Blissful Death: Enjoying a chaotic teatime with Cotton Reboot!

Blissful Death: Celebrating the Shoot 'em Up

Cotton Reboot! is a great example of how modern gaming isn’t all bad, however frustrated we all get with triple-A interactive movie snorefests, microtransaction-laden “live service” games and the complete refusal of mobile game developers to do anything other than gacha titles.

No, Cotton Reboot! is an example of how today’s gaming is also a place where we have easy access to classic games that had been very rare for a long time — previously the preserve of the wealthy collectors or those with incredible powers of foresight.

Cotton Reboot!
X68000 version

Cotton: Fantastic Night Dreams, the source material for Cotton Reboot!, is a game I thought I’d never get to play. By the time I became aware of it a few years back, it was already far too late to even contemplate importing a copy for any of the platforms it was originally available for. Whether it’s the Super Famicom, PC Engine or Neo Geo Pocket Colour version, right now you can expect to pay anywhere between a hundred and a thousand quid for an original copy of Cotton: Fantastic Night Dreams.

Thankfully, on Nintendo Switch and PS4 it’s a considerably cheaper prospect; on both Amazon and digital storefronts you’re looking at about £35. Which some might consider pricey for a shoot ’em up, but, well, it’s not nearly a thousand pounds, is it?

Anyway, since publisher ININ Games, limited press house Strictly Limited Games, Japanese retailer Beep and developer Success have been going Cotton crazy of late, I figured it was high time we took a look at the series as a whole. So there’s a series of Blissful Death articles incoming, all themed around the various Cotton games — and we begin with Cotton Reboot!, a return to where the series began.

Cotton Reboot!
Arrange version

In Cotton Reboot! you take on the role of young witch (completely misgendered as a male wizard in the English physical version’s manual) Nata de Cotton, or Cotton for short. One day while trudging grumpily through the woods, Cotton is asked for help by a fairy named Silk. Being a bit of a selfish sort, Silk’s pleas fall of deaf ears — until she explains to Cotton that if she helps, she might just be able to get her hands on some WILLOW. It’s never made entirely clear exactly what WILLOW is, but it’s fair to say that Cotton will do absolutely anything for it, and thus a grand adventure begins.

Cotton Reboot! contains two distinct versions of Cotton: Fantastic Night Dreams. The first is a recreation of the version that was released on the Sharp X68000 home computer in Japan in 1993, and the other is an “Arrange” mode specifically designed for modern platforms.

The game was originally an arcade title — this version can be found on the Sega Astro City Mini console — but the X68000 version incorporated a number of tweaks, enhancements and rebalanced elements compared to the original, so is one of the best “retro” versions to explore.

Cotton Reboot!
X68000 version

The Arrange version of Cotton Reboot! isn’t just a simple reskin of the X68000 version; the two versions are actually quite distinct in terms of both mechanics and aesthetics, so both are well worth spending some time with to see which you prefer.

The X68000 version features some lovely pixel art and an FM synthesis soundtrack. It’s also considerably less chaotic than the Arrange mode, which introduces a number of new scoring mechanics similar to those found in Cave’s titles. The Arrange mode, meanwhile, features a combination of pixel art sprites and backdrops during gameplay, with colourful high-definition illustrations and animations used for the cutscenes between stages.

In both modes of Cotton Reboot!, you’re able to fire shots out in front of you and drop bombs beneath you, Scramble-style. The default controller mapping has both shots and bombs assigned to the same button — this is nicely convenient, though those who prefer them on separate buttons as in the original arcade version can reassign them as they see fit.

Cotton Reboot!
Arrange version

Power-ups in both variants of Cotton Reboot! are handled through an RPG-style experience point system. You acquire experience points by collecting gems that are dropped by some enemies — yellow gems provide a small experience bonus, while orange gems provide more. Gem colours can be cycled by shooting them; in the Arrange mode, this also diffuses your shots into a wider, more powerful spread as they pass through.

Besides the yellow and orange gems, red and blue gems (and, in the Arrange mode, also purple and green) also appear; collecting these rewards Cotton with a magic spell — the game’s equivalent of bombs. These can be unleashed in either offensive or defensive forms depending on circumstances — the offensive option goes off with a tap of the magic button, while the defensive option is triggered by “charging” the spell for a moment prior to release.

That’s about it for how to play the X68000 version of Cotton: Fantastic Night Dreams; the mechanics are pretty straightforward, but the varied enemy encounters over the course of the game keep things consistently interesting.

Cotton Reboot!

Cotton Reboot!’s arrange mode also features a black gem that appears after you’ve shot a single gem for a while. This absorbs shots rather than diffusing them, and can be destroyed if you shoot it too much. Collect it, however, and you get a big score bonus and multiplier, so it’s a key part of attaining high scores.

On top of all that, Cotton Reboot! also features a “Gem Fever” mode that gradually charges up as you defeat enemies and collect gems. When this reaches 100%, you can enter Fever mode, which means you get massive score bonuses for anything you hit with the diffused shots from shooting gems. The more times you trigger Fever in succession, the higher the multiplier climbs; with proper use, you can score millions of points even by the end of the first stage in the game.

As you might expect, the additional mechanics in Cotton Reboot!’s Arrange mode make things considerably more chaotic on-screen — indeed, at times it can be tricky to see what is going on with all the multipliers going off and enemies exploding into showers of goodies. This is all part of the joy of a high-scoring shoot ’em up, though, as anyone who has played something like Deathsmiles or Dodonpachi from Cave will attest — and it adds an interesting amount of depth over and above what the X68000 version offered.

Cotton Reboot!

That’s not to say the X68000 version is in any way bad, mind; it’s just a very distinct sort of experience that seems positively restrained when compared to its modernised counterpart. As noted, both are well worth spending some time with, and you’ll likely develop a favourite over time — or perhaps just be in the mood for the two different styles of play at different times!

One of the nice things about Cotton Reboot! is that despite the game’s origin in arcades, both of the versions in this package are specifically designed for the home. That means they’re never unfair or overwhelming in an attempt to extort more money out of the player’s pocket; indeed, the first couple of levels of Cotton Reboot!’s Arrange mode in particular very much err on the more accessible side of the shoot ’em up spectrum, even with the relatively complex scoring mechanics.

The X68000 version, meanwhile, is noticeably tougher than Cotton Reboot!’s Arrange mode, though once you determine the differences between the two versions you’ll be able to swap back and forth with no difficulty.

Cotton Reboot!

Probably the most notable difference is the fact that the limited number of shots on screen on the X68000 version means that it’s in your interests to get up close and personal with enemies in order to “rapid fire”; in Cotton Reboot!’s Arrange mode, meanwhile, there are no such limitations on on-screen sprites, so you can safely attack most things from afar. It might sound like a small difference, but it gives the two ways to play a markedly different feel from one another.

On the whole, Cotton Reboot! is an absolute delight to play in both of its main game modes. The game features speedy, smooth action, a pleasantly gradual difficulty curve and a delightful combination of cute (Cotton) and sexy (Silk). Plus the Arrange mode features some absolutely banging remixes of the original game’s soundtrack, courtesy of a variety of well-known Japanese shoot ’em up composers. What more do you want, really?

Well, how about a bunch more Cotton games? You’re on. Watch out for them in further installments of Blissful Death very soon!

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Pete Davison
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