Did you know that “windjammer” was once a slang term for a sailboat? I can see some meaning in the name, but I couldn’t have guessed from the name alone that Windjammers was also a 90s sports game about two opponents locked in an intense battle of competitive Frisbee – basically Pong with special abilities.
What is that? A discus throwing sports game
Expect to pay £20/$20
Release date out now
Reviewed on Intel i7-4790K, Nvidia GeForce GTX 970, 16GB RAM
Link steam page
Is it a real sport? Not really, but a quick search showed me that there is Ultimate Frisbee, which has teams and is played on a large court? I learned so much from Windjammers 2, a delightful arcade game that I just wish I learned more about itself.
The fundamentals of Windjammers and Windjammers 2 are more or less the same. Not just in the controls and design, but also in the retro vibe of their aesthetics. The new slick, hand-drawn sprites capture those same bright colors to convey an idealized, enjoyable 1990s where the sun is still shining and we’re all here to have a good time. Like the bits of old Power Rangers when they weren’t fighting a space rubber man and doing backflips. I’m not immune to that nostalgia, though its sunny excess hardly reflects any of my 90s experiences.
There’s a naive, easy-going nature to Windjammers 2 that’s endearing, especially as it revels in the absurdity of Frisbee as an extreme sport. Although to be honest, I’ve never played a game of frisbee where someone threw it into a fireball – those people are definitely on a different level.
Matches are pretty straightforward: each round you’re served a frisbee and points are awarded to the first player to hit their opponent’s back wall or cause them to fail to catch the disc. Specials allow you to break through opponents’ defenses or throw the Frisbee faster, but the depth comes from all the different ways you can curve your throw or increase your speed with ricochets or counters. While the degree of precision that emanates from its simple controls is captivating, even on the easy difficulty setting there’s a steep learning curve, and you’ll need quick reaction times to stand a chance. The smiles and the sun fooled me a bit, but Windjammers is as brutal as it gets.
When you master it, however, the fast pace is absorbing. I started off doing basic throws and managed small back and forth volleys, things moving at a slow, awkward pace with a round lasting no more than a throw or two. After a few hours though, the games became a frenzy of counters and special moves, until I reacted without even thinking. There’s only a handful of buttons to think about, dodge and mostly throw (and you definitely have to play on a pad) but there’s so much to the arc of a throw and the timing of a return back that you can feel yourself slowly approaching the screen to analyze your opponent’s every little tick.
Much of Windjammers 2, especially against human players, is about that tricky game of deducing their next move. A hundred miles an hour. My later matches felt more like Dragon Ball Z battles than the child’s play I started out with.
You have several superstars to embody, all dressed in adorable costumes with heavy-duty protective gear. They each have different levels of power and speed determining their throw and movement respectively, as well as unique special moves that are only really discovered through gameplay. The only thing Windjammers 2 has that looks like a tutorial is a ” how to play” in the main menu, a slideshow of text and screenshots that only shows the basics of what buttons to press. Gameplay nuances and meaningful character differences can only be learned through matches, which means eating a lot of losses. It would have bothered me less if there was a single-player mode to sink my teeth into, but Windjammers 2 offers little for those playing alone.
Building on its arcade roots, Windjammers 2 sticks to three modes, with two being simply a choice of playing online against other players and offline against friends or the AI. Online is the big draw, as human opponents are much more satisfying to face. Arcade is the closest thing to a single-player campaign, chaining matches and interspersing them with mini-games to change the pace. The mini-game where you toss a Frisbee for a dog (who gets his own pair of protective sunglasses) is wonderful and hints at the kind of carefree energy the game could have had in spades if it allowed more alternative activities between intense matches. But it’s all pretty barebones, the opposite of its visual excess.
More minigames and a more involved overall structure could have really given Windjammers that little something extra. As it stands, it’s basically the game of over 20 years ago with a fresh coat of paint and online play that can withstand the speed of discs.
Fans of Windjammers (of the game, sailors look elsewhere) will no doubt be able to exploit the nuances of its simple mechanics for maximum depth. I’m sure I’d be impressed to see top players locked in a heated game. For us enthusiasts, there’s plenty of style to soak up, but little real value to hold attention for more than two hours.
Even on its easiest difficulties, Windjammers 2 is clearly built with its original ’90s arcade difficulty – extremely difficult – in mind. It’ll probably appeal to die-hard fans who’ve been playing it for years, but as a newcomer it left me feeling a little defeated as there’s no way to practice other than taking a lot of numbing losses. I could see the depth of commands and abilities as my opponents used them, but with no clear path to learning them myself. The benefits of blocking versus grabbing, jumping versus dodging, and even understanding how vital timing is to building power are not things the game makes apparent at all.
Windjammers 2 is a blast when you enter its area. But despite that cheerful core, it feels like a failure to bring this classic game to a new generation. Just as his style is imprisoned in the aesthetics of years past, so is his approach to design. There’s a lot to love about it, and for some the stripped down challenge will be a welcome reminder, but I imagine most will wonder what it’s all about. Looking at these elders holding their neon Frisbees, you wonder…is that really what you wanted to do? Alright, grandma.