by Ken Lee (firstname.lastname@example.org)
After booting up the game, what you notice immediately is the absence of anything "3D," as all you see are gorgeous hand-drawn sprites and artwork gracing your TV screen. Yes, unlike "Raystorm," "Layer Section 2" or other newer shooters, "Cotton 2" continues in the tradition of classic, beautiful 2D sprite-based shooters, only you might not have suspected your Saturn of doing some of these Awesome effects! From the very first level, there are already layers upon layers of parallax scrolling, and some nice transparency effects! Who said Saturn can't do transparencies? Another aspect you'll notice almost immediately is just how large the sprites are for your 'shooter vehicle,' Cotton. Cotton takes up about twice the size of a typical Vic Viper type ship (your ship from Gradius)! Cotton is animated really well, with her cloak flowing and flapping in the wind as you fly through the level. The creatures that you fight are also well drawn, and are very numerous (i.e., many, many types of creatures, which is really nice). Cotton has various attack weapons and magical 'bomb' spells (which I'll detail later), but suffice to say that they are solid and good, with most of the spell effects taking up a good portion of the screen. While not as flashy as say, "Raystorm," the magic spells work and provide some nice dramatic moments.
Musically, it is all PCM, synth-type stuff, which is not bad at all. It seems to be taken directly from the arcade version of the game (which would make sense). In fact I'd say that most of the level tunes are pretty cool, mainly toe-tapping dance, club type music with a happier tone of course, to fit the feel of the game. The voices are a bit muffled, but that's been kinda standard on the Saturn.
A note about the atmosphere of the game: This game is definitely on the 'kawaii' side of things, somewhere inbetween a traditional, serious shooter (Sengoku Blade) and extreme wackiness (Parodius, Twin Bee); probably slightly more towards the wacky side. Basically the game is interspersed (between levels) with a storyline, and after you beat each level the various main characters in the game (Cotton, Appli, Silk, etc.) will appear and have a short conversation furthering the storyline. You don't need to know what's going on, but you'll be treated to hand-drawn anime-style portraits of the characters talking, laughing, arguing, etc. Besides that, the feel of each level is much more 'serious' and 'spooky,' with many types of undead creatures and such attacking you. The backgrounds are beautifully painted and drawn, and the combined effect works very well.
But what any good game needs to do is bring something Fresh and New to the player, and Cotton 2 does just that: Instead of just pressing "A" to shoot non-stop for the whole game, Success has introduced some very fun and worthy gameplay elements. First off, there are "Command Shots," which are special attacks implemented by very simple D-pad motions + "A" button. So for example, Cotton starts off with a simple straight shot. If you tap 'Away', then 'Forward' + "A" she does a powerful blast shot! If you tap 'Forward', then 'Away' + "A" you get a 3-Way Shot. Very cool, and the motions are very simple to do. Furthermore, you find Magic Crystals throughout the game. What these do, are to serve 2 purposes: (1) Gives your current weapon an Elemental-based attack effect (and makes it stronger); and (2) The Crystal can be used as a Magic Spell (Bomb) for one time use. You basically just see one 'type' of crystal and every time you shoot it, it'll turn into a different color. The different colors (4) represent the different Element effects you gain if you touch it, such as "Blue" for Ice, "Red" for Fire, "Green" for Wind, and "White" for Light/Holy.
On top of that, if you have an Element on your weapon (you almost always do), if you hit enemies with a "Command Shot" they'll be encased in that Element and become vulnerable for you to: (a) keep shooting them for points; (b) push them to touch other enemies for 'Chain Hits' (and more points); and/or (c) throw them into a group of enemies, which also 'Chain Hits'! So, for example, you have an Ice Crystal on your weapon. If you do a special "Command Shot" and hit an enemy, it'll now be encased in Ice! You can then keep shooting the frozen enemy for a bunch of points, or you can Throw the frozen ice cube (via "B" button) towards an oncoming group of enemies, and they'll be 'frozen' too! And you managed to 'Chain' hits together for more points! While it may not seem like much, it adds a massive amount of randomness and replayability to the game. No more boring 'tap 'A' button all-night long' stuff anymore. In fact, at times, it feels like you're almost playing a 'shooter/platform' game! Very cool.
Finally, Success has presented a very playable shooter. I mention this point because 99% of the shooters today are just downright _sick_ in terms of difficulty. If you're not familiar with this, please try out any Atlus shooter (Sengoku Blade, Batsugun, etc.), Do Donpatchi, Einhander, etc. the list goes on. Nowadays, you really have to be a Shooter God to get halfway through a game! And that's on "Easy" setting (no joke. Just check the above games and play on Easy, and you'll see). For "Cotton 2", Success has looked back and remembered the basics of a classic shooter: A steady learning curve and a 'fair' AI for players to play against. It shouldn't be that you have spend months of your time, just trying to beat a game on Easy! Here in Cotton 2, the difficulty is set just right, and if you beat the game on it's various difficulty settings, you'll open more bonus options, and lastly, there's the Top 20 Rankings for you compete against.
Success has brought to us lucky Saturn owners one of the funnest shooters ever to have graced a home system, with "Cotton 2: Magical Night Dreams." Albeit a little on the short side, it has various difficulty settings, Arcade and Saturn modes (Saturn mode has different backgrounds! Different boss attacks, and little extras), and the excellent, new gameplay features aforementioned that'll keep you coming back and playing it over and over again - the true mark of a great game! Filled with luscious 2D graphics, great character art, and tons of personality, this is one Saturn game you shouldn't miss, especially if you like 2 Player cooperative games. This is just one more awesome game that'll never see the light of day over in the US, so be sure to check your local import store! One of this Holiday's finest.
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