Developer: Data East
Publisher: Data East/SNK
MVS Release Date: 17/Feb/1994
AES Release Date: 8/Apr/1994
Expecting a Crossed Swords post instead of Windjammers? More on the slight change to this blog here.
In this yet again long delayed 100 Days Of MEGASHOCK! post, we’ll be looking at Data East’s classic, Windjammers, also known as Flying Power Disc, both excellent sounding titles in my opinion. Windjammers is a 1vs1 Frisbee-throwing (or to use the non-TM term, a Flying-Disc throwing) game, which in this context plays more like a super hyper version of Pong. Each player must try to score by throwing the disc past the other player and into a goal, or they can score by having the disc land flat on the opponent’s ground. There are yellow goals which score 3-points, and red ones that score 5-points, usually placed in harder-to-score positions (like the heavily guarded center). And if you get it to drop flat you get 2 points.
Controls are pretty simple: A throws the disc. B lobs the disc so you can have it go over your opponent and land flat. If you are on the receiving side, A+Directions makes you slide around to catch farther discs. And A+neutral makes you do a parry that sends the disc high above you. You do this to set up character-specific super throws that are very powerful and hard to catch (or choose to do a super lob with B, where you’ll throw the disc vertically over the opponent, and rather than falling flat like a regular lob, the disc would roll on the ground onto the goal earning you more points). You can bounce the disc off walls and, based on the court, off obstacle boards placed in the middle of the dividing net of the court. You can also twirl the stick in a circular motion before throwing and you’ll add a bit of “English” to the disc and make it curve, which can throw off your opponent.
There’s more nuance to the controls then it seems. When receiving the disc, the sooner you throw it, the faster your throw would be. This encourages quick play (throw as soon as you can and you’ll throw a “super sonic shoot” which is, as the name suggest, super fast). And it discourages dilly-dallying and thinking about where you should throw the disc. Wait too long and you’ll be forced to throw a very slow disc that’ll be easy to catch, or worse, easy enough to parry and turn into a super throw. In fact, throwing as soon as you can allows you to reverse super throws, super sonic shoots, or super lobs. So the game really does a great job presenting a simple risk-rewards system. When on the defensive end, you can choose to slide, which covers the most ground, but because it takes some time for recovery, you won’t be throwing fast discs or reversing supers with it easily, not to mention you’ll give the opponent some time to maneuver and re-position themselves. You can risk it a little and simply run and catch a disc. That enables you to throw it earlier, and maybe get a super sonic shoot or reverse a super move, but you might not make it and catch the disc in the first place. Or you can really risk it with a parry, which requires you to be stationary for a very short, but still precious, amount of time. Against fast to really fast throws, you might have to be basically guessing where a disc would be thrown to for you to realistically parry. But of course, it might be worth doing to get a super throw (If this all sounds a bit too much, this English-tutorial set up on Windjammers France might help explain things further).
Windjammers has 6 playable characters as follows:
The group come from different countries, but what’s cool about them is that each character speaks in their native language, with recorded voice-clips. Each, as shown, have different stats and a unique supermove. But there’s also some hidden stats. For example, K. Wessel may have the worst running speed, but he makes up for it by having the furthest slide of the cast. Peculiarly, when messing with the dip switches, there’s an option to change between “Korea” and “U.K.”, changing it to the U.K. will give you this screen instead:
Note that B.Yoo has changed to “S.Miller” and now he’s from the U.K. It’s the same character with the same sprites and moveset but now he’s a British fellow with English voice-clips. This is probably a variation intended for the U.K. market. But something very interesting that might shed more about this can be found in the credits for Windjammer:
Anyway, back to the game, Windjammers also 6 courses as follows:
The courses differ in size, layout, and sometimes scoring zones. Beach is the standard “default” course. Lawn is a bit wider. Tiled switches up scoring zones and puts the 5-points red zones on the easier far ends of each goal while the 3-points yellow zones are in the protected center. Concrete puts a couple of obstacles in the middle. Clay puts those obstacles a bit closer to each other in the middle of the dividing net. And finally, stadium functions mostly like the lawn stage, expect that the goal zones change as the scores change: The bigger the score lead one player has, the bigger their 5-points red zone becomes. Stadium is the only course to have any sort of handicap feature meant to lessen the advantage winning players have and ease a chance for a come back. Given that Windjammers operates in best-of-3-rounds based matches, I find this handicap mostly unnecessary.
Windjammers also has 2 bonus games you play when progressing in 1-player mode. There’s a bowling mini-game where you try to knock down pins with your disc. It follows standard bowling rules and such. The other (and definitely cooler) mini game is where you are a dog running on a beach trying to catch a disc thrown by your player character while avoiding and jumping over people and obstacles. It’s a pretty fun. Bowling one is is fun too.
