“I Think Studio Saizensen And I Will Make A Second Cotton Rock ‘N’ Roll”


Over the decades, Success Corporation has created a huge number of shmaps that are equally great and fun. Games like the great Psyvariar with its wonderful bullet glide system and adaptive difficulty, or the curious, colorful but gritty multi-directional shooter Guardian Force. However, none of Success’ shooting games can match the effect of their cute game from 1991. Cotton: fantastic night dreams. With an energetic pace, a delightfully vibrant world, and a witch protagonist with an abundance of idiosyncratic character, the original Cotton and its many sequels have become deeply loved by the shmap community and have had a profound effect on the evolution of both the lovable ’em-up sub-genre and 2D shooters in general.

As last year marked the 30th anniversary of the series’ debut, fans of this form have received numerous ports and remasters. Cotton Reboot reinvented the original to the point where it felt like a new title, while Cotton 2 and Cotton Boomerang joined the Guardian Force in the Cotton Guardian Force Saturn Tribute pack. Cotton 100% also received a port in 1994, as did the third-person rail shooter Cotton Panorama.

But it was the Japanese release of Cotton Rock ‘n’ Roll: Superlative Night Dreams in 2021 that was the first truly new cotton jester in over 20 years. Now Cotton Rock ‘n’ Roll, developed by Success in partnership with Studio Saizensen, is coming to the West as Cotton Fantasy, and it should be happening soon. Here at Nintendo Life, our finger itched about importing a bit, so we ordered and reviewed the Japanese version and were very happy to find a game that respected Cotton’s established formula while still containing a lot of innovation.

CottonFantasy Screen2

The most impressive element of Cotton Fantasy was almost certainly that the same core game mode could be played in many different ways. The choice of different characters changed the dynamic, interactive systems and scoring strategies so dramatically that it was almost like releasing a compilation. This design approach actually came from Success and Studio Saizensen’s desire to create a game that reflected the earlier series’ skill at creating worlds filled with detail.

I wanted to put all the original systems created by Success and make it look like a festival.

“That’s because, after Cotton 2, we at Success thought that background images are the most time-consuming and expensive part of creating STG. [Shooting games] explains Success producer Shinya Nagatomo. “Instead of creating a large number of stages, we are trying to extend the life of the game by providing a system. It’s also the reason why I wanted to host all the original systems built by Success and make it look like a festival.”

“Festival” really captures a lot of what Cotton Fantasy has to offer. Not only is this a celebration in terms of Cotton’s intellectual property, but it’s also a broader back catalog of Success shooters. In Cotton Fantasy, choosing characters from Psyvariar or Sanvien effectively endows likable characters with mechanics and weapon systems from those games. Play with one character and then another and it can almost feel like two different games. And the production approach clearly gave the development team the opportunity to embellish each stage with the favorite level of detail of the Cotton series.

CottonFantasy Screen4

Therefore, it is not surprising that Cotton Fantasy was a game created from numerous illustrations.

“Because it’s difficult to fully express Cotton’s style in text, I put a lot more effort into creating the storyboard than usual,” says Toshinobu Kondo of Studio Saizensen, who was the game director on the project. “The storyboarding process involved a lot of trial and error, and I paid a lot of attention to manga-like expressions.”

This effort is evident throughout the game, and especially in relation to the cut-scenes, where expressiveness and personality erupt with almost the same intensity as an artillery salvo from one of Cotton’s bosses.

Kondo was also focused on balancing a game that had so many different interactive systems—not an easy task, but one he and his colleagues clearly excelled at. The approach here is exciting and to some extent mirrors how giants like Disney apply specific teams and supervisors to key characters to ensure personality, animation and more besides, remain fully and precisely aligned.

“We separated the people in charge of each character and started making adjustments. I feel like we actually made some games,” Kondo confirms with a speaking laugh. “It was a lot of work, but we all worked hard and managed to make it work.”

It’s fair to say that the team did more than making it work. They have achieved something quite remarkable in a genre where design constraints so often create the potential for nuance and depth.

As well as impressing with its mechanical breadth, Cotton Fantasy also does a great job of solving one of the toughest design puzzles in the shooter genre. How do you make the uniform accessible to a wider market while still providing enough complexity and sophistication to satisfy the needs of a small but fiercely dedicated crowd of hardcore shooters? It can be tempting to just reduce the number of enemy bullets and perhaps slow things down. This, however, can undermine the thrill and reward of playing shmap. It’s not that the titles that contribute to the genre have to be complex, but on very rare occasions, the shmap should appear empty.

The Cotton Fantasy team, it turns out, we’re aiming to do something a little more thoughtful with regards to maintaining hospitality, creating a game that isn’t that hard to progress through but offers a pretty high skill ceiling for scoring hunters.

CottonFantasy Screen6

“Today’s shooting games are backed by core fans, so games need to be made for core fans to enjoy,” Kondo muses. “However, since this game is a new release from Cotton, we really wanted to cater to light shooting gamers who also like Cotton. We wanted to create something that would satisfy both types of fans.”

if it’s well received, I think Studio Saizensen and I will do a second Cotton Rock ‘n’ Roll

Of course, we have yet to know how both of these audiences will react to Cotton Fantasy in the West. But there is every reason to hope that the game will flourish on these shores.

“I hope I’ve managed to launch a new generation of Cotton games, but to be honest, I’ve stayed pretty close to the original formula with Cotton Rock ‘n’ Roll / Fantasy,” Nagatomo muses, reflecting on the international enthusiasm for the game series, which he helped expand. “And it’s almost like an all-star game bringing together characters from past games.

“I hope the younger generation at SUCCESS and others will create the next Cotton game as something completely new. But of course, if it’s well-received, I think Studio Saizensen and I will do a second Cotton Rock ‘n’ Roll.”

CottonFantasy Screen8

That there’s already talk of a sequel before the game hits the West is exciting. Of course, this is far from confirmed, but even if there is only suspicion that the series could be renewed? We can still dare to dream that the Cotton series will be with us for another 30 years.

Cotton Fantasy is out now on Switch in Japan and will launch in the West in Spring 2022. Strictly limited games

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