TurboDuo owners may be familiar with Cotton as it was released as a Super CD in 1991. Created by Success and brought to the US by Hudson Soft, it featured a cute red-headed witch named Cotton with her sidekick willow Silk featured in a rather unorthodox side-scrolling shooter experience. Speaking from experience, it was quite a challenging game. Here's the US Jewelcase (front/back). There was also Panorama Cotton released in 1994 for the Mega Drive, of which only around 5,000 copies were made. In that semi-sequel Cotton flew into the screen a-la Space Harrier and featured rather impressive use of the Mega Drive's system capabilities. Oh, and it was pretty fun, too. Take a look at it here. If you want to play it you'll either have to pay several hundred for it on eBay or find it emulated somewhere. Marchen Adventure Cotton 100% was released for the Super Famicom and was very similar to the TurboCD version, except it had more colorful visuals as seen here. There is also Rainbow Cotton for Dreamcast, but, as this GameSpot review clearly lets you know, it isn't all that good. There are more, but I'll spare you.
Onto the review. The first thing I liked about this game was the packaging. With the jewelcase came a color calendar with artwork. Bonus! Fortunately, the actual game is very nice too. Cotton 2 allows you to use either a 1-MEG RAM cart or a 4-MEG RAM cart to enhance the graphics. Super Bonus!! Obviously, I opted for the 4-MEG as I naturally prefer the full experience Success intended. Indeed, Cotton 2 is quite an experience. The first thing you'll inevitably notice is the visuals which are resplendent and can challenge even the best looking 2D has to offer. After a brief opening the title screen appears. In the options screen, you can select either Saturn or Arcade mode (each one features different graphics, enemy placement, etc.), select difficulty, how many lives you have in reserve, etc. And then you get on with the actual game.
The story goes like this: the Kingdom of Pumpkin has lost the Bluewater Willow which was stolen by Appli, another witch that resided in the kingdom. She wanted to use its magical power for her own use. However, mysteriously, a tornado flung Appli into the neighboring forest and she loses the Bluewater Willow. Shortly after Appli comes to, Cotton happens to run into her. Appli tells Cotton about the Bluewater Willow she is searching for. Bad idea. You see, Cotton is always thinking about one thing: FOOD. And her favorite food happens to be, yup, Willows! The search begins.
What is interesting about this game's story is that both Cotton and Appli play the part of the protagonist yet neither one is in actuality good. Not only that, there's friction between the two right off the bat. Cotton 2 is 2-players with the first player in control of Cotton and her sidekick Silk, and the second player controlling Appli and her sidekick, a talking hat called Needle. The visuals are excellent, albeit slightly pixelated. The game is littered with every 2D effect possible on Saturn: scailing, rotating, zooming, tons o' parallax scrolls, transparencies (though some look faked), multi-jointed creatures, tons of sprites on-screen at once, etc. Simply put, it is a feat. Enemy designs are clever and imaginative, and there's quite a lot of different foes. Floating reapers and ghoul heads, white wolves, volcanic plants and pumpkin heads, angels and devils, and so on. There's a mid-boss in every stage as well as the main boss. A flying plant, a squid, an armored upper-torso of a knight; these are a few of the bosses you'll face. They're all multi-jointed and mostly large in size, except for the final boss. Between stages are cinemas to progress the story, though nothing much develops until the ending. It is pretty cool to be able to defeat a boss, grab it, and fling it away as it explodes. Or, if you're taking too long to beat a boss it will escape...
I've never played a shooting game that controls like this. It's part shooter, part action/platformer, a little RPG, and even a bit of fighting game. You have your firing button, a capture/throw button, and a magic button. As you defeat enemies they'll leave jewels which you collect. If you collect yellow it raises your experience which you build in order to have a more powerful shot (you also build by destroying enemies). If you shoot at the jewels they change colors, yielding red, blue, green, and silver colors. Red is fire, blue is ice, green is wind, and silver is a light ray. You can store up to three shot types at one time, which are in the lower-left corner of the screen. If you have no power up, you just use your standard shot. The game has interesting control features which seperate it from the rest of the shooter pack. By imputting fighting game commands such as back, forward+shot, down, down-forward, forward+shot, forward, back+shot, etc. you can do different shots like a spread and a charged shot which, if it connects with an enemy, seals it into a ball you can capture and throw at other enemies for chain combo attacks, or hold onto as a shield. You can grab virtually every enemy and even some bosses (with or without it being sealed up). For example, the first boss holds weapons you can grab out of his hands and throw at him, dealing serious damage! Is an enemy taking too many hits to kill? Simply grab it and fling it away! When an enemy has been sealed, you can shoot at it for more points or throw it at enemies until it leaves the screen. When it does leave, it becomes a colorful bubble that you can touch for points and experience. Sometimes, red balls appear which give back life. Your magic attacks are super powerful versions of the shots you're using but will remove your current shot power up when used. Luckily, finding more power ups is easy.
The game isn't that long at about a half hour from start to finish. Thankfully, the replay value is pretty good. As you win on different difficulties you gain more options, such as the ability to switch which player controls which girl, turn on/off visuals (cinemas), turn on/off rapid fire, and, if you can win the game without continuing on hardest, a sound test. The soundtrack is done quite well and is littered with cute and catchy stuff, even including the second stage song from Cotton on TurboSuperCD (stage 5), as well as some other familiar tunes from previous installments. Stage 3 is perhaps the best song. The voices, while cute, sound distant. And I wish that the cinemas used voice acting, but oh well. The sound effects are pretty good.
Cotton 2 is seven stages of fantasy-based shooting mayhem that gets a little repetitious after awhile but does not fail to charm. It is a bit short, yeah, but a worthwhile effort. Please do not buy this game if you're looking for a hardcore shooter along the lines of Gradius or Thunder Force as this game does not require too much skill to beat and is short in length. However, if you're looking for something that breaks from the norm and isn't ashamed to be a little cute at the same time then by all means buy Cotton 2. There's also another available for Saturn called Boomerang Cotton which I haven't played. I hear it's quite enjoyable.
I'd say Cotton 2 is a lot like eating cotton candy; it's sweet for as long as it lasts.