Thursday, July 18, 2024

Rainbow Cotton Holds Up Its Charm 20 Years Later – PC Review

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Platforms: Steam, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Sony PlayStation 4, Sony PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch
Developer: Success (Original), Kritzelkratz 3000 (Remaster)
Publisher: ININ Games
Release Date: May 9th, 2024

Rainbow Cotton is the latest remaster in the Success-ful shoot-em-up series, Cotton, not at all a segue to a pun of the original developers, Success. This review was made possible thanks to the awesome folks at ININ Games. I was introduced to Cotton two years ago for the release of Cotton Fantasy, the newest installment in a recently revived franchise. Originally released in 1991, the original Cotton served as one of the pioneers of the “cute-em-up genre.” The story of Cotton is largely the same throughout each game but with slight variances. Cotton is a witch known to cause mischief yet will do anything it takes to procure Willows, a delicacy for the girl. 

Accompanying Cotton is Silk, a fairy tasked with enlisting the aid of the young witch. This is usually done with the promise of Willows as motivation to take on the hordes of monsters barring their path. Before each stage, an animation plays, fully dubbed. This not only provides context through the various towns that Cotton goes through in each level. It also helps introduce several bosses as the effects of the magical Willows affect them in various ways. This is much to the chagrin of Cotton, who is always ever close and eager to obtain a Willow for herself.

Players are given five credits by default and two checkpoints for each stage. The second checkpoint is only accessible upon reaching the level’s boss. Each stage has a sub-boss and a main boss, so even if the player reaches the sub-boss, they are at risk of restarting the level from the beginning. Rainbow Cotton’s difficulty is deceptive behind its colorful poppy vibes in that enemies will overwhelm Cotton and her band of fairies if left unchecked. 

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Cotton does not mess around about her Willows.

Fortunately, some special enemies occasionally spawn with beneficial power-ups, some of whom are the fairies that Cotton can set free. While providing Cotton company and ample amounts of chatter (that the player can, fortunately, toggle on and off), they also amplify Cotton’s magic by sacrificing themselves. Cotton can cast magic spells by obtaining crystals from the same golden enemies. Different colors represent different elements yet they behave like bombs in other shoot-em-ups. They are useful for clearing waves of enemies while also dealing heavy damage to bosses.

Rainbow Cotton was developed exclusively for the Sega Dreamcast, unique in the series as it’s the first and only polygonal 3D entry. The original console version can be played in Retro mode and it looks just as fantastic almost a quarter century later. Gameplay-wise, Rainbow Cotton shares similarities with its predecessor, Panorama Cotton. In both titles, players control Cotton with a “behind-the-back” perspective reminiscent of Space Harrier and Panzer Dragoon. It’s the latter where Rainbow draws its biggest influence.

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The 4:3 ratio, filters, and other enhancements make Retro Mode as close to the original Dreamcast release as possible.

Despite being made for consoles, Rainbow Cotton is an arcade shoot-em-up in its soul. Each level centers on a specific theme, whether it’s flying through a village at night or exploring an active volcano, most of the thematic levels expected in previous Cotton titles make their way here. The character designs are also enhanced due to Cotton and the enemies taking a “chibi-fied” appearance to match the anime-esque designs. The music and sound direction is of the highest quality a Cotton game has seen up to this point as expected from a title on a sixth-generation platform.

The transition from a classic 2D “danmaku” to a Yu Suzuki-inspired 3D rail shooter wasn’t as jarring as I thought. Many of the game’s mechanics from classic Cotton returned in Rainbow without losing the nature of the series itself. Unfortunately, this includes the density of the enemies as volleys of cute critters and bullets fly toward the young witch. While Rainbow Cotton gives players a health bar, the player will find themselves taking a lot of often unavoidable damage unless the player is familiar with how hitboxes work.

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Bosses like this chase encounter are quite enjoyable when there’s less chaos on the screen.

Here’s where my first real complaint lies with Rainbow Cotton. I wish that an option to change the FOV was given for the Remaster as simply increasing it, or pitching the camera slightly, would improve a player’s vision. Often enough I’m seeing Cotton’s broom haplessly flail about as I’m trying to avoid a torrent of bullets, some of which are hitting my blindside. The best method of offense is defense. If I didn’t fire back, I would focus more on avoiding enemy fire, only attacking when necessary such as hitting the golden enemies for health, fairies, and other power-ups.

This seemed like a valid approach for most enemies, including the aforementioned sub-bosses that appear during each stage. In most cases, these bosses have a soft time limit in which they will flee and the stage progresses as normal. Defeating them will not only give the player bonus points, but it will also count towards an achievement/trophy unlocked for defeating all sub-bosses in Rainbow Cotton. There are also branching paths that feature different sub-bosses in each level, multiplying the replay value as players try to uncover all of Rainbow Cotton’s secrets.

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It was a fight to the death, did I win? (Of course!)

There was one level where this strategy backfired, as I was stuck on this one mid-boss for minutes without an end in sight. I was hoping he would flee and run away like the others just so I could hopefully acquire some much-needed health, but my foe was determined to fight to the end. That’s the charm of Cotton and why Rainbow Cotton did a great job in genre-bending. Despite the new gameplay perspective and impressive colorful visuals, it’s still the same stressful yet enjoyable endeavor whether it’s 2D or 3D. 

Rainbow Cotton was a niche entry in a niche series for a genre on a niche platform that has seen a new chance on a modern platform. The influx of remasters over the past several years has been paramount in preventing media from becoming lost. Publishers like ININ Games have been doing a great job in helping to preserve these treasured titles as well as introducing them to a newer audience through conventional means. Don’t be discouraged by its challenging difficulty wrapped behind its deceptively cute appearance. Rainbow Cotton is another piece of gaming history that players should treasure in their library. 

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Rainbow Cotton’s plot is as comical and charming as its two protagonists, Cotton and Silk.

Rainbow Cotton is now available on Steam, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5.