Sometimes the internet’s collective id forms a Dragonball Z-esque spirit bomb of positivity above all the negative bullshit in the world and makes something very awesome happen. Such is the case of Windjammers. “Heart-in-the-right-place” “homage” Disc Jam and the “blink-and-you-missed-it” Japanese WiiU Virtual Console release notwithstanding, Windjammers was thought lost to time, a 1994 Arcade/Neo Geo oddity that got famous starting in 2013 when Jeff Gerstmann and the Giant Bomb crew got a hold of it and began streaming their Lisa Frank colored Saved by the Bell meets King of Fighters flying disc deathmatches and singing the virtues of its conceptually so-bad-its-good ridiculousness and brilliantly addictive, easy to learn, hard to master execution.
Once mighty Japanese Windjammers developer Data East was no more, along with IPs like Karnov, Bad Dudes and Fighter’s Destiny (itself notorious for its shameless theft from Street Fighter II that Capcom fought against in court and lost), so the idea of Windjammers being thrust back into easy public availability on modern game streaming services was a pipe dream indeed. Enter French developer DotEmu. Best known as a purveyor of Browser and Phone gaming, but recently dipping their toe into the world of critic’s darling retro peddling with the recent well received Wonder Boy remake and this game, DotEmu has delivered what many thought impossible without any sort of KickStarter bullshit, compilation full of other games you don’t really want or any other such caveats. Here’s Windjammers. It’s here, it’s legal, it’s 15 bucks and it’s awesome.
As for that aforementioned conceptual ridiculousness, well, that’s a big part of the fun here, for me at least. Though I was a huge fan of SNK’s bright red AES arcade machines and the weird outliers contained within (goofball proto FPS The Super Spy immediately comes to mind) I’m not going to lie about having ever encountered Windjammers in arcades, but it was definitely something I would’ve enjoyed as a lad, with its goofy, fighting game inspired take on the nonexistent sport of competitive World Cup frisbee. Yes, with NBA Jam style superhuman feats and Street Fighter-esque fireballs and sonic booms, gloriously stereotypical representatives from the UK, US, Germany, Italy, Spain and, of course, Japan, compete on courses of various dimensions in what is essentially a fancy pants 90’s version of Pong with “flying discs”.
Is it silly? Well, it’s a Data East developed Neo Geo game from 1994, so of course it is. But the neon clad Capcom and SNK meets California Games window dressing (lovingly recreated by DotEmu here with several different thoughtfully applied aspect ratio/filter/border options) camouflages an elegantly simple yet deceptively deep gameplay engine. As I previously stated, I hadn’t yet played Windjammers for myself before sitting down with this PS4 port, and initially found myself stonewalled by the first computer opponent you face on the easy difficulty of the game’s arcade mode. Eventually you find the game’s groove though, a sort of highly engrossing, Smash Bros.-y “every-character-basically plays-the-same-but-feels-different” type of deal, save for their super moves which range from flaming frisbee tornadoes to disc powered full body psycho crushers.
Some people call him Maurice *whistles*.
You’ll be compelled to work through each character’s very minimal campaign (my favorite is Steve Miller from the UK, AKA Ryu in Bret Hart sunglasses) on various difficulty settings and feel like you’re ready to belly up to the game’s online modes. Protip: you aren’t. But they’re there and they work well enough should you feel the need to quit your job and devote your life to becoming a Windjammers Pro. I’ll be happy enough to just bust this out the next time I have friends over and hope that they dig it as much as I do.
Old, sometimes forgotten Neo Geo and Arcade games popping up on PS4, Xbox One and now even Switch hardly seem like a cause for celebration anymore at this point, what with Hamster’s Arcade Archives series (also made famous by Giant Bomb) and SNK’s own initiatives to rerelease their wide berth of PS2 compilations. But Windjammers was a concern unto itself, given its recent rediscovery and immense potential for competitive chaos both in a casual and tournament setting. DotEmu has rolled out the red carpet and, despite the re-release’s somewhat thin feature set, given both neophytes and those that have been frothing at the mouth over thus game for years a Windjammers that we can be proud to finally call our own. “Get ready!”