Cotton: A Forgotten Shooter

The Story of a Bowl Cut Addict.
January 12, 2015
It took me a very long time to find the grounds for my next article, but I finally realized it after studying a certain arcade classic that many of you probably have no idea what it even is. In fact, what you are about to read here is probably the very first article of this game, as it has very little relevance. We are talking about the one, the only...


This is Cotton. She is a witch whom has an extreme craving for willows, which are basically wooden confectioneries since in one of the games when she was thinking about them, I saw two wrapped candies in her comedically-enlarged eyes along with drool coming out of her mouth. So she apparently has a food fetish for tree bark for some reason. It must be some pretty dang good bark if she actually covets it to the point of drooling! So, why is this witch the main protagonist? Maybe because she has an extremely high supply of magic at her disposal as well as a mastery of the skill where she is able to adapt to whatever situation requires more of her magic, and true enough her powers and abilities do increase as you progress through the games. And that little character on the tip of her broomstick is a fairy named Silk, whom does not really have much of a personality but certainly has better morals than Cotton does. She was the fairy chosen to find Cotton and ask for her aid in destroying the evil that approaches for she herself is not strong enough to do it alone.

The central plot of these games centers around you playing as Cotton, trying to stop an evil witch named Wool from destroying the world with her evil creatures, whom also happens to be fond of willows and has a huge storage of them which she presumably uses to feed the monsters she sends out. Cotton vs Wool, oh the irony. The anime style also intrigued me a lot too, it looked very original alongside the characters themselves. It made me wish they just once made an anime something based on the games, or at least anime cutscenes in one of the games if they had a more powerful system that could render them.

However, believe it or not, Cotton does not give a flying eff about the creatures or what they are doing to the planet; she just wants the willows. If she was aware the main villain of the game did not have them, she would not care enough to even stop her from ruling the planet! It is mostly thanks to Silk that Cotton decided to help save the world, for she is the one that brought up Wool's collection of willows. So, after finally being influenced enough by her addiction, Cotton impulsively sets out on a journey to get some willows to gorge herself with.

So, this article is basically reflecting on every Cotton game ever released. It was a short-lived franchise, but a very well-programmed one and I think it deserves more relevance than what it has right now. So I figured what better place to talk about an old-school game series than here? Maybe some of you did play the game when you were younger, but perhaps only if you were in Japan since that is mostly where the games existed. In this summary of every single entry, I will not say what their individual stories are whatsoever, as to keep the games a surprise for you guys to enjoy; simply only spoiling their gameplay elements. So without any further tedious backstory, let's begin with the first entry. Release dates are based on home console ports.

Cotton: Fantastic Night Dreams
(Release Date: February 12, 1993)

Oh, did I forget to mention her franchise was not a comedic one when it began? Ha, yeah I bet you are actually shocked right now at this abrupt change in the artwork here, as Cotton resembles the common anime girl even more than she did before, detail-wise; it really is a significant change. And the differences will also shock you, since my prior description of her character is based off her most recent incarnation; so a LOT has changed since as you can clearly tell! Though, her motives were the same: she only wanted to save the world because willows were in on the deal. So don't let that more innocent looking face fool you! She is still the same addict as she once was.

Okay, now finally onto the portion of the article you were waiting for: the game itself! Now that we have reviewed the character and central story, we can finally cover the game itself! Which is, basically a horizontal shooter; pretty simple stuff. Well, that and you can shoot spells that ultimately nuke waves of enemies that come in different varieties. It is pretty fun to play, but what made this franchise so unique is how wonderful the graphics looked for its time. What you are seeing here is, I believe on the PC Engine; the first home console to have a port of a Cotton arcade game. And it does look really impressive, doesn't it? It even had Redbook Audio and a lot more features in comparison to its arcade counterpart. The PC Engine was not even meant to have such graphical capability, it was first believed to be in the competition versus the Famicom and Sega Mark III but later went on to serve as a worthy enough rival against the Super Famicom and Mega Drive. Yes, I am going to be using the Japanese names of these consoles throughout the article, as to keep the Japanese feel intact because all but this entry are exclusive to Japan.

