Overview – developed by Strictly Limited Games and Ratalaika Games with publishing handled by ININ Games, Panorama Cotton is a port of the 1994 Japanese exclusive Mega Drive title by SUCCESS. This is the first time that Panorama Cotton has been released in the west, giving players a chance to officially play this title. This title is available on the Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4, with links to each version will be at the bottom of this review.
Disclaimer: before I get into the review, I would like to thank PR Hound who provided the copy of Panorama Cotton that was used for this piece. The provision of this software has not influenced the contents of this review, all thoughts and opinions contained within are my own. Please note that this was released alongside Cotton 100%, which you can read (HERE) and contains some of the features mentioned below.
Now with the introductions out of the way, let’s get into the review. I will be skipping the story segment since there is no official localization of Panorama Cotton as of this review (but a localization patch is planned to release in the future). This release uses the original Japanese software, so I will be moving straight into the gameplay.
Gameplay – Panorama Cotton is a pseudo 3D rail shooter, with a third-person perspective similar to that of titles like Space Harrier and After Burner. As Cotton, the player must travel through several stages fighting enemies, collecting the gems that they drop and trying to avoid stage hazards. The stage design is unique for this entry in the franchise, with branching paths and psychedelic landscapes to traverse while maintaining the signature elements of Cotton gameplay.
There are two gameplay modes that can be played in this release, an original mode and score attack. Both modes have the same stages, bosses and core gameplay mechanics, with original being an arcade mode and Score attack being a high score challenge. After setting up the mode that is desired in the options menu, the game can start with a nice opening cinematic before going into stage 1.
Cotton can use a variety of skills to battle the enemies that will appear, using the traditional leveling system to power up Cotton to a maximum level of 5. The abilities that the witch Cotton can use are as follows;
- Cotton Shot – the standard attack that cotton can use, firing bullets at a rapid rate that power up by defeating enemies and increasing her level. The power is lowered by taking damage, reducing Cotton’s level with enough damage being taken.
- Silk the Fairy – Cotton’s companion Silk will hover around her, charging up Silk when the shot button is held down and sending her to attack when letting go of the button. Silk can be used to protect Cotton, with weak enemies having a chance of being defeated when making contact with her.
- Magic – Cotton has access to three magic types that serves two purposes, offensive magic to deal damage and defensive to prevent damage. The magic is limited in its use as only one spell can be used at a time and it disappears when it runs out, with the only way to replenish it is to collect gems that match the color of that magic.
- Speed – Cotton has three speeds that she can use when flying through the stages, with a slow, medium and fast speed setting. The speed setting that the player uses doesn’t just affect Cotton, but the scrolling speed of the stage and the speed of enemies on screen potentially increasing the difficulty of the game. Luckily, the speed of the bosses isn’t affected by Cotton’s speed.
The stages of Panorama Cotton follow the established formula of the series, with each stage having waves of enemies to fight, a mid-boss and a final boss to battle. The Tea Time bonus returns again, with the cups flying towards the screen for the player to collect when a stage is cleared. What makes this title different from others is the way that stages play out, as the different paths change the direction of the camera and even the orientation of the screen.
The action is frantic and enemies can appear out of nowhere, attacking from all directions which can lead to damage being taken without warning. However, Panorama Cotton differs from the previous titles as Cotton has a health bar this time, removing the fear of one hit deaths from sudden enemies. The health bar is depleted whenever damage is taken, but it can be replenished when meeting specific point milestones.
If the player loses all their health then that is it, the player gets a game over and must use a life (if they have one left) to keep going. The maximum number of lives that the player can have is six, with options that can make the challenge a little tougher. The game may appear rather short, but the diverging paths in stages, the score attack mode and the high score system in general adds replay value to this title.
Finally, I want to discuss the general changes to the game. When booting up the game, a menu will appear showing two options that can be selected. First, we have the standard mode, which adds save states, a rewind feature and cheats to the game. The second is challenge mode, which tries to be as close to the original version as possible, with completion of this mode unlocking cheats for standard mode.
The quality of life improvements are nice, but there are some serious flaws that ruin the experience of playing for the first time. Throughout the game there are instances where sprites are invisible, which includes enemies and obstacles which cause damage without warning. This is a major concern as players who don’t know that these exist will get hurt and not know why. I am unsure if this is an emulation issue or a software issue, but it makes the game borderline unplayable.
UPDATE – the issues mentioned above in regards to missing sprites have since been fixed, you can read more and get my thoughts on it in the update linked at the bottom of this review.
Now with the gameplay covered, I will be moving onto the other aspects of the game starting with the controls.
Controls – the control method is simple, with three buttons for cottons skills and a button to rewind the game. There is no lag with the inputs and they are nice and responsive, being comfortable to play with any controller and button layout. The controls can be remapped to suit any playing style, which grants the player to use third party controllers like the Retro-Bit Sega Saturn control pad with ease.
Difficulty – the game is balanced well, if you are playing the original Mega Drive version. Sadly this version is unfairly hard because of the issues that it suffers from, even on the lowest difficulty it can be tough to get through. What makes this worse is that while trying to dodge enemies it is impossible to see the invisible barriers in the way, taking damage through no fault of the player. It will take hours for a new player to get used to the missing sprites and learn the safe spots.
Presentation – as Panorama Cotton is a Mega Drive title, the game really pushes what was possible for the system at the time. This includes the psychedelic color palette, pseudo 3D sprite work and different depth of field effects which look fantastic on the switch. The sound is pleasant and nice to listen to, with the chiptune music compositions retaining that signature Cotton charm. It is just a shame that there are visual issues that make sprites invisible, causing other sprites to flicker because of it.
Screen filters have been implemented in this release, allowing players to apply faux scan lines and imitate the look of a CRT screen. The inclusion of these options feels unnecessary as they don’t really add to the experience, with the darkened screen causing visibility issues if anything. There are aspect ratio options that change the size of the screen, but make very little difference when playing the game, with the default setting being the best.
Final Thoughts – I was so happy when I heard about Panorama Cotton coming to the Nintendo Switch, because I wanted people to be able to experience this game officially for the first time. It was like a dream come true, but in reality it was more like a nightmare. The graphical issues that this port is riddled with are atrocious, ruining any fun that could be had and soiling the legacy of this cult favorite in the Shmup Genre.
I cannot recommend this game, not in the way that it is now and I tried to tell the people involved that this was broken, but no one responded. The invisible sprite issue needs to be fixed, because it makes a fun challenge unfair and will leave a sour taste in the mouths of those who play it. For a game that has such a devoted fan base not only in Japan but in the west as well, Panorama Cotton deserves so much better than this. If the issues get fixed, then yeah it’s a good game but it isn’t worth it right now.
In the end, I give Panorama Cotton a final score of 2/5. This is a beloved game that has sadly been butchered, either through poor emulation or an issue with software, making what should be a fun challenge into something that is borderline unplayable and it needs to be fixed. I will only be adding links to the game below in the event that it is patched in the future, but I do not recommend buying it at this moment.
Link to Nintendo Switch version (HERE)
Link to PlayStation 4 version (HERE)
Since publishing, an update for this title has been released to address the issues mentioned in this piece. You can find that update (HERE).
One thought on “Panorama Cotton – Nintendo Switch Review”