Cotton is a 2D shoot-’em-up series that embraces whimsicality, over-the-top expressions, and magical broom-riding witch character action. After numerous ‘90s releases and being in dormancy for almost two decades, Cotton Reboot! marks the series’ return on modern platforms. It includes the original game’s Sharp X68000 port as well as a brand new Arrange Mode with remade visuals and mechanics. While the original game is largely a standard shoot-’em-up with an off-the-wall presentation, the arranged mode showcases overloaded visuals and amplified player firepower. With its multiple modes and easy-to-learn action, Cotton Reboot! can scratch anyone’s shoot-’em-up itch while providing an opportunity to experience a slice of gaming history.
The game’s premise is rather silly as the titular character Cotton is seemingly unconcerned with the looming threat of darkness. She initially ignores the fairy Silk who asks for assistance. However, once Silk mentions Willow candy as a reward, Cotton immediately flies into the night-covered land to take on zany monsters and over-the-top obstacles. Cotton travels through haunted forests, graveyards, caves, and other stark locales. Between each stage, the game presents cutscenes consisting of exaggerated expressions and off-the-wall dialogue with plenty of non-sequiturs. The overall presentation practically resembles a ‘90s anime, which is certainly part of the charm.
Cotton Reboot! follows familiar horizontal 2D shoot-’em-up conventions with some unique quirks. As with any other shoot-’em-up, the goal is to dodge incoming fire while defeating incoming enemies with rapid firepower. Defeated enemies drop gems, which empower Cotton depending on their hue. She can also shoot these gems to change their color. Yellow and orange gems bolster her experience level which in turn boosts her firepower, and other colors grant Cotton expendable items. Tapping the magic button casts an offense-oriented spell, and holding the button casts a more defensive ability. Becoming accustomed to these resources takes a bit of time, but they provide a bit of extra flair.
Two distinct modes and two caravan score attack courses provide distinct ways to experience the game. The Sharp X68000 Mode is an enhanced version of the original arcade game, and it is still a blast to play as the sprite work is bold and full of zany faces. This version is a relatively straightforward experience that encapsulates the visual sensibilities and technical capabilities of the early ‘90s.
In contrast, the brand new Arrange Mode is an explosive take on the original game’s motifs. It adds two more spell types on top of the existing red and blue —spells, the ability to enhance spells, shooting gems to create spread shots, and a fever mode mechanic. These new mechanics lead to overloaded visuals with lots of score multipliers and vibrant firepower on screen, which definitely can be rather chaotic. However, the Arrange Mode’s additional firepower also leads to an easier playthrough. The two and five minute Score Attack modes provide bursts of action by throwing fairly intense enemy waves at players.
Cotton Reboot!’s two main modes have distinct visual styles supplemented by upbeat tunes. The original game’s sprites are fairly colorful and easily visible against the relatively dark and less saturated backgrounds. The Arrange Mode’s backgrounds showcase a literal glow-up as the environments have eerie atmospheric lighting. Players can also hide the pause menu in order to get clean screenshots, which is always a welcome option. Both modes’ cutscenes feature chirpy voice acting, and the stages contain appropriately cutesy voice samples too. The original synth-driven soundtrack is still catchy, and the cutscene theme just might stick in your head for a while. The Arrange Mode soundtrack is full of eclectic rock instruments, and the game shows the musician who arranges each track as well.
Cotton Reboot! is a fascinating throwback to ‘90s shoot-‘em-ups as it includes the original game and a new take on its cartoony motifs. As with most other shoot-‘em-ups, a full run of either mode will take less than than an hour, but the replayability revolves around attaining higher scores and playing as extra characters. Either mode is easy to pick up and play even if the Arrange Mode can feel chaotic at times. Anybody seeking some colorful shoot-’em-up action will certainly enjoy what Cotton Reboot! has to offer.