Cotton is a classic shooter and an original title to adopt the “cute’em up” visual presentation directly into gameplay when it was first released on the Sharp X68000 and in arcades. Playing as a chibi witch, Cotton gets bribed into helping a fairy restore land from evil monsters by being offered candy. Once all seven pieces of magical candy are collected, she is told they will join to create the ultimate candy, and what young witch can resist that? The story is super animed up, and that is the point, and the ending is rather humorous that I don’t wish to spoil here.
At its core, Fantastic Night Dreams Cotton is a simple 2D horizontal shooter. Holding the fire button causes the broom flying witch to shoot directly in front of her while also lobbing bombs on the ground below. As the goofy enemies are destroyed, they might drop crystals. Crystals can be collected to increase point totals, stock pile special magic abilities, or they can actually be used to enhance weapon fire. Shooting through crystals causes outgoing fire power to split, basically doubling output. Shooting a crystal can also change its color. When a crystal reaches the dark purple color, it no longer acts a buff but actually as a detriment as it absorbs all fire. It is a creative push and pull system that can be taken seriously for hardcore fans to make scores swell, or can be enjoyed by casual players who just want to blast enemies and collect shiny things. Collecting gems can also unleash a powerful magic attack that correspond with their color. The red gem, for example, launches a fire dragon attack.
Speaking of casual play, Cotton is a friendly shooter not only from a narrative tone but also from a gameplay perspective. Upon taking damage, the player restarts immediately with as many continues needed to complete the 35 minute campaign. This applies to both the original X68000 mode as well as the newly created Arrange mode. The original mode still holds up and the Arranged mode is exactly the same as the original only beefed up in every way. There is no question the Arranged mode is more action packed as it features bigger sprites, way more color, and enhanced cutscenes. In fact, there are times there is too much happening on screen so it can difficult to distinguish what is happening. It is easy to get confused between what is a passive part of the background or is that an object that is going to kill me. As chaotic as this mode is, it never drops frames or stutters which is quite impressive.
Cotton is a fun shooter but there are a couple issues that truly hold back the experience. The biggest issue is the complete lack of any save/continue function. If you just started level 4 and have to walk away, you cannot save and restart later which is a mega bummer especially since each playthrough takes a time investment. The second disappointment is the lack of overall features. Sure, playing as the fairy instead of the witch is cool even though it is mostly cosmetic, and the 2-min and 5-min score attack modes are short burst distractions, but there is no co-op, nothing to unlock (not even an art gallery), or no rewards for playing well. In fact, the online leaderboard on the PS4 version is broken. My scores were not able to upload and kept getting error messages. The included digital instruction manual is a nice touch but the lacking replayability is a bummer.
Playing this easily downloadable version of this fan favorite shooter is far and away the easiest way to play this game. Although there have been a handful of Cotton ports over the years, each version was printed in low quantities, making their value today extremely expensive. At the same time, the $40 asking price is a little steep for a game with lacking replay value and a broken online leaderboard system. Cotton and this digital Cotton Reboot is a fun game but you are going to have to pay a bigger fee if you want to fulfill this witch’s dream of eating a big piece of candy.
Also available on Switch.