Originally released on the Sega Genesis in 1994, Panorama Cotton has finally reached North America as part of the ongoing Cotton 30th Anniversary celebration. The Cotton series primarily includes 2D horizontal shoot-’em-ups in which the witch Cotton flies through whimsical areas and utilizes spell-based firepower to vanquish her foes. However, Panorama Cotton is a third person on-rails shooter along the lines of the arcade classic Space Harrier. It impressively stands out by pushing the Sega Genesis’ hardware with high sprite counts and ubiquitous scaling effects. This particular release is a fascinating time capsule, but its extra content is sparse by contemporary retro re-release standards.
Cotton inadvertently benefits others through her relentless selfish pursuit of Willow candy. In Panorama Cotton, she flies through five vibrant stages to battle those who ruined her candy supply. Right from the get-go, she flies alongside a river and even through a waterfall that leads to an abstract pathway. Other areas include dynamic skies and mystical ruins. Each of the game’s five stages is populated by oddball enemies and plenty of obstacles that Cotton must either evade or shoot down. Much like the previous game Cotton: Fantastic Night Dreams, she can collect crystals in order to obtain different attack spells.
Panorama Cotton pushes the Genesis’ hardware to create an all-encompassing visual experience. The ground layer constantly scrolls and shifts alongside the player’s movement. Certain sequences even simulate camera angle changes, which is particularly impressive for a 16-bit console. An abundance of scrolling scaled objects such as rocks and pillars create the illusion of flying through space. Certain backgrounds and ground planes also have distortion effects that really add a dynamic touch as well.
The main caveat is that the game can be hard to read given the sheer amount of objects and sprites on screen. The framerate also stutters at times and the sheer chaos inevitably leads to bumping into enemies. Fortunately, Cotton can withstand quite a few hits before needing to restart at the closest checkpoint, and the game does grant five continues for completing the run. Nonetheless, the game’s technical accomplishments still hold up twenty-seven years later. Players can also expect bouncy off-the-wall tunes that properly suit the game’s hyper-vibrant style. Cotton also provides some chirpy high-pitched voice samples from time to time, which is appropriate given the game’s ‘90s anime-inspired nature.
This release uses Ratalaika Games’ engine, which emulates the original game with a few optional bells and whistles. Players can opt to choose a mode that accurately simulates the original game, but they can also select a mode that allows for save state and rewind use. With about a minute of rewinding and six save state slots, the game gives plenty of leeway to recover from mistakes. However, the dialogue in Panorama Cotton is untranslated, which is unfortunate particularly given the series’ whimsicality and on the heels of Cotton Reboot.
One of the release’s most prominent features is an extensive selection of display filters. Players can opt for stretched or pixel perfect modes, but they can also select display options that simulate an old school CRT TV. The game provides many options like curvature, pattern intensity, brightness, and many more. Unfortunately, the game has no border wallpapers whatsoever, which feels like a missed opportunity given the series’ character-focused lineage and vibrant art. Another missed opportunity is the lack of an in-game digital manual. A manual could have provided exposition or described mechanics such as spell effects and shooting crystals to change the spells that players can obtain. The user interface is also rather sparse as well, but everything feels relatively organized and easy to find.
Panorama Cotton is a fascinating time capsule as it pushes the Genesis’ specs to create an impressive looking on-rails shooter. Although this release of Panorama Cotton has limited extras and untranslated text, the game is nonetheless impressive and still worth experiencing today. The game is a bit chaotic and may take a little bit of practice, but the five stages are not overwhelmingly challenging. The optional save states and rewind functionality can also mitigate some of the game’s difficulty. As the original game is relatively uncommon and rare, this release allows players to experience the series’ whimsical legacy even if this port has a straightforward feature set.