If you judge the world based solely on games, your perception of Japanese players would be irrevocably skewed. While there are a massive amount of convention titles being released from the house of Nintendo and Capcom, there clearly is also a very large audience that seems to love the excessively cute in much the same way as there are games simply for those who love the bizarrely weird. For every game aimed towards an audience of teenage boys with a penchant for scantily clad women and innuendo, there seems to be just as many games with a focus on the cutsey and adorable. If the title hasn’t been enough of a clue, from the first five seconds it’s pretty apparent who ‘Cotton 100%’ is aimed at.
If ‘Kiki’s Delivery Service’ and ‘Gradius’ somehow became fused into one game this would be the result. A horizontal shooting game with a hero on a broomstick set in a world of magic and far too many colours.
The game does however ask of you to shake a squirrel from tree and dodge the projectiles of a baseball bat wielding snowman. Super Play in their review noticed this pretty apparent similarity between ‘Parodius’ and ‘Cotton 100%, but made the salient point that “if you’re going to steal anyone’s ideas make it Konami’s”.
Sadly, this astonishing level of visual splendour does come at a cost which effect game play in a number of ways. Most obviously is the painful slow down which becomes so regular it’s almost a game play feature. When the screen becomes too busy, the game stutters to a near halt, which is quite a significant issue on the later difficulty levels when twitch controls and rapid reflexes are depended upon. Even on easier modes though, the amount of detail on screen does actually make it hard to even see where Cotton herself and her opponents are. As Tony Mott put in his review for Super Play “picking out what’s happening in the foreground can be a nightmare.
The graphics whilst being pretty terrific can sometimes make the game trickier than it needs to be”. Dense jungles and waterfalls look spectacular in pixel form, but when they conceal your character or your enemy they become a beautiful hazard. That being said, unlike other horizontal shooters, the background can never kill you by simply touching your playable character. It’s always been a huge irritation in ‘R Type’ and ‘Gradius’, that just brushing against the floor or ceiling results in death, so I do appreciate ‘Cotton 100%’ for being more forgiving. In this game, plunging into the floor will result in you simply getting slowly pushed off screen and unless you fail to avoid the screen edge it will not take a life. This does make the game slightly more lenient than other games of the genre.
Reducing the challenge further, each continues returns you to the precise point you failed in a level, rather than forcing you back to the start. This makes the game feel less repetitive, but the general brevity of the game seems to be an issue for some, especially when you consider the price ‘Cotton 100%’ commands on sites like eBay.
But on the ‘mania’ mode even with 81 retries I can’t complete the game; the difficulty suddenly becomes comparable to games like ‘UN Squadron’. I wonder if people would continue to criticise ‘Cotton 100%’ for being too short were ‘Mania’ the default setting. It is surely better that the amount of enemies and their frequency of their fire can be dialled down allowing everyone to see all the stages of the game, than have the final worlds only reachable by the most devoted hardcore player. I have seen more stages in ‘Cotton 100%’ than I have in ‘UN Squadron’ for example. This is simply due to being able to play the game at a difficulty I can manage. Yes this means I can finish ‘Cotton 100%’ in an hour, but in that hour I will see all of the games 8 stages. If I played the much harder ‘UN Squadron’ for the same amount of time, I would see the first 3 stages 4 times. This may make level success in ‘Cotton 100%’ less rewarding on easier modes, but by seeing more environments the game feels more varied. They are two similar games that scratch two different itches. One I can play when I want to be challenged, the other I can play when I want to be charmed and enchanted, and there are few games more adorable than ‘Cotton 100%’
Of course, in ‘UN Squadron’, despite anime characters being front and centre, at no point will they enjoy ‘Tea Time’ at the end of a stage where the goal appears to be to catch as many falling teabags as possible. ‘Cotton 100%’ never takes itself remotely seriously, but given that this game is Japanese, with no western release or translation a lot of the humour and charm can get lost. I too, without a friend able to read Japanese, would have had no idea what was going on as I was unable to decipher the kanji characters that tell the story between stages. On this occasion ignorance actually lessens the enjoyment and the drive to play the game. The story certainly isn’t a life affirming morality tale, but it is great fun in a silly quirky way.
To import games from Japan, eBay isn't your only option though. I always check on sites like Solaris Japan as often they have a game in stock cheaper than the final price it goes for on eBay. The also have a few gadget that removes any worry of getting charged extra at customs, so they're worth a look.