My first experience with the original Windjammers was on a ferry in Scotland. Many of the memories from that marching band trip, following my senior year of high school, are fuzzy. But I distinctly remember schooling my friends in flying disk sports, on the stand-up cabinet we huddled around to keep out of the rain.
In the time since that trip in 1996 either my skills have dulled or my prowess at the game has been embellished in my mind, because I got my tail whopped at Windjammers 2 at PAX West. With an unexpected (and well received) Windjammers revival in 2017, DotEmu is taking us back to the court with a sequel to the 1994 original.
To suggest that Windjammers 2 is early in development might be understating the situation. The PAX West demo featured two competitors: slow but powerful Wessel (a returning favorite, now with pink mustache) and a new character who sacrifices strength for speed.
The 2017 Windjammers re-release was a straight port with no visual improvements. Windjammers 2 gives DotEmu a chance to make its own mark. The characters and animations are drawn by hand, and the color palette is vibrant.
“The philosophy behind Windjammers 2 is the same as Streets of Rage 4,” says DotEmu head of marketing Arnaud De Sousa. “It’s fully developed and published at DotEmu. It’s in-house. The build is a work-in-progress, but it’s a statement that this is really Windjammers. There have been some games that try to play like Windjammers, but Windjammers is unique.”
DotEmu always had big ambitions for the Windjammers license. The original game was developed by Data East, which went belly-up in 2003. In 2004, G-Mode bought the licenses left behind when Data East folded. Then, in 2015, Marvelous gobbled up G-Mode and all of its owned IP, including Bad Dudes and BurgerTime.
“We told the IP holders, we wanted to port Windjammers,” De Sousa says. “But we really wanted to do Windjammers 2.”
In order to deliver a sequel fans would accept, DotEmu wanted to understand how Windjammers worked under the hood. For that, the company needed a skilled programmer to pull apart the code. Kevin Delbrayelle served as lead programmer on the Windjammers port and is reprising that role on the sequel.
“Kevin spent months retro-engineering the first game just to understand how the game works,” De Sousa says. “There’s a ton of things going on in Windjammers: the frisbee moves and all the character moves. There are a lot of mechanics you just don’t see, like balancing for instance.”
DotEmu wasn’t content just to deliver new characters and an expanded list of stages wrapped up in a prettier package. The addition of an “EX Move” bar at the bottom of the screen brings Windjammers 2 closer to a fighting game. When the bar is full, players can triggers a move that is difficult, but not impossible, to defend.
With Wonder Boy, Streets of Rage 4, and now Windjammers 2, DotEmu is making a name for itself with bold visual updates to classic franchises. While it’s still far too early to make a meaningful assessment on DotEmu’s tweaks to the Windjammers formula, the developer has done its research and seems to understand what made the original so well loved.
Windjammers 2 is due out for Switch and PC in 2019. The original Windjammers will also be making its way to Switch this year.