Windjammers is a weird object. Originally released in the 1994 for arcades and the Neo Geo, it’s a sports game that’s a little bit tennis and a little bit frisbee. Or, rather, it’s 1v1 tennis played with a frisbee. You huck this incredibly durable flying disc at an opponent’s goal, and they do the best that they can do stop it from hitting a goal that exists behind them. The frisbee can ding off the walls, and predicting the angles of this dinging is a huge part of the game. Theoretically, you can play against computer-controlled opponents, but the real experience of the game comes with playing against human opponents.
Windjammers requires quick reflexes and quicker wits. Once you get over the basic mechanical mastery of dashing around the little arena, throwing the frisbee, and using more powerful moves, then the rest of the game is reading your opponent. Do they throw to the top more often? Are they always trying to angle it off the wall, or are they lobbing it to your weak spot any time you head to the bottom of the arena? Ask a serious player of any competitive game, and they’ll tell you that it is exactly this quality that matters at the highest levels of all competition. The simplicity of Windjammers’s mechanics means that it all becomes about reading your opponent very quickly. I can say, with ease, that a good game of Windjammers is a really exciting and satisfying way to spend a few minutes. When it’s firing on all cylinders, it’s damn good fun.
The problem is getting it to fire on all cylinders. The problem is getting it to work at all, sometimes. I’ve been playing the PlayStation 4, mostly in Quick Match and Ranked modes of online play, and I would say that maybe 66% of my games actually begin. The other 34% pair with an opponent, allow me to select a character, and then dump me to a winner/loser screen without ever launching. The games that I can actually play are also at a very high ping, which is the time it takes my console to talk to the server, and that means that all of my actions are delayed by several dozen milliseconds. In a game that requires fast reflexes and button presses, you can actually feel when the time between a button press and an action being taken is too long. It’s a shame, really, because I could absolutely see myself playing this game way too much in my free time.
There is also an issue that the games resolve themselves too quickly. The default mode of the game is first-to-twelve point games, with a best two-of-three format, and those go by so incredibly fast that I feel like I spend more time in the characters selection screen than playing the game. While custom matches obviously solve that in casual play, for the quick and ranked play that’s not possible.
The best use case for Windjammers, I think, is as a party game. You can safely set this thing up, hand the controllers over to some interested people, and feel incredibly confident that they are going to have a good time. “Easy to learn, hard to master” is the worst cliché possible, but Windjammers really evokes that feeling for me. I feel very comfortable handing the controller to anyone with a passing interest in games, or no interest at all, and knowing that they will figure out how frisbee tennis works. They’ll also have a good time.
Windjammers was published by DotEmu. It is available for the PlayStation 4 and Vita.
Cameron Kunzelman tweets at @ckunzelman and writes about games at thiscageisworms.com. His latest game, Epanalepsis, was released last year. It’s available on Steam.