First appearing in arcades in 1991, Cotton: Fantastic Night Dreams was a cute ’em up, a very cute shoot ’em up. It’s a side scrolling shooter in which you play as Cotton in her quest for a giant candy which should inadvertently also save the world. Perfect, then, for a 30th anniversary HD remake.
In case you need a story for your shmup action, the game starts when Cotton meets a bikini-clad fairy called Silk who wants her help. Cotton is oddly uninterested in helping a literal magical creature and must be bribed with the promise of Willow, her favourite candy, to save the world. This story, which is as bare bones as it gets, plays out in brief animated and subtitled cutscenes between levels that have some charm if you don’t mind the mildly obnoxious candy-fuelled antics of Cotton. It’s meant to be cute and it is on a surface level, but Cotton comes off more annoying. They do have voice acting in Japanese, though, which is nice.
Thankfully the gameplay is much better. With Cotton on her broom and Silk alongside, you fly directly into the bullet hell of one of the most difficult games I’ve played for ages. Enemies will enter the screen from all sides, shooting bullets of all kinds that will take you out in a single hit.
Thankfully you’ve got a few magical tricks up your sleeve, as defeating enemies drops crystals that can be picked up for a special attack. These can range from simple electric beams that span across the whole screen to meteors falling and help you to keep a handle on the huge amounts of enemies whilst you’re trying to weave between their projectiles. You can also shoot these gems which will change their colour until they eventually turn black, giving you a more powerful spell and a nice point bonus and they can be chained by shooting even more gems.
Create your own bullet hell
As you play you also level up, which upgrades your basic shooting attack and bombs that deal with any pesky land dwelling enemies. As you level up you shoot more and more bullets, while Silk adds extra bullets that spiral around yours. By the time you reach even level 11 it’s immensely satisfying to wipe out screens of enemies with your own maelstrom of cutesy death. Combined with all the spells you’ll be casting, shooting firey dragon heads around and covering the entire screen with electricity or meteors, and all the enemies and their attacks, things tend to get a bit busy.
By busy, I mean I died often not knowing what had even hit me in the middle of a supernova of attacks and enemies. Sometimes this is because I was looking at another part of the screen, but other times you just can’t see what’s happening properly because there’s so much going on.
Not only that, but when enemies enter the screen from behind you, you cannot fire backwards. Sometimes they scroll up or diagonally whilst you are still only able to shoot to the right, which was so strange that I started pressing all the button on the controller in case I’d missed a button that let me rotate somehow.
Thankfully, whilst this used to be an arcade game, in Cotton Reboot you can just continue from where you left off provided you press a button in the game over countdown, so what could be an incredibly frustrating exercise of trial and error becomes a chaotic, messy, but still quite fun experience. You won’t be getting any high scores like that, but that’s okay.
I should lend particular mention to the game’s bosses which, in spite of being infuriatingly difficult, are pretty inventive. There’s two per level, plus an end boss to tackle. I particularly enjoyed the appearance of a Balrog, presumably without permission from the Tolkien Estate, who was sufficiently on fire.
Unfortunately, one side effect of being so forgiving of deaths is that it becomes pretty clear how short the game is – it’s easily beatable within an hour on normal difficulty. After finishing you unlock Silk to play as, though it doesn’t change anything about the game that I noticed.
The remaster certainly looks better than an old game running at higher resolution, and there’s far more things on screen, but it still looks dated. You can compare the two in-game, as the Arrange Mode remaster comes alongside a faithful recreation of the original called X68000 mode. It’s just as chaotic and metnal all the time, but X68000 mode is a little bit more satisfying as you can more easily make out the projectiles that kill you. There’s also a score attack mode for 2 and 5 minutes, and all the game’s modes have online leaderboards.