The pre-3D era was an exciting time. Developers were using all kinds of visual shenanigans to give off the impression of 3D, without actually being 3D at all. Arcade games like Space Harrier pioneered and even perfected, this faux-3D look, and some even hold up today. Panorama Cotton, a game that was previously only released in Japan, adopted this style and, unfortunately, misses the mark on more than one occasion.
Faux-3D Is Back
Panorama Cotton is a visual spectacle that must have blown the minds of the kids who played it way back when. Unlike most faux-3D shooters, Panorama Cotton was not in Arcades – it ran on the Sega Megadrive. For all of the (many) faults the game has, the fact they managed to create something like this, on hardware like that, is truly commendable. The issue is, that kind of era-based awe doesn’t translate over to 2021.
Panorama Cotton, when stationary, is truly gorgeous. The huge, colorful sprites, creative boss designs, and LSD-inspired visuals are impossible to hate. Again, when stationary. In motion, which is practically all of the time, Panorama Cotton is a mess. The way the screen scrolls, the awkward sprite-scaling, the speed of the game – it all comes together to make a vile concoction that made me physically ill. I don’t get motion sickness, but Panorama Cotton forced me to take breaks every level or so.
This is made worse by the lackluster gameplay. Cotton can attack in two ways – firing her standard shot and using magic. Her standard shot powers up over time, and her magic spells all have alt-firing modes. This is directly pulled from Cotton’s 2D roots, but in a Faux-3D space, it just feels awful.
Aiming your bullets is awkward, your magic apparently does things, but from all the visual overload, I genuinely couldn’t tell you what. It felt like I was just moving in a big circle hoping my attacks hit something, and not making conscious decisions during my play. Strategy went out of the window, and I was just left watching this fever dream unfold before me.
Boss fights are the highlight of the show, mostly because the game tends to stop moving and you can absorb the complexity of the design. How can you not nod in appreciation at a screen-filling paper mache mouse being controlled by two dudes on bicycles? It’s moments like this that made me want to love the game, but then the next level started and I had to take a fistful of painkillers and hug a toilet.
Being a port of an old game, you’d expect some modern refinements or additions to make the game a bit more appealing, and to Ratalaika’s credit, they did add save states and a rewind feature. Outside of this, however, this is pretty barebones. The game hasn’t even been translated into English, so the beautiful cinematics between levels are illegible unless you can read Japanese.
At the very least, the music is pretty damn good, with a great selection of tracks that had me bopping along whenever I was able. Cotton has always had fantastic music, and Panorama Cotton, despite being a departure in many ways, continues that trend.
Panorama Cotton is a nice museum piece. It’s nice to look back and appreciate what the game was back in the day. It isn’t, however, a game worth playing. Its main draw is and was its visuals, and they simply haven’t held up. The gameplay isn’t as refined or as playable as Cotton’s 2D ventures, so all that really leaves is a good soundtrack and the occasional interesting boss. Give this one a miss.
COTTON PANORAMA IS NOT RECOMMENDED
Note: A patch for English translations is apparently on the way.
Many thanks go to ININ Games for a PlayStation 4 review code for this title.
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Forged in the rainy wilds of northern England, I carved a path of mediocrity through generations and genres. My play style is often described as: “optimistically awful”.