Panorama Cotton is a product of two things. It’s time, and Japan. This means a couple of things. It’s creative and visually impressive especially when considering its 1994 release. It’s got (mostly) fun and fast paced rail shooting. And it’s a primarily female dominated cast that is stereotypically underdressed. Nevertheless this rail shooter may be decades old, but it’s still got a little gas in the tank.
What is Happening Right Now?
The first thing that struck me about this game is that I had no clue what was going on. I started it up, had a look at the control scheme, changed a couple settings (all in English by the way), and dove in. Only to be greeted by a wall of Japanese text. I knew the game was from Japan, but it still took me by surprise. A quick search revealed that it was originally only released in Japan. Hence the lack of English. Understandable, however I was a little disappointed that this port for the PS4 didn’t have a translation option available. Especially when in 2019, an unofficial English translation came out.
Thus I didn’t have a single idea of what I was witnessing at first. Or why I was a witch mercilessly dispatching enemies from a broomstick. I was seeing all kinds of outlandish images like a lady in a very impractical suit of armour speeding off astride some sort of pink reptilian creature. Although I’d be lying if I said this blind playthrough of Panorama Cotton wasn’t oddly endearing.
Allow me to break down the plot as I’ve gathered from scholars and historians (Wikipedia). This is a sequel to a story which involved magical candies called willows that bring light into the world. They were stolen by a demon in order to thrust the world into darkness. In this entry, monsters have been burning willow, which caused the world to descend into chaos. Cotton, the protagonist, then sets off with a fairy called silk to put an end to it.
Off the Rails
This sounds like a simple and straightforward story, yet the art style relays anything but that. Aside from the sparse cut scenes, the environments you play in can sometimes get a bit bananas in its presentation and mechanics.
The amount of visual variety packed into this relatively short campaign is really impressive. There are a plethora of different environments you’ll find yourself in. Such as places I can only describe as topsy-turvy highways for those who can fly in this world. These highways were awesome as they made great use of verticality by letting you occasionally dip into gaps in the ground or ceiling for an entirely alternate path. The last stage has some insanely varied surroundings that comes across as a greatest hits list, while still remaining unique from what you’ve seen before. I can easily say that the visuals were the highlight of the experience.
As a rail shooter, gameplay is a healthy mix of fast paced and flashy. You shoot, you avoid being hit and you collect power ups for magic abilities. These range from augmenting your ammo, to summoning a dragon made of fire to go on the offensive for you. All this comes together to complement the visuals we’ve already spoken about. Further demonstrating the beautiful insanity you’ll be gawking at on the regular.
Now For the bad News
Unfortunately the music didn’t really do it for me. It was almost entirely forgettable, with a main theme that was lowkey annoying and repetitive. Save for one occasion: the end credits music. This was the one time I could actually groove to the soundtrack. So much so, I was disappointed I’d never heard it earlier.
While the game may be a feast for the eyes, the actual gameplay did get a bit stale for me as time went on. The magic attacks help break up the monotony, but could only do so much. Thankfully for me the game is fairly short. On normal difficulty you could probably get through it in one sitting of an hour or two. Though if you’re itching for me. There are options for higher difficulties, score attack modes, and the standard modern day mode that lets you rewind, use cheats, and save anytime you want. Plus there’s some extra gameplay after the credits roll.
If you’re a fan of rail shooters and 90’s games this will definitely have some good times in store for you. However, those who aren’t may get tired of its gameplay, be unimpressed by its music, and only have some cool visuals and level design to enjoy.