Windjammers Review — Return of the King (PS4)
The strange resurgence of Windjammers, an obscure Data East game that revolves around throwing frisbees, is truly a product of the internet age. It’s been fascinating to watch the 1994 arcade title skyrocket in popularity in the past couple years since it all started in such organic ways. It became a Giant Bomb video staple in 2013, and a small, yet spirited, competitive community popped up online. It eventually led to consumers jokingly, and then seriously, trying to see the classic game get a re-release or sequel. Now, four years after the resurgence began, developer DotEmu has lovingly brought the title to both PlayStation 4 and Vita.
For those that are shamefully unaware of Windjammers, it’s basically Pong mixed in with a fighting game. Players attempt to throw a frisbee into the back of their opponent’s goal, while the opposing player attempts to intercept the flying disc and send it back at their opponent. It’s a frantically paced affair, as the courts are small, and characters are constantly leaping in order to get into the proper position. Oh, and the walls are made of rubber apparently, so the frisbee bounces off them in a wild manner.
At its core, Data East has created a simple game. It only takes a minute to jump into a match and understand the basics. Beneath that simplicity lies a hidden depth, one that is surprisingly complex for a two button game. Players that get into position early can pop the frisbee up into the air and then deliver special throws. These are totally ridiculous, as the frisbee will catch on fire as it goes in circles before darting into the goal. There’s a lot of nuance to be learned, but thankfully DotEmu has added an excellent tutorial that goes over the different skills.
Like the Wind
I mentioned earlier that Windjammers reminds me of a fighting game in many ways. That’s not just because players will essentially be performing dragon punches in order to put spin on their frisbee and to pull off sweet moves, but because the title is filled with different characters. The roster is relatively small (there’s only six jammers in total), but there are different special moves and statistics for each player. On smaller courts, I prefered playing as a larger character whose slow speed brought an incredible power to their throws. Everyone will find a different character that works best for them, but the learning process is certainly an enjoyable one.
Since it was originally released for arcades, it’s only fitting that there’s a traditional arcade mode for players to test their skills against AI-controlled opponents. It’s exactly what one would expect, as players face off against a series of opponents while attempting to become the one true Windjammer (I gave the game a Highlander-esque story that is best described as fan fiction, but you can adopt it too). There are different difficulties to pick, but it’s a pretty standard mode that is neither enthralling or terrible.
If you ever get sick of throwing frisbees at goal posts, there are two mini-games that can now be played outside of the arcade mode for the first time. The first one, called Dog Distance, has players throwing a frisbee on the beach, and then controlling a dog as they attempt to catch it. It’s basically the Nintendogs frisbee competition done a decade beforehand, and that’s pretty rad. Additionally, there’s Flying Disc Bowling, which has the player throwing their frisbee at bowling pins. It’s really dumb, and I had a good time with it.
The mini-games are just a distraction, though. The main course is experienced when playing against another human either locally or online. It’s here where the game really shines. Matches are intense as characters dive around the field tossing frisbees against the wall and hoping the other player can’t predict where it’ll land. It’s a test of both strategy and reaction time. Much like basketball, I found Windjammers to be a game of runs. It’s easy to get in a rhythm, and once you’re in a groove it’s possible to make some incredible comebacks. I was once down 14-0, but was able to shoot some shots worth five points, and the next thing I knew I had won the round. These are common instances in Windjammers, and it’s definitely the latest game to join my online rotation alongside Rocket League.
One of the big draws of this port is that Windjammers has official online play for the first time. This is a huge deal, and I got to play several hours with a friend. I did experience a few issues with the netcode, as occasionally lag would crop up out of nowhere. This actually makes the game easier, since there’s more time to react to a throw, and I got into some crazy volleys due to it. I’d say 90% of the time, there weren’t any issues, but it’s certainly disappointing that some issues do exist. I was also let down by the lack of customization. Besides some basic timer and point total options, there’s not many ways to customize the experience. Hopefully a patch will add that in the future, as I’d like to play longer matches with more sets rather than best-of-threes.
Over 20 years since it initially released,Windjammers is finally getting its chance to shine as a competitive game. It’s got the accessibility and depth to deliver memorable play sessions, and while the online play can sometimes be disappointing, I’m largely left impressed. Few multiplayer games have made me scream (and make some strange primal noises during the heat of the action) like Windjammers, and it’s simply a blast when played with friends.
Windjammers PS4 review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.