The Cotton games were novelties even on their original release in the 90’s, and now with their re-release on the Nintendo Switch, a new generation of players can experience these rarities for themselves. The series, created by little-known Japanese team named Success, rarely left its home country of Japan, and yet still developed a reputation among SHMUP fans as a worthwhile series to follow. The games was known for their unconventional art style, creative enemy design, and for pushing the hardware capabilities of whichever platform it was released on. The latter might not be of much interest except for retro afficionados, but the colourful and energetic style of the Cotton games give it a more enduring appeal for even beginners of the SHMUP genre.
The series is known for their cutesy and colourful graphics, which stray away from the more macho sci-fi antics of the Gradiuses or R-Types. As a witch, Cotton has access to a variety of magic powers, whereas her companion Silk seems to have anger management issues and prefers to smack enemies who come too close. Together, they fly through picturesque fantasy environments for rather trivial reasons, collecting teacups and defeating enormous bosses. Bookending each level are animated and voice-acted cutscenes, most of which are played for comedy. The ports on Switch leave these in Japanese, but it’s easy to find translations online, and the story is mostly just excuse for some silly jokes.
Cotton 100% is a horizontal scrolling-shooter originally released on the SNES, spanning seven stages and fourteen bosses. The gameplay doesn’t change too much from the established Gradius formula – one button shoots straight, another button drops arcing bombs downward, and a third button casts a magic spell. The difficulty is on the fair side for the genre – though Cotton is a large sprite with a big hitbox, enemies don’t overwhelm the player at high speeds, and everything feels nicely manageable.
There’s an EXP meter which slowly fills as players defeat enemies and collect scrolls, which makes Cotton progressively more powerful as the levels progress. Magic is charged by picking up scrolls dropped from enemies, and it can be used either offensively or defensively, which gives a slight degree of strategy for each encounter. These scrolls can be shot to change their reward, bouncing forward much like in Twinbee, which Cotton seems to take a lot of thematic inspiration from. Silk also flies around the player acting as an extra life and an Option, just like in Gradius. The connections to other classic SHMUPS makes Cotton 100% feel familiar in the hands of a genre veteran, but the diversity of approaches is also quite inviting for newer players.
The emulation quality is good, with a particularly handy rewind feature mapped to the L button, since this is a game which will require lots of quick fixes before players get it right. With it, it’s much more reasonable for even a newbie to SHMUPs to see this one through to the end without much frustration – and it’s just as well, since the aesthetics of the later levels are not to be missed.
The run time will likely be cause for complaint for some people – Cotton 100%. But this is an arcade-style game through and through, and it’s entertaining no matter how many times it’s replayed. And since the cartridge would normally be a rare import that would fetch a hefty price, it’s a wonderful gesture to have them readily available as a digital download. For fans of SHMUPs, both Cotton 100% is a must buy – it’s an absolute standout in its genre which would appeal to old and new fans alike.