The game had a very unique set of characters that would see significant appearance altercations as they developed and it did well enough to have its first and only westernized release as this was available on the TurboGrafx-16 as well and it is definitely a very nice looking game. If you have the cash, and a TurboGrafx-16, I recommend the purchase as it is slowly becoming a rarity and is getting close to reaching the hundreds. But, as of now retails for mostly $90. Okay, so it is actually only ten bucks away, but that's not in the hundreds! It is just really, really close.

Märchen Adventure Cotton 100%
(Release Date: April 22, 1994)

Okay, NOW Cotton is starting to take on the form of the way she was when I first showed you her. However, she is still too sparkly to quite resemble that one yet. But anyway, not much to say about this game; it is basically a Super Nintendo port released a year later, and thus also begins the Japanese-exclusive releases of the Cotton games. It is basically a lighthearted version of the prior game, and that is the only difference. It has new levels, enemies and everything but I believe the gameplay is exactly the same. The PC Engine version is superior still since it is more true to the story that has a dark tone, well this one aimed to better suit it for children and give the series a good rep for the kids whom might find the previous game to be a bit scary.

So here is an image of it to compare with the PC Engine version. I believe the PC Engine was superior in graphics to the Super Famicom, if you look at the title of this entry and the one I brought up earlier; same with the gameplay. The PC Engine version just possesses more detail and overall looks better.

However, the Super Famicom version is the easiest Cotton game to find out of the rest I will show you on this list, going for an easy $30 - $50 for the cartridge. So, if you want a cheaper alternative (even in the game itself, ironically) then aim for this one instead. It is still a joy to play. But, for collectors, this game originally came bundled with a mini-audio CD as well that featured music, sounds and dialogue from the game. If you want to truly have all of it, you will have to splooge out some extra dough. But, this CD is very scarce nowadays and you would be lucky to even find it.

Panorama Cotton
(Release Date: August 12, 1994)

Now, HERE is where the franchise steps it up a bit, and also the first time SEGA finally began releasing the games exclusively on their own consoles. If you noticed the first game's title screen, it mentions SEGA in there; so they were a big help to this series and their arcade machines are what the games were running on. And now, the games carry over to their systems at last. No, literally they carried over the entire series to the systems after this, but only for this release then they went back to releasing them on the arcades again as well. In this Mega Drive-exclusive release, we see the series shift into a different style of gameplay. A style, that boosts the Mega Drive to its limits. And in just a moment, you will see why.

So, here it is. Behold, a 3D Mega Drive game. Or rather, 2D sprites using Mode 7 like a beast. Here, we see SEGA's own entry into the 3D 2D genre of 16-bit games. And this DOES surpass Super Mario Kart's own Mode 7 due to it having no slowdowns, more visually-impressive graphics and a really slick engine. It is a ground-breaking release for the Mega Drive as it shows the system at its fullest potential on what it can do with Mode 7. Stylistically, it also stands out for having lost the melancholy undertones that the other games have; instead, it simply strives to be uniquely psychedelic. It does make it feel more like a spin-off too, as the result. The special spell attacks do not look as cool as they did in the previous games. However, that aside, it is a really crazy game with all of what goes on in it and it successfully stays true to my prior statement of it. To make up for it, no more one-hit deaths! Instead, you get a more fair treatment of having your own life bar! Oh, but actually they are still laughing their balls off because that life bar is only half-filled at the start! Also, right next to a cute and cuddly Cotton icon below, is a speed meter! So if this game did not suit your level of skill, you can simply up the speed! If you can play this game at the highest speed without using a continue, though, then I will be impressed because the patterns get far out of whack for me to even go up past the first level of the meter.

