Dotemu announced Windjammers 2 in 2018 – a grand follow-up on a cult-classic competitive arcade title in which players throw a frisbee back and forth trying to score goals on each other. Now, with an incredibly lush new art style, fresh characters and throwing gimmicks, and a new netcode system built from the ground up, Windjammers 2 is finally ready to play. Were the years of waiting worth it? If you’re looking for a unique head-to-head arcade sports experience, then I’d have to say yes in almost every way.
The Windjammer Championship returns
For the uninitiated, the original Windjammers was a sports arcade game launched in 1994 by Data East. Players take on the role of one of many competitors from around the world to engage in matches in which you throw a frisbee disc back and forth, trying to hit your opponent’s goal zone in their backfield or land the disc flat on the ground with a drop shot for a number of points dependent upon the court design. First player to 15 points wins a set and the first to take two sets out of three wins the match.
Windjammers 2 keeps everything about this formula intact and takes it to the next level. First off, the game features a ridiculously colorful hand-drawn art style. The original characters all return in this new style, joined by four newcomers. Several of the courts also return accompanied by fresh new playgrounds. All of it is incredibly fun to look at and well-animated whether you’re talking about the competitors, the courts, or even the bystanders in the stands (which include some easter eggs fans will likely appreciate). It’s all fueled by a dynamite soundtrack of both remastered original music and all-new tracks. The Junkyard and Ring court tracks in particular were my absolute jams and I love the intensity of the final Stadium stage music. All of it has the aura of professional wrestling and I’m here for the flamboyant pageantry.
Then there’s the boosts to gameplay. All of the original game’s elements are here. You have to be quick on your toes to outwit and outplay your opponent with bank shots, curving shots, drop shots, charge shots, and character-specific power shots, but a few new defensive and offensive gimmicks have joined the arsenal. For one, you can jump. Catch the disc while doing so and you can throw a spinning ground shot or go for a hard drop shot to try to catch your opponent off-guard at the risk of a big recovery. There’s also a counter move in which you can instantly bounce an incoming shot back at your opponent if you have good timing. Mixing these into the already intense Windjammers arsenal of throws is what will separate the good players from the great ones.
Windjammers 2 is an entirely head-to-head game. You can play online or local versus other players, or challenge bots in the Arcade mode, but be warned: This game is unforgiving to newcomers and old-hands alike. Even on Medium difficulty, the CPU will be returning almost everything you throw, belting you with multitudes of charge shots, and making you pay for even the slightest mistakes. It’s built like a quarter-eater and, unfortunately, it doesn’t really ease you into understanding the game in the slightest. Sink or swim.
If you’re like me, some of the characters on the roster will become your nemeses as well. Each of the roster has a balance between speed (the rate at which they can move and dodge) and power (how hard they throw and can knock you back, even into your own goal for points). The roster also features character-specific shots with a wide variety of effects, such as changing direction mid-shot or disappearing and reappearing on a different end of the court. I could defend against Ho or Scott’s shots reliably after seeing them once, but Wessel and Max are really hard to pin down on the fly, making them nastier opponents when the computer is playing them late-game.
However, to its credit for being a tough-to-learn, tough-to-master game, Windjammers 2 plays mostly as smooth as silk. Matches are fast, and you’d better be on your toes at anytime with a dodge or counter if you want to properly return a volley for the score. The Nintendo Switch mostly ran all of the matches I played with absolutely fluidity in Handheld and Docked Mode. There were a few notable instances where there was some stutter in the game in Docked, but these were brief and uncommon.
That said, if you want to learn Windjammers 2 as a newcomer, you’re likely better off getting a buddy or spending time with a customizable CPU in Versus. Fortunately, that’s where good Versus options and excellent netcode come into play.
Be the best around
If you followed the development cycle of Windjammers 2, then you may know full well that the game was delayed specifically so they could build a rollback netcode system for it. Back in 2021, I had a chance to test that rollback system in play and found it to be pretty satisfactory, and the same can be said here, if not more confidently. During my test matches online, I ran into pings that were running 100 to 200 m/s. Rarely did I ever notice an effect on gameplay in comparison to offline play. Even with the small issues, it was never substantial enough to ruin a match.
Windjammers 2 also offers a great array of options for Versus play online and off. Ranked rules are static for obvious reasons, but in Player Matches both local and online, you can set the time, the points to win a set, and the number of sets to win a match. In offline local, you can even play the CPU and set their level of difficulty. I kind of wish Windjammers 2 had a proper training mode where I can lab and test out different things at my pace, but I can’t deny that having that offline CPU versus option is helpful for building knowledge of characters, courts, and strategies at your leisure.
Most importantly, this is to say that Windjammers 2 is best played with a human opponent and there are a satisfying number of ways to go about it. Moreover, the netcode in this game is rock solid to facilitate crisp and quality online matches. Even so, those who aren’t interested in competing with other humans won’t find the game lacking in options.
Big disc energy
Windjammers 2 is here and it is fantastic. The game’s presentation is another highlight of Dotemu’s always incredible-looking catalogue of published titles and I love the blend of new and returning characters, courts, moves, and music. Mix this with a great online system and a versatile array of ways to play against humans or bots and it could end up being one of the most standout sports titles of the year. It wasn’t entirely without jank. It’s difficulty in Arcade mode will grind newcomers into diamond dust and I wish it had a proper training mode. However, Windjammers 2 still operates incredibly well and hits a blend of artistic style and competitive arcade intensity like no other. See you at the podium, challengers.
This review is based on a Nintendo Switch digital copy of the game supplied by the publisher. Windjammers 2 releases on January 20, 2022 on Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and PC via Steam. It’s also confirmed for Google Stadia at a later date.