And Windjammers as a whole is fun. It’s the perfect type of arcadey 2-player competitive game that exemplifies what was popular and great about the Neo Geo system: Simple controls, simple concept (it’s hyper pong, after all), various characters that look, sound, and play different, then there’s the variety from playing on different courts. And it’s super fun to watch, not just play. Seeing high level matches is a real treat, as a disc goes back and forth, getting faster and faster, seeing super throws get reversed and then reversed again. Nary a dull moment in a good match of Windjammers. Couple that with nice sprite-work and music, and you can see why Windjammers became a bonafide cult-classic.
Which might be why, in the year 2017, Windjammers is getting the first real internationally released port since the Neo Geo AES original on Playstation 4 and Playstation Vita, developed by the controversial DotEmu (you can read more about DotEmu’s checkered history with ports here). And that is a little odd. Windjammers, despite it’s coolness and seeming popularity at the time, was never ported home outside the Neo Geo AES. Neither on Playstation nor Saturn (which both consoles at the time received plenty of Neo Geo ports, including Data East titles like Fighter’s History Dynamite/Karnov’s Revenge, or Magical Drop). It never got released on Data East’s Arcade Classic collection on Wii. The only other port it received was on the Japanese Wii Virtual Console (which has since been taken down). There were plans for a sequel that got canned, with renowned current Shining-series and JP Adult game, or eroge, illustrator Tony Taka as character designer. But really, there’s more happening now with Windjammers than before, since it’s release in 94.
Why now? Well, the prevalence of emulators like MAME or fightcade makes it easy for anyone with even the most modest of PCs to play Neo Geo games, and even play them online with others. That brought new life and interest to Neo Geo titles that were popular at the time like KOFs and Metal Slugs, but also more overlooked ones like Breakers. Now Neo Geo emulation isn’t a new thing at all and it’s been around since the dawn of this century, but it seems part of the re-surging awareness of Windjammers in just the last few years was due to Giant Bomb’s Jeff Gerstmann, who in 2013, being a Neo Geo fan himself, made Windjammers into a local MP game that the Giant Bomb editors played and streamed, which caught the interest of their big audience. This could have spurred a new fandom, which may have mobilized to tweet to Sony with the #BuildingTheList hashtag initiative thingie, which may have either directly lead DotEmu to make the port, or maybe just gave them some sway in convincing the IP holders to give them the rights to do a port, or maybe have no effect at all (tough to say since I don’t really know what Sony’s #BuildingTheList is, and it could just be a hollow PR move. But even something as simple as people collectively tweeting about something could have big sway in how today’s social media effect company decisions and such). This article has more about the story behind this surprise upcoming port.
But Windjammer’s popularity can be shown not just in the fan demand it got, but also in the many games that are clearly inspired by it. Games like Crazy Power Disc Perfect, Gyrodisc: Super League, Power Disc Slam, PowerSpinners, not to mention a couple of fan-made clones made by Giant Bomb community members (you can find the whole list here). The most prominent clone though, and one which was just recently released as a PS+ free game on PS4 (in addition to a PC release), is Disc Jam (I at least respect that most of the clones aren’t trying to hide their influences with fancier names). It uses 3D polygons instead of sprites, and it flips the camera positions vertically. It also allows for 4-players simultaneous play. These changes somewhat follow the evolution of modern Tennis games (the natural equivalent and evolution of Pong, which Windjammers is kinda). I don’t know whether it’s good or not but I would like to try it given that it is PS+ free for March.
All this to say that it seems 2017 is the year of Windjammers. I’m simply excited that the world has caught Windjammers fever. Heck, Windjammers was even considered as a possible 9th main game at Evo2017 under the player vote donation drive line-up. It didn’t win but it did end up generating more money with more donors than Mortal Kombat X or Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo, combined. Despite the loss, people are expecting that it will show up as a side-tournament at Evo2017.
And even if things don’t turn out well with the DotEmu port, and even if none of the inpired-clones live up to it, we will always have Windjammers the way most people have been playing it for over a decade now: with good emulators, and filthy wicked ROMs*
In conclusion, please play Windjammers. Thank you.
*Given this whole blog, I can’t really be in a “moral high ground” when talking about piracy and using ROMs to play highly expensive games for free. My moral stance on Neo Geo ROMs: You can download them and play them for free, but if there is an available official port on modern systems, whether the port is good or bad, I suggest paying for it. Even if you don’t intend to play that port specifically due to bad emulation or missing features, at least you’d given some of your money to people who own the IP, and you can continue playing the game on your preferred emulator