Originally released in 1994 on the Sega Mega Drive, Cotton Panorama is an on rails shooter that looks and feels a lot like Sega’s Space Harrier. For the pre-polygon era, the quasi-3D effect probably blew minds back in the day, and doesn’t look bad today, but the novelty is only skin deep as the gameplay is something best left in the past.
Instead sticking with its charming side-scrolling roots, you can tell Cotton Panorama’s rails shooter design decision was a product of its time. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do something. The devs most likely wanted to try something new in the 16-bit generation because they had the capability to do so. It is a shame because Panorama isn’t fun to play, especially when compared to other games in the series.
The presentation might look cool from screenshots but is barely playable when in motion. There is not a lot of depth perception here, and enemies usually pop-in quickly with little to no time to react due to heightened speed. Thankfully there is some variety in the enemy design but it doesn’t mean much when the player is constantly trying to stay alive through no fault of your own. Half the time I would have no clue how or why I was taking damage. Then as soon as the invulnerability period ends, it would continue with another hit and taking damage from one moment to the next is never fun and a sign of imbalance. Further, the playable witch takes up a large portion of the screen, making it impossible to see what is directly in front of you. Even collecting the bonus items during the stage ending “tea time” is way more difficult than it should be because the zooming from the screen effect isn’t that great.
Suffering through the unfair gameplay is one thing but this is a barebones port. Outside of a simple rewind feature, there are no notable extras or quality of life features to enjoy. In fact, the game is still in Japanese! Granted, you do not need to understand Japanese to play this game, as the gameplay segments are action-based, but the story cutscenes are much longer than you would expect so clearly there is some Cotton lore to enjoy here.
Cotton Panorama can be skipped entirely even for curious fans. With other Cotton games currently on the market (with more coming soon), and with Space Harrier easily available, there are much better options to explore when trying to get your on-rails fix.
Not As Good As: the Cotton Reboot
Better Than: trying to track down an original copy
Wait For It: a port of the NGPC version of Cotton