However, this wonderland of chaos is near to impossible to experience at home, since this is unfortunately the rarest entry. It retails at around $300 I kid you not, so if you really want to collect them all you are going to have to shoot a hole through your wallet on this one. If you are a more extreme collector, I would like to bring up that this particular release came bundled with an exclusive tea cup, which costs as much as the game itself. And if bundled with the game, can triple its price to the thousands range if one desires to do so since it is in fact worth that much. If both are new, the price could dip way further into the thousands. But no need to worry, you obviously are not interested in a fancy tea cup with Cotton on the front, you just want to play a game that boosts the Mega Drive to its very core. And for that, you will not pay any more than three hundred to experience. And for any collector, it is a good addition to your collection. Also, I really do ponder why this version is the rarest since Märchen Adventure Cotton 100% came out a few months before this and I assume this game liquidated any chance it had of selling due to it being a brand new game basically, well the aforementioned one was simply a remake of the first home console port. I figured it had low sales, but since it is so easy to come by I guess not.

Cotton 2: Magical Night Dreams
(Release Date: December 30, 1997)

Here, we finally get the first real sequel to the first game in the franchise. Panorama Cotton basically felt like a spin-off since it had such a twist on the story and art style, and was not even marketed as a sequel, unlike this one. Aside from a new art style, it now has an intro that begins with a story explaining the plot of the game preceded by a musical prelude, before another music-invested intro begins showing all of the characters, alongside a new one introduced named Appli whom is Cotton's foe, also addicted to willows and is presumably there mainly because the game now offers a co-op mode so you can play with a pal. One piece of information I forgot to mention was that the original game did have this same intro, but it is much less vibrant than it is here.

When you start the game, it features a well-drawn storyline that takes place as you play the game, all in Japanese of course so if you really want to know the true depths of this game's story you must learn Japanese. True depths, it's a comedy what am I saying? Chances are it's filled with cheesy humor throughout the whole thing judging from the animations of the characters. Even if you can't understand what they are saying, it is extremely entertaining to watch them; and you can even take a guess on what they are talking about as well. Just a warning, though, if you watch this game's story it will indefinitely make any other Saturn game with a sprite-animated story feel inferior as this one really does a good job at it. Also, it is based around the first entry for returning to the horizontal shooter approach, but this time with significantly better graphics that will throw the debate of "The SEGA Saturn feels like another Super Famicom" into the trash. Also, this is the first entry that finally brings us the art style of Cotton I first showed you before we began talking about these games. And it lived on to become the final interpretation of Cotton that would be used in future games, henceforth.

Compare this with Märchen Adventure Cotton 100% and you will see the difference when the SEGA Saturn is boosting its full 32-bit potential versus the 16-bit power of the Super Famicom. Clearly, there is much more going on here. Also, when aided by a RAM expansion, it is a perfect home port of the arcade release. Oh, yeah that's right now the games are back in arcades again starting with this one. And ultimately every release afterwards became a SEGA-exclusive as well. But anyway, aside from improved graphics, this game differs itself a lot from other shooters. It uses Street Fighter-esque D-Pad inputs to cast different spells, such as three quick fireballs straight ahead or three fireballs in a quarter circle pattern.

Also, you can shoot down or up using these D-Pad inputs, so this adds a unique and fun sense of creativity to the gameplay that makes it feel fresh. That, and you can now, you know, do what you always could in any shooter: run up to an enemy, grab them with one hand and chuck them like a basketball. Wish I was kidding, but no I am dead serious you can actually now fly up to an enemy and pick them up with your hand, even use them as a shield if you like! And you can still do all the shooting animations the same as before, including the unique ones as well as specials. However, free aim was not a chosen method of disposal of the enemy and you can only throw the guy straight. This makes this game a true sequel, for now it has both updated graphics as well as new fun ways to play.

This game is the third most cheapest title, retailing at around $80 and it is probably the best title to begin your collection due to its much calmer nature from the first. And again for those collector enthusiasts, this originally came with a calender of the upcoming year, with each month having a Cotton character on it from the game, continuing Success' generous deed of including a nice bonus with each Cotton game. The calender is pretty hard to come by, however; and sellers will only sell it with the game, which ups it to the hundreds. If you are a collector, I would aim for the bundle since chances are you will never find that calender as a standalone item.

