It’s not often that nearly 30-year-old arcade games randomly get sequels, but that’s exactly what happened with Windjammers 2. The original, made for Neo Geo arcade setups by powerhouse Data East, came out in 1994, answering the question of “what if Pong, but sports game?” Now, Dotemu has released a sequel. The gameplay and presentation are undoubtedly impressive. Responsive, colorful, and pointedly unique, there’s a worthy follow-up to the original game here. But, at the same time, the game is missing some features that would really help to make it a knockout. I’ve also been having repeated issues with the online on launch day, making this event less sparkling than it could have been.
To put the premise simply, Windjammers 2 is human air hockey. Two people throw a frisbee back and forth, aiming for their opponent’s goal. Goals are typically divided between easier-to-hit, three-point sections and smaller five-point sections. By default, 15 points wins a set. Win two sets and the match is won. Pretty easy, right? Windjammers 2 has a lot more depth to it, however. It’s practical to think about this game as more akin to a fighting game than a sports game, although it can have the casual feel of a Mario Kart-esque game at times.
Once you get things started, you’ll likely have zero idea how to play if you haven’t played the first game. There’s a “how to play” option on the menu, but it only gives you some control pointers. Bizarrely, there’s absolutely nothing in the way of a tutorial. There’s an official YouTube video that gives an infinitely better summation and explanation of the game’s mechanics than the menu’s how to play section does, which I simply don’t understand. Because of this, going online has made it clear that a great many of the people playing obviously don’t understand many of the game’s basic mechanics at this time.
To add a bit of insult to injury, there also isn’t any sort of training mode. For single player, you can either pick Arcade or play matches against the CPU. If you wanted to practice specific moves or techniques via setting your opponent’s actions, it’s conspicuously absent. For a game that clearly follows in the footsteps of 1vs1 arcade fighting games, it’s simply missing a lot of what players expect to see. Once you actually figure the game out, this obviously isn’t a big deal. But getting there would have been much simpler with even a small amount of additional effort. It’s puzzling.
Arcade mode lets you pick from any of the game’s roster of characters, all of whom have varying levels of power and speed, as well as unique special moves. Movement is accomplished using either your analog stick or d-pad, so you’ve got options if you prefer one over the other. I definitely don’t recommend playing Windjammers 2 with your keyboard, though. Doing so will likely put you in a bad position against anyone on a gamepad. Or a fight stick, but that depends on if a lot of fighting game players end up coming aboard.
Characters have a well-rounded, accessible assortment of moves at their disposal. The most basic actions involve catching the frisbee (y’know what? I’m just going to call it the disc now). If you move your character to intercept a throw, they’ll catch it automatically. When holding the disc, the way you move the analog stick or control pad as you throw it can change your type of throw. You can throw it straight ahead, angle it to ricochet, or put some spin on it. All of this depends on what you need depending on both you and your opponent’s position.
It’s a toss-up
While holding the disc, you can also toss it upward. These can be grabbed, but they can also just land on the ground. If they aren’t picked up quickly enough, that earns the thrower points. Aside from that, there are things to do with the disc without holding it. You can use a slapshot to quickly knock the disc back and forth, but online most people didn’t seem to know they could do this. Tapping the throw button before the disc makes contact with your character will also see them block it.
This will knock the disc up in the air. If your character is standing underneath it the entire time before it lands on top of you, you can then use a special throw, which varies between each character. Every time you throw, your power meter also increases. Once it’s full, players can use their character’s special. These can be caught, but working out where they go will require you to learn how each one behaves. However, if you use your special at the right time before an opponent’s special makes contact with you, you can knock the disc into the air, grab it, and then use your special. Alternatively, you can catch it and reverse it, making them deal with their own special.
This is all very neat and all, but it does have some caveats. I’ve had special discs go through my character even though I was clearly standing in the way, which should have let me catch it. Sometimes I also feel like I couldn’t get the special to trigger when I needed it. Other times, it would trigger, but it wouldn’t knock the disc in the air for reasons that are unclear to me. Things like this are why tutorial and practice modes are so important.
Just can’t connect
I also had an occasional issue where a toss led to an unfair loss of points. If a player tosses the disc and it lands on their side, but gravity moves it a little bit towards the other, it can be impossible for the other player to pick it up in time. If this isn’t patched, this could feasibly be used to exploit Windjammers 2. I will say, though, the game’s arenas are great; they have varying rules and are sized differently.
For instance, scoring via a toss will grant players four points in some venues and two in others. The venues also have different goals, meaning that how you score will change based on where you are. Some venues also have obstacles in the center that you can use to ricochet the disc. But all of the unpredictability of the stages, mixed with the gimmicky nature of special moves can make Windjammers 2 feel more akin to Mario Kart or Smash Bros. Right now, it’s simply very easy to trip other players up by picking a more gimmicky stage or using a character with an inscrutable special, which leads to some issues. However, two players who have learned the ins and outs will be unaffected by any of this, so this isn’t an issue with balance.
Speaking of issues, the online is kind of a mess on day one. I have repeatedly been unable to connect. Sometimes, I’m able to connect, but Windjammers 2 will show zero people playing. Attempting to find a match like this will see the search screen look for a few seconds before dropping. I’ve gotten a general connection error too, although the game usually just stays on the connecting screen for a while. At the moment, there are a healthy amount of players (around 1,000), though, but the vast majority of the people I played with were playing via Game Pass.
Overall, Windjammers 2 is a really strong arcade game. It’s held back some by some of the aforementioned balance issues, as well as the questionable lack of tools to teach players the intricacies of the game, plus the connection issues which are making it hard to play. But this is an enjoyable game that will be a lot of fun when players get comfortable enough to raise their skills and make proper use of the tools on offer. Let’s just hope the online issues are cleared up soon and that the player base sticks around.