Ah, the ’90s! Who doesn’t miss the ’90s? Remember Bobby’s World? It was a good show! Everything new is bad, and everything good died long ago. That’s why we have to soothe the infected wounds that time inflicts by playing old games. Windjammers, a disc-tennis (?) game, then, is sweet anodyne, dripping as it is with the intoxicating ‘tude of the ’90s. Grab your baggy jeans, pick up some Bugles, chug some Orbitz and crank up the Semisonic – it’s time to return to better days.
What we’ve got here is an arcade game from 1994 that’s been given new life in the modern era. Windjammers has essentially been a meme in video game form since 2013 or so when game website Giant Bomb began to play it on video. MAME enthusiasts were probably familiar with the title, but Giant Bomb’s exposure helped Windjammers get the attention that it might have missed in its own era, and now thanks to DotEmu it’s here on the PlayStation 4 for public consumption.
Windjammers is a deceptively complex game. It’s essentially Pong; you and your opponent are on opposite sides of the court throwing a Frisbee back and forth. Getting the Frisbee into your opponent’s goal is worth three to five points depending on how close to the center you land it; it’s also possible to score by having your opponent miss a lobbed disc so it lands on the ground. Scoring isn’t as easy as it sounds, though, because of course your opponent is trying to catch the disc and fling it right back at you.
These are fairly basic mechanics, but this game expands upon them; for instance, your character holds the disc upon catching it rather than immediately throwing it back. The more quickly you perform your return toss, the more powerful it’ll be, so ideally you want to catch your opponent’s throw as quickly as possible and immediately fling it back for the most powerful (and speedy) throw possible. Actually flinging the Frisbee has some nuance as well, since it’s possible to curve or angle your throws by performing joystick motions prior to pressing the button.
Finally, super throws unique to each playable character are available by standing beneath a lobbed disc; these are so powerful that it’s possible for an opponent to catch the disc and still fail to stop you from scoring as their entire body goes flying into the goal.
There’s a lot to learn, in other words, and it’s surprising that it took so long for a game with this degree of depth to show up on a home console. In the PS4 version you’ve got online and local play; CPU opponents are available to practice and couch co-op is an option, but online play is ostensibly the highlight of this release. Unfortunately, I found that Windjammers’ connectivity was spotty much of the time. It was difficult to find a match, matches were often laggy, and sometimes a match would start and immediately end as if the opponent had disconnected. That’s more than a little unfortunate given the legs that this title could have had.
There’s not a lot to say when we’re talking about presentation. It’s a game from 1994; what do you expect? This is a pixel art game before indie developers ruined pixel art, so it looks and sounds great, and it nails that 90s-era ‘tude more effectively than pretty much anything else out there. Control-wise it’s a pretty responsive title…well, when you’re not fighting with online lag, anyway.
Not everyone’s going to be willing to brave the jungle that is MAME, and with that in mind, this is the most accessible version of Windjammers out there. It remains to be seen if meme status is enough to keep this one afloat; it’s a solid and enjoyable enough title on its own, but without Giant Bomb I don’t think we’d have seen Windjammers re-released on a modern platform. In other words, it seems like this release is being marketed almost entirely to fans of that website and to the comparatively few people who recall its heyday, and it remains to be seen whether or not that’s a viable strategy. For what it’s worth, when Windjammers’ online mode is cooperating (or if you play local) it’s a surprisingly enjoyable game that feels ahead of its time.