Review: Rainbow Cotton is a short, sugary sweet retro shooter with plenty of flair 

rainbow cotton

It’s always fascinating to check out games from long-running franchises that I have never had a clue existed up until then. Japanese studio Success’ Cotton series is one prime example, something that has been around for nearly 30 years in the form of extremely colorful – and very cute – shoot ‘em ups starring a little witch called Cotton, of course. These games usually take place in fantasy worlds where enemies come in all shapes and sizes and the action is much like your usual shooter, either vertical or horizontally.

That was until the arrival of the Dreamcast. With Rainbow Cotton, gone are the sprite-based graphics in favor of polygonal 3D, and the gameplay shifts its focus as well, with willy-nilly Cotton flying into the screen, riding her broom and shooting the ever-living crap out of everything in her way with magic spells. I wasn’t nearly as weirded out playing it this way after growing accustomed to how the previous entries played. 

Movement is surprisingly smooth and even though it’s noticeably slowed down, it’s done so in order to give us a chance to actually hit things, something that would’ve been difficult to do if Rainbow Cotton played like Panzer Dragoon, a much faster game to be sure. This isn’t a game that will challenge you directly with its gameplay, but more through its shortcomings, mainly its controls. When aiming, your crosshair even when it’s dead-on on target, has the nasty tendency of completely missing shots. 

rainbow cotton
Rainbow Cotton is so sweet you almost get cavities just for playing it.

The real villain, though, is automatic recentering of the on-screen reticle, a big no-no when we’re talking about a 3D shooter. It’s even more of a pain due to the fact that targets have the tendency to come into view from the corners and sides of the screen instead of the middle of it. It forces you to keep pushing the cursor and not just simply stick there as it should.   

As far as charm, the game has plenty to go around. The story once again takes place in a magical kingdom where the fairies that work for the queen decide to call in Cotton when their candy is threatened to be eaten by monsters. Tricking the girl witch to do their bidding by goading her with all that she can eat. Visually, albeit coming in the form of simple polygonal models, the game manages to look fine overall.

Cotton in particular is surprisingly lively, with her hair flowing as she flies around on her broom. It’s the fairies that look a little off, especially compared with their anime cutscene counterparts. Thankfully, they are so small and very rarely show up for long enough, but that’s not the case for everything else on screen, as enemies are nothing more than balloons and other extremely simple models, which include the bosses, summed up as big bullet sponges that harmlessly pepper you with projectiles from afar. 

rainbow cotton
The game’s anime cutescenes are hilariously cute.

When everything is in motion, the game’s colorful façade does do its job in keeping with the series happy-go-lucky and extremely charming aesthetics, and the aforementioned cutscenes have plenty of late 1980s and early 1990s Japanese animation humor and flair to them, and to be fair, there’s a lot of them packed in the game. Success surely made use of the extra storage provided by the Dreamcast’s GD-ROM media and included lots of crisp animated scenes, now subtitled in English for this new release under Inin Games.

In terms of length, the game lasts for around an hour or so total, and the rest of the time is filled up by its adorable cutscenes. Aside from that, there’s the option to play this in co-op, with another witch in tow to help you out. Curiously, there are no emulation tweaks to speak of; instead, you can pick to play in ‘retro mode’, where the screen is bended in order to imitate a CRT along with scanlines. Why this was made this way is beyond and and it ranks as a weird choice, especially in this day and age of retro compilations, including Inin’s own catalog.

Rainbow Cotton is a pleasant re-release of a game that would otherwise remain a Japan-exclusive novelty game on the Dreamcast, a short-lived console that was the death knell of Sega’s hardware efforts. That’s even more so the case here, considering that Rainbow Cotton was only released in 2001, the last year that saw any official releases for that system. As a curiosity, this game is definitely worth having in your Switch library, but due to its short length, repetitive and imprecise gameplay, it might end up not being your go-to retro shooter to pull out of the digital fridge, though. 

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