Have you ever really wanted to punch your friend super hard in the face? No? Well, prepare to get those urges as the excellent Windjammers makes its way to the Nintendo Switch.
If you haven’t heard of Windjammers before then, if you’ll forgive a slight overstatement, chances are you live in a small cave in the middle of nowhere. Originally released on the Neo Geo back in 1994, DotEmu gave us all our Christmases at once when it ported Data East’s classic to the PS4 and Vita in 2017, virtually untouched with added the functionality of online multiplayer. It was a dream come true for fans.
Who would have thought that a top-down game about people throwing Frisbees at each other could get such a following? And yet that’s essentially what Windjammers is. It’s the best Frisbee, fighting game, Pong, mash-up you will ever play. It features six characters to choose from each with their own play style, nuances, power and speed, topped off with a unique special move that can be used to score an easy ‘five pointer’ at a moment’s notice. One of these crazy moves involves coating the disc in electricity before sending it along the court wall at blistering speeds. Only the skilled should even attempt to get in the way for an intercept!
Windjammers feels like a fighting game more than anything else. Yes, if you strip it down to its basics, you’re playing Pong, but the added factor of special moves and their required inputs places this closer to classics like Street Fighter. It has a simple two-button control layout, but a quick quarter circle motion on the stick and you will execute a curve shot, sending the disc at a near impossible angle towards your opponent. To add to this, you have a slide mechanic which can make for some great clutch plays, throwing your character from one side of the court to the other in a bid to catch the disc in the most stylish way possible.
Like the PS4 and Vita versions, DotEmu haven’t just done a straight emulation of the original game. That said, genuine love has been poured into this port with a few extras to add some flavour to the 90’s classic. The biggest feature added is the online multiplayer, complete with leaderboards if you fancy measuring the size of your disc abilities against your friends.
As you play matches, you will run into two fun mini-games that serve as excellent diversions for breaking up the intensity of the battles. You have Dog Distance where you play as a dog, running along a beach trying to get as far as you can before catching the disc, fulfilling all those fantasies you might have if you ever wanted to be a dog. Then you have Flying Disc Bowling which is exactly what it sounds like; bowling with Frisbees. Both of these are available straight away from main menu also with leaderboard support if you fancy tracking those numbers.
Considering the issues that the PS4 and Vita versions faced when going online at launch, the Switch seems to be handling everything quite well. I only had one laggy game out of the handful I tried, though I do think it could improve the matchmaking with options beyond just widening the search after 30 seconds of inactivity. It’s worth noting that both the multiplayer and leaderboards require a subscription to Nintendo Online before you can access them.
Other features added include the ability to change display filters, adding old CRT style scanlines for the true retro experience as well as a choice of soundtracks depending on whether you fancy the ‘OG’ chiptune experience, or a slightly updated version found on the Neo Geo CD. If you haven’t played Windjammers before then never fear, there’s a bevy of tutorial screens to get you started along your path to glory so you can quickly get up to scratch before taking on the big leagues.
One of Windjammers major selling points aside from its slick gameplay, is its aesthetic. It embodies everything that was great about classic 90’s video games, with its beautifully animated sprites and its vibrant colours. It takes you right back to the days where you and your friends would crowd round an arcade cabinet, furiously throwing coins in to have another go, trying hard not to actually fight each other to get to play. If there’s one thing Windjammers does well, it creates some healthy (or unhealthy) competition.
Like I said at the start, prepare to feel urges that will break friendships as you give your friend a Joy-Con and do some classic sofa two player gaming with them. The great thing about this being on the Nintendo Switch is you can now take it anywhere. Even though the Vita version also gives you the option of taking it with you, Nintendo’s hybrid handheld has a larger screen for easier viewing and the ability to give a controller to your mate to play wherever you want, instead of them having to own another console. For that reason, the Switch wins yet again in making a new home for a classic game.
We often forget the fun that can be had when you sit down with your friends and battle it out over a few games. Windjammers serves as a reminder you don’t have to make games with super flashy graphics or complex gameplay in order to stand out and be fun. At its core, Windjammers is a very basic game, but that’s likely part of why it has captured a cult following over the past 20 years. Now it finds a home on the Nintendo Switch, and I couldn’t think of a better place for it. Time to dust off those discs and prepare for glory.
Version tested: Nintendo Switch
Also (easily) available for PS4 & PS Vita