new at import stores, and if you don't buy it now, you'll be kicking yourself once it's gone and reaches Radiant Silvergun degrees of price. Cotton Boomerang is one of those masterpieces that loyal U.S. Saturn fans deserved, but never got.
Staff review by Zigfried (January 10, 2005)
Zigfried likes writing about whales and angry seamen, and often does so at the local pub.
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