Sunday, June 9, 2024

Cotton 100% (Playstation 4)

Checkpoints OFF
4 Difficulty levels
7 Stages
Ship speed fixed
- - - - - - -
Developed by Success
Published by Strictly Limited Games in 2022

Let's be honest here. The worldwide re-release of this charming Super Famicom original for newer consoles was never meant to be anything but a cash-in and part of the ongoing attempt at surfing the Cottonmania wave rekindled by titles like Cotton Reboot! and Cotton Rock'n'Roll / Fantasy. I did have reservations prior to getting the physical editions of both Panorama Cotton and Cotton 100% (also known as Märchen Adventure Cotton 100%) for the Playstation 4, but having played the latter extensively for a few days did make me realize why it still makes sense to play these games again after all these years.

The retail disc for Cotton 100% is a welcome bonus for a couple of reasons of course. The first one of the instruction manual written in English, which finally clarifies some of the most obscure aspects of the gameplay (both the Super Famicom original and the Playstation port were all in Japanese). The second reason goes hand in hand with collector's vanity, after all the packaging is beautiful, looks great on the shelf and houses a game that puts to shame a whole bunch of new-gen titles that don't hold a candle to it in terms of game design and univeral allure.

Each stage in Cotton 100% is a full-fledged exercise in ultra-colorful compositions of increasingly intricate terrain layouts and cute and crazy enemies, as well as an array of wildly creative mid- and main bosses from beginning to end. The challenge is rather tame, with hazards mostly related to environmental traps and enemy ramming. The actual bullet count is rather low, you're not harmed by touching walls and magic represents an important part of your arsenal. 

Trailer for the new release of Märchen Adventure Cotton 100%
(courtesy of YouTube user and publisher Strictly Limited Games)

As the central character of the game, a cute little witch named Cotton is dragged into a quest to find out who is stealing the so-called "willows", candy-like fruit whose trees have been taken away by an unknown entity. Short panels with humorous touches develop this lighthearted story, with English subtitles that for the first time ever make it understandable for those not familiar with Japanese or not keen to seek out translations. There's not much of a fairy tale (märchen) side to it in the classic sense of the expression, yet everything is so cute and fluffly that Cotton 100% is irresistible for those who enjoy cute'em designs in their video games. I've definitely come to appreciate it more over the years, but I need to confess that my favorite part of the package is the amazing soundtrack.

Controlling Cotton the witch requires four buttons that are fully configurable in the options. Shot, bomb, magic and magic select. Even though you can map shot and bomb to the same button, the bomb input is also used to charge a special move that sends all your available fairies in a forward and very useful attack. The simple act of killing enemies increases the EXP gauge slowly, upgrading your shot power in 10 levels (bombs are upgraded at every 2 levels). Increasing the EXP gauge is accomplished faster by collecting yellow and pink crystals. Pink crystals yield more EXP but are rarer to come by. Shooting crystals makes them change colors, but if they're shot at for too long they might disintegrate.

Besides crystals, other items to get are (?) spheres that add one spell to the magic stock, fairies freed when you destroy a dragon-looking enemy and extra lives located in specific spots that must be shot at to be revealed. It's possible to have a maximum of three fairies escorting Cotton, whose formation depend on the magic spell that's currently selected. An assortment of three types of magic (out of 6) is available depending on your choice when starting the game. Fire dragon and Fire fairy are the hard-hitters, whereas Thunder and Twincle Star (sic!) are best used for crowd control. Bubble and Barrior (sic!), on the other hand, are more suited to defensive play styles.  

Using Magic is definitely one of the best ways to deal with some of the most intricate passages and boss attack patterns. Since they're independent of life stock and are always preserved when you die, conserving magic for the fight against the hardest bosses is certainly a valid strategy. The only consequence of dying is that your firepower is reduced by a certain amount, so watch out. Dying once is okay in the short term, but dying several times in a row can leave you severely underpowered later on. Speaking of the use of magic for survival, score chasers will certtainly think about it twice since each magic in stock is worth 1.000 bonus points at the end of the level (a max of 9 magic spells can be carried).

Jack-O-Rangutan at your shooting service

The bulk of the scoring system, however, is related to a non-intuitive little secret that makes a huge difference in your final result. During the "tea time" interlude after every boss is beaten (except for the last one), a shower of teacups will fall for a brief while. Normally people take them for bonus points, but if you dodge them all you'll receive a secret bonus of 37.500 points. And if you're able to perform this stunt during all six showers a huge extra teacup worth 375.000 points will appear. This is easier said than done, of course. Not only tea time showers get faster with each level, but you also need to count on a little bit of luck. The third one is made even more difficult by a huge boulder that's left on the screen after the boss is killed.  

Seeing and playing such a fascinating game again is of course a joy, even though there's absolutely no graphical improvements whatsoever in this port. It does include a few visual tweaks to make it more like an old school experience (not my cup of tea though). Other than that it's an extremely bare bones release that doesn't even offer simple stuff such as wallpapers or special leaderboards. Standard mode allows players to rewind, apply cheats and save/load states, whereas Challenge mode offers the game in its original form without any of these resources.

My time with Cotton 100% on the Playstation 4 (Normal difficulty) ended with the following high score. Unfortunately I wasn't able to get all secret bonuses to boost the final 1CC result. For those wondering, input lag wasn't a problem at all, and the game plays great on all accounts that matter.

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