We’ve known about the project for years now, but it’s still sort of shocking to us that Windjammers 2 exists. After all, roughly three decades have passed since the original’s release! And the pressure that sort of gap builds can be a lot. But hey, it’s here! And it manages to deliver on a few core points.
The original Windjammers did have some fans in its time on the arcade-home console hybrid Neo Geo system, but it truly found an audience in the early MAME era. Its simplicity and tight design carried what would otherwise be a whimsical Pong clone to cult classic status. It long went without an official modern release, as it was hard to untangle the actual owner of the rights until Dotemu managed to put together an online-enabled port in 2017.
And then here we are, with a sequel that still doesn’t feel real sometimes. There are many things that make the project a tough task, all of which likely led to the long development cycle. First: expectations. With so long playing the exact same game, it’s hard to make any changes and make the player base happy.
So Windjammers 2 starts with the skeleton that’s already there and builds around it. The controls are exactly as you remember them! And then there are a few other buttons. You can essentially “spike” the disc down to go for a miss, and you can also punch it for a super-fast counter. Both of these are difficult and situational, likely by design. They’re meant to round out the play experience rather than transform it. The super moves, on the other hand? They’re a bit more noticeable. You fill a meter as you play, using a full bar for either a powered-up super shot or a goal-saving defensive interruption.
Similarly, the characters are exactly as they were! And then there are four more of them. Max Hurricane and Jao Raposa extend the possibility space a bit, with even faster and slower options. The light Raposa is quite tricky to use, as his power shots are weird to make work. He makes for a “speed” character that isn’t exactly for newbies. Experienced power players get a new option in Max, who can really take advantage of throw strength on some of the new courts.
Sophie De Lys and Sammy Ho round out the middle tiers. With the exception of the very traditional-looking Ho, the new designs feel like they expand the idea of Windjammers fashion. Who needs a padded vest? And, of course, De Lys’ most important function is adding a French athlete to the cast, after the first game developed such a following there.
Courts also got a revamp. While shifting the aspect ratio just a bit for modern screens, the original arenas return as similar as possible. New ones, though, throw in some more chaos. Points for misses can vary, with the 4-point courts making those scores more tempting to try. The junkyard’s barriers can move around and complicate trajectory anticipation. And the casino? Points are just wild there.
The second challenge? While Dotemu has a lot of experience with port work, Windjammers 2 marks the company’s first in-house project developed from scratch. As shown in the company’s documentary about the game’s development, it built a team to make it, and that means a few things. Some of them good! Like making a new engine means you can make it include and support whatever you need. Bringing in new staff for it lets you tailor those hires to your needs and aesthetic preferences.
But it also means some struggles. Thankfully, what’s here in Windjammers 2 isn’t bad! But it’s a game with a scope very similar to the original title. Which… was an arcade game in the early ‘90s? So if you’re looking for a lot of options or some fun single-player content, it’s not really here.
This is the same struggle we’ve seen in the fighting game genre, which makes sense given Windjammers’ competitive similarities. There are the franchises like Soulcalibur, offering a bunch for players to sink into, and then there are the ones that hope their core mechanics are enough. And they sometimes are! Windjammers 2 could be too, but it’s important to know going in that it’s going for that approach.
Third? And perhaps most importantly, given how the world is these days? Online play is hard to do. And Windjammers 2 joins fighting games and shooters in the segment of the industry for which timing is most crucial.
Our experience of the game’s online play has been limited by pre-release availability and some patches coming in hot and adjusting online functions. So the matchmaking part? We can’t be entirely sure. But we’ve played using the friend match function, and it works okay. Like a fighting game, this is one of those that’s going to be really dependent on a solid connection, so we don’t exactly recommend playing online with a handheld Switch or something! But for now, we tentatively offer a thumbs-up to online play and hope that remains once the hectic launch server period subsides.
There are definitely some ways in which Windjammers 2 is a safe sequel, restraining ambitions to make sure what’s delivered is fun enough. That means some might be disappointed after years (or decades) of building expectations! But it’s ultimately a fun game to play, especially with friends, and we say you should give it a shot.
Windjammers 2 was developed in-house by publisher Dotemu. It’s available now on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC. It’s also available at launch on Xbox Game Pass. For more on the game, check out our in-depth interview with the game’s creative director, Stéphane Perez.