As taken as I was by screenshots of the original Sega arcade game Cotton: Fantastic Night Dreams back in 1991, Märchen Adventure Cotton 100%, as this was originally monikered, was the first Cotton game I actually played. Märchen is German for fairytale, so if you translate the original Japanese completely you’ve got something like Fairytale Adventure Cotton 100%, which is exactly what they got over there on the Nintendo Super Famicon, care of Datam Polystar, in April 1994.
The German stepping stone into English, pointing to the nationality of our witchy protagonist Nata de Cotton, was later dropped when it was rereleased for the PlayStation in Japan in 2003 as Cotton 100%. It did get a further rerelease on PlayStation Network in Japan in 2010, but until now we’ve never had an official Western version, which comes to PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch thanks to ININ Games, with limited edition physical releases (including SNES cartridge versions!) from Strictly Limited Games. I should also mention that I was given a Switch code for review.
Cotton 100%, as we’ll now refer to it, is the second game in the series, and arrives to conclude the ongoing 30th anniversary celebrations on the back of the wonderful Cotton: Fantastic Night Dreams Reboot, and together with another 1994 Japan-only release, Panorama Cotton for the Sega Mega Drive.
All that said, it’s not actually that much different to its predecessor in many respects, especially its set-up… The world has once again been plunged into complete darkness after the evil villain Wool stole the seven light-giving Willows, some kind of apocalyptic but delicious magical candy. The Fairy Queen Velvet sent out Silk, a beautiful fairy in a skimpy bikini, to get the Willows back. On her way, she meets the witch Nata de Cotton, who just so happens to be completely addicted to Willows, so they team up again to drive back the evil spread across seven fantasy worlds while they stuff their faces with nuclear sweets!
If you’ve nailed a winning formula you may as well stick with it I suppose, and the same is true of the horizontal cute ‘em up gameplay mechanics and many of the monsters and environments. Where Cotton 100% absolutely comes into its own, though, is in the level design, which lends itself to some of the most stunning graphics you’ll ever seen come out of a Super Famicon (or SNES, as we’ll now refer to it)! It’s up there with Super Castlevania IV and it’s lavish ghost and glitter and gold level (also known as Stage IX or The Treasury), or that terrifying but mesmerising final climb up the final boss steps with the massive Castlevania moon in full swing behind you! Actually, I’m now even veering towards Cotton 100%’s drop dead gorgeous last stage proper, with the sinister Shadow Cotton in tow, as the best looking thing on the system. Time to move on though!
To use an indirectly related movie analogy, where the original game’s gothic colour palette was Universal Monster, this one’s is Hammer Horror – gloriously bright and lurid, bringing unique life (and death) to intricately filled backgrounds. Actually, what it really reminds me of is pictures that did the rounds a couple of years ago showing The Addams Family’s living room in colour, exactly as it was filmed in black and white, with all kinds of surprising colours used in the mass of props to bring the desired atmosphere out of the final product. Look it up! Cotton 100% does exactly the same – weird coloured stuff everywhere you look, just without black and white!
The visual feast never lets up as you travel through crumbling ruins, stately gardens (with the best looking trees since Winter Games on Commodore 64!), opulent mansions, rocky mountainsides and ancient caverns, hellish volcanoes and, of course, spooky graveyards! As alluded to before, these might sound familiar to anyone that’s played the original game, but from the very first level onwards you really haven’t seen anything like it as the gothic psychedelia runs wild! The same is true of the enemy designs, with a few familiar faces in the menagerie of fantastic and animal-inspired meanies (in particular in some of the huge bosses), but there’s so much detail and colour in that detail that they generally look good enough to eat! Cotton herself is a really nice looking version of the Cotton you know and love too, with the highlights in her hair bouncing rhythmically with the swaying of her witch robes and broomstick. Silk, your fairy companion, seems to play a bit more of an aerobic and a bit less of an openly sexualised role in this outing – not surprising considering it’s on a Nintendo platform – although the vicious, vicious fetish goddess final boss is pretty much intact!
The only thing that doesn’t always contribute quite so successfully to the rampant atmospherics is the soundtrack. There’s no questioning its quality, but it could do with being a bit less jaunty and lightweight in a few of the levels. It mostly works though, with catchy chiming synth melodies and chiptune woodwind or guitar flourishes compensating for fairly generic (and sometimes very shrill) sound effects. I know I sound a bit down on the sonics, but in comparison to the visuals they’re just not at the same level even if they are absolutely fine.
I’m not brilliant at games, but as much as I love the original arcade version of Cotton on my Sega Astro City Mini, with its lovely arcade stick, I’ve now finished that and the subjectively definitive enhanced port for X68000 that comes with Reboot several times. I’ve even finished the more chaotic Reboot! In the context of the great horizontal shooters – and, indeed, my own favourites like P-47, G-Darius and Thunder Force AC – it’s not that difficult. That’s not to say there’s no challenge, but it’s more about playing it enough over fast reactions and fine control. Apart from the final boss, Cotton 100% is marginally less challenging again though. And I love it for that! It’s a joy to play, and while you’ll need to keep your wits about you, it’s going to leave you enough in the tank to enjoy the sights if not the sounds so much – this is the perfect entry point to the series, but also to the horizontal shoot ‘em up genre as a whole. There are two harder difficulty modes though (as well as an easier one), which as far as I can tell mostly affects how many times you have to shoot something to kill it, and as a result I didn’t find massively enjoyable.
As well as your upgradable standard fire and bombs, and supporting fire from Silk and any of her fairy friends you rescue, you’ve also got a spell system that’s selectable on the fly. At the start of the game you’re giving a choice of four sets of three spells to choose from, ranging from all-out offence with the likes of Fire Dragon and Thunder, or more defensive options that include the “Barrior” shield! You’re only really going to need these when you’re up against bosses, and in most cases you can just go in all Rambo without too much concern for any safety nets. As usual with the series, beating a boss means Tea Time, but also as usual, avoidance is sometimes the biggest bonus!
I generally play on Switch connected to a TV, but for some reason I’ve been mainly playing this handheld. Either way looks and feels great, but the wild colours really seem to pop more when they’re condensed on a small screen, and it’s not even one of those new-fangled OLED ones yet! In terms of remastering, just like the Panorama Cotton release, you’ve got a choice of Standard mode with rewind, save states and cheats, once you’ve beaten Challenge mode, which is the original game with no modern bells and whistles. There’s also loads of screen ratio and shader effect options, with various mask types, scan lines options and so on. And just like Panorama Cotton, I have a single cause for complaint with this rerelease, which is the lack of translation on the cutscenes – they look great, they have the best music in the game, and I have absolutely no idea what’s going on! Whether or not I really need to know is questionable, I guess, and I’ve heard that it’s being patched to include local language later, so I’ll afford myself one bonus moan – I’d like to be able to tie the bombs to the normal shot button, like in the X68000 version of the original game; you can remap individual controls, but not two at once, and for a series that likes shoving loads of controls onto single buttons, I don’t think it’s too much to ask!
I reckon that getting your hands on this on a Switch (and especially being able to play it in your hands) for £12.99 is a steal. You couldn’t have asked for more from the series out of a SNES, and if you want more from a Switch you can stump up for Cotton Reboot! Actually, if you had done that, and your only objective here was to get another new Cotton game, you might think twice, though I don’t think I would. Having it on Switch, with the convenience of save states and rewind to practice the later bosses, is enough new for me, and what’s behind all of that is one of the best versions of Cotton and one of the best looking games to ever grace a SNES that you probably haven’t played before.