The first things most people think of when they hear the term “shoot ’em up” are probably spaceships, aliens, and explosions. The first things people think about when they hear “cute ’em up” is probably “What the…” and “Am I going to start questioning who I am?” You might have to, but you’ll have a good time doing it at any rate. There are a whole bunch of these cute ’em up style shooters. Today, we’ll be looking at a series called Cotton. That’s about as opposite as you can get from “bullet hell.”
Developed and published by Success, the Cotton series got its start in arcades and the TurboGrafx-16. The first game in the series even came out in North America with a full translation. The original game, which has the full title of Fantastic Night Dreams: Cotton, is a serviceable 2D horizontal scrolling shooter. It features an experience system that will power up your shot as you gain levels from destroying enemies.
You can also use two different magical elements: fire and lightning. Both elements have offensive and defensive capabilities. Fire will shoot out a flaming dragon attack and lightning will predictably shoot lightning bolts. For defense, you can surround yourself with a ring of fire or create a defensive bubble by using the lightning power. It’s a fairly simple system, but it adds some strategy to the gameplay.
Fantastic Night Dreams: Cotton was released outside of Japan, so we’re not too concerned with this one. The rest of the series, however, was left in Japan, so let’s dive in.
Märchen Adventure Cotton 100%
Märchen Adventure Cotton 100% was released for the Super Famicom in 1994. It retains the same basic gameplay systems as the original game, but since it was released exclusively for the Super Famicom, it could take advantage of the system’s graphical prowess. Cotton 100% is much more colorful and the stages and bosses are more varied than the first game. The music is also pretty memorable.
The rest of the game is pretty much the same as the original though. Still, if you’re looking for the best experience of what the older Cotton games have to offer, this is the one you’re going to want to try out.
The next entry in the series was released the same year as the Super Famicom game (1994). Panorama Cotton opts for a whole different perspective, though. Using a behind-the-back, pseudo 3D style similar to Space Harrier, this game continues with the same experience system and magical upgrades. It just takes everything for a 3D spin.
For the most part, the game runs well, but it can get a bit clunky when there are too many enemies or projectiles on screen. The Mega Drive also lacks the Mode 7 power of the Super Famicom, so the 3D effect is sort of hit or miss depending on the backgrounds. All in all, Panorama Cotton is a worthy edition to the series.
Cotton 2: Fantastic Night Dreams
Finally, in 1997, a true sequel to the original Cotton arrived. Cotton 2 upgraded some of the systems for the first time, allowing the option of four different magical abilities, instead of just two. Cotton 2 also brought the series into the 32-bit era. The game benefits from the extra horse power. Cotton 2 is easily the best-looking entry in the series.
But wait! Things get even better. In 1998, a Sega Saturn exclusive version of Cotton 2, titled Cotton Boomerang, was released. This version remixed a few of the stages and enemy layouts. It also adds redrawn background art, which expands the detail and intricacy of the original. It’s easily the definitive version of the game if you’re slightly confused about which version to play.
After the high of Cotton 2/Cotton Boomerang, the possibilities seemed endless. Unfortunately, Success just couldn’t deliver with what would become the final entry in the Cotton series. Rainbow Cotton for the Sega Dreamcast reused the behind-the-back perspective of Panorama Cotton, but renders everything in full 3D. They just couldn’t get it right though. The whole game falls apart almost instantly.
Unbearably awful animated cutscenes, terrible controls, and overly long and repetitive stages mar this final entry in the series. It at least has some decent music, but that wasn’t enough to save this lackluster entry.
Cotton has remained on hiatus since 2000 and doesn’t show any signs of being revived. Still, there are four excellent Cotton games for you to check out. And if you’re interested in more cute ’em up games, stay tuned. We’ll be getting to plenty of other soon enough.