After a long period away from our TV sets, the Cotton series, one of the originators of the Cute ’em up sub-genre, has been revived by publisher Success with Cotton: Reboot! which reboots (and includes) the 1993 X68000 Sharp computer release of the first game of the series Fantastic Night Dreams Cotton.
Cotton, the titular named character, is a young witch with an almighty sweet tooth who chases any lead that would deliver the holy grail of sweets – her beloved ‘Willow’. Most often, the faint promise of said sugary goodness is fed to her by Silk, a fairy who tries to tempt, convince and cajole Cotton into saving her kind.
A modern take on the original, the reboot mode, Arrange, is an addictive and manic explosion of color and bullets that meshes well with an in-depth item system while attempting to ease you into the 7 increasingly difficult stages. The assortment of ways to grasp and wield this multi-colored beast means that every playthrough feels unique but makes sense to a grand total of no one – to begin with anyway.
The system itself revolves around jewels dropped by defeated enemies, which can enhance and spread your stream of bullets, be picked up to increase your point total, or provide you with magic to launch attacks. Shooting them also changes their color, which in turn changes their potentially acquired magic, and jewels shot for a long period of time turn black for huge point increases. Another element to further mix this up is a multiplier feature called Jewel Fever which converts defeated enemies into a multiplied score and is best launched with a screen full of jewels and enemies.
Thankfully, a tutorial is provided in an attempt to make this somewhat fathomable to beginners and once you get the hang of it (and are sufficiently caffeinated) – it’s a blast, and chasing the insane online scores will have you coming back for more. How often you return to it will likely depend on the effort you put into learning the intricacies of the item system, but even then your success of which can sometimes feel more like trying to align fruit in a slot machine rather than anything skill-based.
This is especially true with the different magic power-ups that are gained by picking up jewels. Not only is shooting the jewels to your desired color hard enough, but the order of your acquired magic is fixed and can’t be selected from, so when you inevitably pick up the wrong colored jewel you often end up spamming the magic button regardless of what’s next, which makes the system quite random. A further offender is the point multiplier, which displays huge figures across the screen almost immediately after firing it up, obstructing a large part of the screen and putting all your efforts in peril unnecessarily.
Personally, I’d have preferred the challenge be with defeating the enemies and bosses instead of wrestling with the weapons, but it doesn’t negate the satisfaction that can be had from a successful run.
The X68000 mode, instead of a constant stream of color and flying paraphernalia, is a more subtle mode, and with fewer complications gives you time to breathe. Simpler weapons and plainer visuals make the original pop as much as the reboot, however, giving space for every feature to shine instead of being drowned out by the noise of its presentation.
The soundtrack can now be heard, for example, and the sprites seem more vibrant, coming together for a more cohesive effort that you feel more in control of.
Rather than this being better or worse than the reboot, this juxtaposes brilliantly in the overall package, giving you two very different experiences.
Further online fun can be had with a Time Attack mode which are fast and frenetic incarnations of the reboot version in 2-min or 5-min loops with smaller enemies.
If this game has anything though – it’s character, with upbeat tunes filling the menus and stages with head-bopping melodies. The soundtrack is addicting enough to warrant turning off all other sounds to enjoy the mix of retro beats, screaming guitars, and poppy riffs. Complimenting the energetic presentation further is the amusing relationship of Cotton and her tiny friend which maximizes the charm, and comes together to create a warm and fuzzy experience that is good enough to forgive the sometimes spotty translation.
Despite the reboot’s imperfections, Cotton: Reboot! is still a very good package of side-scrollers that provides enough replay value and variety to revitalize a long-dormant franchise and provide enjoyment to a new generation of shoot em’ up gamers. The price point might seem a little steep for those only looking for the retro experience, but I’d be willing to bet that most would be won over by its charm if given the chance.