Blissful Death: The blessed relief of Cotton 100%

Blissful Death: Celebrating the Shoot 'em Up

Did you find Cotton 2 and its companion piece Cotton Boomerang a little too much to handle? I absolutely wouldn’t blame you if so, because although they are both beautiful games, they’re also pretty hard work to get a firm handle on. Thankfully, if you’re in need of a little light relief, Cotton 100% (or, to give it its full title, “Märchen Adventure Cotton 100%”) will provide exactly what you’re looking for: some simple, straightforward cute ’em up action in the mould of the original game.

Despite Cotton 2 being called Cotton 2, Cotton 100% is actually the second game in the Cotton series, acting as a follow-up and reimagining of Cotton: Fantastic Night Dreams with a more “family-friendly” feel and deliberate use of the Super Famicom’s vibrant colour palette.

Cotton 100%
Fun fact: that default high score is a reference to the Super Famicom’s CPU.

Yes, the Cotton series has certainly jumped around a variety of different platforms over the course of its complete lifespan — and it’s only today that we can enjoy all of them in a single place thanks to the efforts of ININ Games and Success Corporation bringing them to today’s consoles.

You’ll even be able to have a copy on your shelf in the near future — much like with the previous Cotton games we’ve talked about, Strictly Limited Games is working on a number of physical releases for Cotton 100%, including Nintendo Switch and PS4 packaged copies plus a retro reissue of the original Super NES version.

Cotton 100% once again casts you in the role of the young witch Nata de Cotton and her fairy companion Silk. As with its stablemates, the game features short dialogue sequences between levels (which, like Cotton 2, remain untranslated in these new releases and can be switched off if desired) — but the emphasis here is very much on the cutesy shoot ’em up action, so don’t worry too much about missing out on the “plot”, such as it is.

Cotton 100%

All you really need to know is that, as usual, Cotton is in pursuit of the delicious “WILLOW” she loves to eat so much, and Silk is along for the ride. If she just happens to save the world while tracking down her next snack, so be it.

In Cotton 100%, you’re initially presented with a Gradius-style selection of power-ups. These determine which magic spells Cotton will have access to in your playthrough. As in other Cotton games, magic spells act similarly to bombs in other shoot ’em ups — though here they don’t just clear the screen; instead, each has its own distinct method of firing (or defending Cotton in some cases) that you’ll need to master.

Controlling Cotton 100% is pretty straightforward. Holding down the fire button allows her to rapid fire, with Silk (and, subsequently, other fairies that she rescues) acting as options that supplement her firepower. Cotton also has a separate button for dropping Scramble-style bombs to take out ground targets, though this does not rapid fire, so it’s best to only press it when you think you need it. The other two buttons on the controller are used for selecting from the three magic spells Cotton has available, and launching that spell.

Cotton 100%

Rather than each type of spell having a limited number of casts each, Cotton 100% instead gives you a global cast limit, so you can cast the same spell multiple times if you wish — or use them in any combination you desire. Unlike in the other Cotton games, casts cannot be replenished by collecting the crystals that enemies drop; instead, there are specific power-ups that occasionally appear and allow her to replenish one of her casts.

This time around, the crystals simply feed into Cotton’s experience meter, with her normal shot gaining in power and size when she fills the bar. Subsequent level ups require more experience — represented by the experience meter actually getting longer — and losing a life will cause the loss of experience, though rarely a complete “power down”. The crystals can be shot in order to change their colour and grant more experience, but shooting them too much will simply destroy them, so you’ll often need to take some risks in order to grab them for yourself.

At heart, Cotton 100%’s mechanics are some of the simplest in the series, which isn’t really all that surprising when you consider it’s an immediate successor to the original X68000 port. This makes it an eminently accessible game for both series and shoot ’em up newcomers in general, and a real pleasure to play — though that’s not to say it doesn’t offer any challenge whatsoever.

Cotton 100%

In particular, Cotton 100%’s boss fights are a real highlight of the experience. There tends to be two of these per stage, with one coming at the midpoint and another at the conclusion, and they’re consistently interesting encounters. In one battle, you might be fending off a snowman hitting snowballs at you with a baseball bat; in another, blasting a hidden enemy lurking in the roots of a dew-covered plant that is spitting bees at you. These fights can be tricky, but there’s always a pattern to them; they can be learned and mastered over time, and that’s a key part of enjoying Cotton 100% in the long term.

Where Cotton 100% is perhaps a little weaker than its stablemates is in the audio side of things. The action is accompanied by some joyfully catchy, memorable music, but the sound effects throughout the game are woefully lacking. Cotton’s basic shot simply sounds like someone blowing bubbles, which isn’t particularly satisfying, and many enemies explode without making a sound at all. Bosses at least provide a decent explosion sound, though, and the collectible crystals make a satisfying jingle when you grab them — but the Super Famicom was absolutely capable of better sound than is on display here.

Still, this is a relatively small nitpick when the game as a whole is so enjoyable to play. It may not be as visually spectacular as Cotton 2 and Cotton Boomerang, nor as delightfully fast-paced and chaotic as Cotton Reboot!’s Arrange mode, but it certainly is a good example of a well-crafted 16-bit cute ’em up — and a great entry point to the series if you’ve been unsure where to start.

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Pete Davison
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