‘Windjammers 2’ review: 90s arcade fun brought up to date

A grand reunion

When you start Windjammers 2 you’ll see the text “Flying Disc Game” emblazoned across the top of the screen, even above the title of the game. And while that’s an accurate description of what Windjammers actually is, it’s perhaps better described as a tactical version of air hockey with outlandish cartoon characters, combined with classic fighting game presentation.

People of a certain age (old people, like me) will remember Windjammers as an arcade game from the 90s that captured a niche audience that eventually found a home thanks to DotEmu, who brought that original back to life on PS4, PlayStation Vita, and later Nintendo Switch. Since then, the developer has brought the world Streets of Rage 4, and is about to delve deeper into The Nostalgia Zone to reanimate Metal Slug, and even the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series.

Windjammers 2 screenshot
Windjammers 2. Credit: DotEmu

Windjammers 2, then, stays true to the SNK-legacy of arcade games by having a punishing level of difficulty. You could easily imagine Windjammers 2 rinsing your pocket of change at an arcade, and the over-the-top, vibrantly colourful visuals only give credence to that feeling you’re standing in a smoke-filled 90s arcade, trying to beat your mate before you leave Sega World.

Even on the easiest difficulty, arcade mode presents a challenge, with a typical ramping up for the final match against the “boss” character. In truth, while mechanically this is an intensely satisfying experience, my concern is how newcomers to the franchise might fare. There’s a poor tutorial that just tells you the buttons, teaching you none of the technique, and I think DotEmu knows it’s not enough, because there’s a far better tutorial on its YouTube Channel that I sincerely recommend people watch.

At a very basic level, the idea is to throw the (Frisbee) disc into the openings in your opponent’s court. There are varying point slots between three and five, and if the disc hits the deck because it’s not caught, that’s two points. That’s the rules, but the simplicity of scoring belies the fact this is a deviously tactical experience. You can’t move when you hold the disc, and you have to throw it quickly, so the emphasis is on movement prior to having possession, and thinking ahead about what you plan to do when you get it.

Like any decent Tennis-adjacent game, you can mix up your throws with lobs, drop shots, overhead smashes, and more. But this is where Windjammers 2 borrows more from a fighting game than a sports title. If the disc is launched at you, and you tap the “A” button, you’ll “parry” it into the air. This serves a few purposes: first you can charge up under an airborne disc. Second, you can then smash the disc onto the deck at your flailing opponent.

Windjammers 2 versus screen
Windjammers 2. Credit: DotEmu

Matches are first to 15, and first to win 2 sets, and they’re exhilarating, breathless competitions. You’ll lose time playing Windjammers 2, because while matches can be over in a flash, a comeback against someone feels as good as in any other competitive game. With the points available per rally so high, even a lead of 10-0 can be cut to nothing within two shots. It’s all about knowing what move to use, and when, and it’s just moreish fun.

Every disc throw earns you some of your super meter, and executing one of these to absolutely annihilate your opponent with a fiery smash that takes both the disc and them through the five point slot is as satisfying in hour thirty as it is hour one. The aforementioned drop shots require you to react quickly and tap the “B” button just as you catch the disc. You can even rotate the stick before you launch the frisbee to add curve to it, making you feel like you’re executing Zangief’s Spinning Piledriver in Street Fighter II all over again.

Windjammers 2 falls into the “easy to play, difficult to master” category, and while the moment-to-moment play is exquisite, it’s not without flaws when it comes to the final polish. Adding an Arcade Mode to go through with each character is a nice touch, and there are ending “scenes” for each of them. After each match there’s a score totting up period, which seems to take forever, and often feels like it’s not working as it should be. It’s a peculiar moment, and there’s no real “story” outside of the ending scenes. It’d have been nice to see just a touch more care taken with this mode, but that’s a minor niggle, as it’s multiplayer where Windjammers 2 excels, and the servers seem stable pre-release.

Windjammers 2 special move
Windjammers 2. Credit: DotEmu

While the sequel adds a modern feel to things, only four of the ten characters are new, with the six from the original title returning, too. They all have their own attributes that make them either a powerhouse, speedster, or somewhere in the middle, and of course the special moves are a major boon, but aside that, this is very much a developer iterating on the original, without wholesale changes. For fans, though, it’ll be enough to have a new game in the series with solid netcode that makes the ranked online matches worth piling hours into, however.

With a fun soundtrack, brilliant feel, and colourful visuals, there’s very little to dislike about Windjammers 2. There’s a slight feeling that, given the title was in development for at least three years, there could be a little bit “more” of it. But really, given the niche audience, low price, cross-play between Xbox and Windows versions, and reverence paid to the original title, this one is just an all-round success.

Windjammers 2 is available for PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series S|X, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5. We played it on PC via Steam.

The Verdict

Windjammers 2 is as niche as they come, but if you give it a try you’ll find it to be an engaging, fun title that rewards your patience and dedication and lets you dominate the online rankings. This is how you do a sequel: it’s modernised but also manages to – elegantly – remain faithful to the original.

Pros

  • Faithful and modernised
  • Arcade fun that looks and sounds lovely
  • Offers a proper challenge

Cons

  • Content light
  • Arcade Mode could have more depth
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