For the past decade or so, I’ve run into a consistent problem revisiting classic Neo Geo games. It always starts with something exciting — typically, an announcement that a game I loved growing up is being ported to a new console. And it almost always ends in disappointment, with the memory of my experience outshining the game itself.
Before I get too far into this, let’s caveat a couple things. For one, this doesn’t apply to all Neo Geo games. A handful — generally, those that go heavy on animation, like the Metal Slug series and Garou: Mark of the Wolves — hold up beautifully. For another, I still consider a good amount of the system’s library to be some of the best artistic achievements of the ’90s.
But when I go back to a decent portion of the early Neo Geo lineup, I realize how much the spectacle was a big part of the point back then. Now that we’re 20 — or, in some cases, 30 — years out, putting big characters on the screen isn’t as impressive as it once was. So I’ve been itching to see some of these games remade, or to see sequels that update their visuals along the lines of the direction SNK went with King of Fighters 12 and 13, rather than its current 3D approach.
With Windjammers 2, developer Dotemu is scratching that itch. Using a sharp yet simple art style that’s similar to that of games like Streets of Rage 4 and Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap, Windjammers 2 strikes a near-perfect balance of updating Windjammers enough that it looks modern yet comes across a lot like how I remember the 1994 original in my head. I suppose the characters and effects could use a bit more detail, but this is a great template that I’d love to see applied to much of the early Neo Geo lineup.
It also helps that while Windjammers 2 is a sequel, it doesn’t change too much. The original game was very much a product of its time, cramming fighting game mechanics into a game of competitive Pong, and that concept has earned it a cult following over the years. Windjammers 2 feels like a respectful extension of that concept — it has some new characters and moves, though in some ways, it almost feels more like a remake than a sequel. I suppose you could argue that the expectations for a sequel weren’t quite as high back in the mid-’90s.
This all works in Windjammers 2’s favor, because the result is a game that brings back the feeling of the original game without some of the baggage of the mid-’90s. With any luck, hopefully we’ll see the same treatment given to other classic Neo Geo games as well.