Platform: PlayStation 4
Review Date: 8/29/21
This remaster of the classic Japanese shooter "Cotton: Fantastic Night Dreams" (1991) is firmly in the mould of "Keio Flying Squadron" (1993). I'd never heard of it before, but it's considered one of the defining games in the "cute 'em up" genre. Cotton is a young, lazy, and irresponsible witch who has an unhealthy obsession with a candy called "willow." When the world is plunged into darkness by a group of demons, a fairy named Silk pleads with Cotton to defeat the bad guys in exchange for some willow. Cotton's greed compels her to accept the offer and the two of them fight through seven levels of insane horizontal scrolling shooting action. Cute and humorous story vignettes play in between levels, and a special "tea time" mini-game plays after each boss is defeated.
The remastered game is quite slick, with colorful graphics, tight controls, and a silky smooth frame rate. The updated music and sound effects are also quite good. The basic controls are simple enough, with one button to fire projectiles and drop bombs, another button for magic attacks, and a third button for a super-charged fairy attack. Silk serves as a support character and partial shield, and you can add other fairies to your arsenal as you rescue them. From here, things become more complicated. Defeated foes leave behind crystals, which not only increase your score, but also your experience, power, and magic levels, depending on what color they are. Shooting through crystals diffuses your shots for extra coverage and also changes their color and properties, which adds another layer of strategy and complexity. However, since the game offers unlimited continues, I found it easiest to just use the standard fire button and not bother with the extra features. The enemies are cute and funny, and the bosses are incredibly difficult to fight, even on the easiest setting. Like many shooters, there's so much action on the screen that it's difficult to keep track of your own position, let alone all of the bullets that are being thrown at you.
The package also includes a port of the original Sharp X68000 version, which is a nice bonus. While it's fun to see the original graphics and listen to the original soundtrack, the gameplay is not as polished and the crystals are only used as power-ups. It's a good nostalgic companion piece, but there's no compelling reason to play it over the remastered version.