When I play an arcade game, there are many facets that can make it good. Music, art style, and replayability are all important when making an arcade package. However, there is only one characteristic that elevates that good game into a great game. When I approach that towering cabinet – or in this case, when I pick up my controller – I need to know how to play and what the rules are within the first 10 seconds.
Think about some of the most legendary arcade games like Pac-Man, Galaga, or Robotron: 2084. Right when you put those coins in, you know exactly how to play and what those game’s rules are within seconds of your first playthrough. While the gameplay does get a bit more involved, the Neo Geo classic Windjammers exemplifies this idea pretty nicely.
Windjammers is a sports game that combines ultimate frisbee with tennis. The court is separated into two sides with a player guarding a goal. A player scores a goal when they throw the frisbee into the goal. That is the basic gist of the disc throwing sport but like any sport, it has its intricacies. On the court itself, there are marked areas on the court that are worth more points. Red marked areas are worth five points while yellow marked areas are worth three points; if you get your opponent to miss the disc off a deflection, it’s worth two points.
Playing the game is just as simple. Each playable character – which there are six, each representing a different country – moves, throws, and dashes identically; each character does have their own unique stats so they do vary in terms of how fast they move or how powerful their throws may be. Since each characters basic controls are all the same, it isn’t a hassle to jump to another character to see which one is right for you.
Despite its low barrier of entry, there are some advanced techniques that give you the advantage. Knowing how to time each throw to get the most power out of it, parrying to set up for your character’s special shot, or curved throws are all techniques that require a bit more practice. They aren’t necessary to win by any means but it certainly gives you the advantage when you can fake people out with a curved throw or slam them into their own goal with a well-timed shot.
This back-and-forth gameplay wouldn’t be all that great if it were too loose or convoluted. Luckily, that is not the case. The controls are pretty simple. Movement is done with the analog stick or d-pad; shots, parrying, and dashes are done with the Y button and lob shots are executed with the X button – for reference, I am playing on the Nintendo Switch. It all feels intuitive and can easily be picked up in a matter of seconds.
I do think that some of the more advanced techniques, like curved shots and parrying, are harder to execute. A problem I have with the Nintendo Switch, in general, is that there is a bit of discomfort when holding the system in portable mode, as well as the lack of a proper d-pad on the joy-con. I found myself adjusting the console in my hands a number of times during a match which isn’t great considering the twitchy nature of the game.
How the Nintendo Switch version of Windjammers excels over the other platforms is also due to its portability. This game is meant to be played with people in-person. The fact I could set the tablet on the table, take both joy-con off the system, hand one to my friend, and instantly start playing a match together is such a great feature, especially for this game. At any point, I could get in a heated competition with a couple of friends.
If you don’t have any to play with, surely you could play online. Yes, there is an online multiplayer mode and theoretically, you could totally play matches with strangers… if anyone played. It was impossible to find a match online which is disheartening. This would be such a fun online experience and a great way to test your skills. Instead, you’ll be stuck playing the fairly limited single player modes.
Windjammers is a fun and fantastic multiplayer arcade game and the Nintendo Switch version takes advantage of that strength. The classic Neo Geo game passes that aforementioned 10-second rule while still giving the player more to learn after they know the basics. However, if I didn’t have anyone to play with, I don’t know if I would want to play at all. This is meant to be played with others, in the same room, playing on a couch screaming at the TV after a long and intense volley. If you know some people interested in that type of experience, purchasing Windjammers is a no-brainer.