Cotton Boomerang
(Release Date: October 8, 1998)

This Cotton entry is similar in the vein of how Metal Slug X was a significant improvement to Metal Slug 2; same principles apply here with Cotton Boomerang and Cotton 2: Magical Night Dreams. This game basically updates the intro of its younger sibling with nice, high resolution pictures that look much better than the last intro, and the music syncs better with them as well like a theme song would with a Saturday morning cartoon. Basically, the only problem with Cotton 2 was that it had an intro that felt like it needed polishing; and that is where Cotton Boomerang came in. The images looked blurry and the music was just thrown and felt out of sync with the intro. Also, the storyline in-between levels is gone now and replaced with more high resolution images, again comedic; above a score specifically dedicated to that level. The image is based on which character you end up as, which is pretty awesome. So, if you say beat a level with Cotton, you get a funny image of Cotton; perhaps thinking about willows again.

Take a look at this level. Does it ring any bells? That's right, it's the same thing I showed you a moment ago! This game is, in fact, simply an upgrade of Cotton 2: Magical Night Dreams. However, they did more than just remaster the artwork, they refined it as well. However, it does not feature any new musical tracks, but gameplay-wise it makes several creative changes. Firstly, gone is the health bar introduced in Panorama Cotton. In exchange for it, you get three lives instead, each a one-hit KO again similar to what was introduced in the first entry. If you also noticed, these three lives are not broomsticks again as they were in the games that used a life system. Appli is in there, and even Silk the fairy finally decides to step in, though it kind of destroys Cotton even being here then since Silk is clearly handing those enemies on her own; perhaps she learned a thing or two well watching Cotton in action, and after pondering about it well sitting on her broom in the last game, Silk finally decided to step in and see what she was made of. I bet you scrolled up to look at the Cotton 2 gameplay image to see her sitting on the broom.

Anyways, those three characters are not the only ones available, for you now have a character selection screen of eight characters where we hear a theme that was misplaced in Cotton 2, but is much more welcome here. The selection is technically four, since the other four are two variations of Cotton and Appli, respectively. Cotton now has the ability to simply have a main element, rather than switching off it as she did in Cotton 2 every time a special was used. So, the original Cotton has fire, the blue-haired variation has ice and the blonde one has laceration. The two new characters to play as are Silk and Needle, a character I forgot to mention was also introduced in Cotton 2. He is Appli's witch hat whom, for whatever reason, is anthropomorphic. He and Silk are the smallest characters, and as such are the easiest to play with due to their much capable dodging abilities. But, their magic is the same: small, white lines. Nothing too colorful or flashy.

And, rather than just simply grabbing the enemies as done in the previous title, Cotton now puts them into a sphere as well. Doing so consistently tortures those baddies to the bone as you use their corpse as a useful tool to aid you in battle! And once again available as a shield. The type of chamber you choose to encase them in is based on the type of magic your character has, so they can either be burned, frozen or simply lacerated from within! And the graphical effects look pretty cool to boot. Wish I could say the same for Silk and Needle, as they simply encase the baddies in a white ball of suffocation. So they have the most plain and sadistic death chamber of all the other magical creatures.

But wait, there is more! I forgot to mention the gameplay is extremely more difficult than it was in Cotton 2, after the first two levels anyway. The rate at which you fire is much more fast, and there are now patterns in homage to other shooters where you need an insane arsenal of weapons surrounding you. Your D-Pad moves are also much bigger and do much more damage, and you can now charge your magic to summon a fearsome magical beast that wipes away all of the enemies within the plane! So to make up for the insane gameplay and one-hit death system, you are now an extremely powerful witch! And, if used wisely, your magic is much more deadlier than the enemy's own as it can now break away certain enemy fire as well; even if you are simply shooting it blankly.

That is about all the new stuff that Cotton Boomerang has. So, basically it is the best 2D Cotton you can get your hands on with all of these awesome gameplay features. Unfortunately (pun intended) this game is the second rarest entry in the series! Due to many not being interested in paying for something that barely changed the last game, it is naturally more rare to find! It retails at about $250 at the cheapest, but recently demand has resulted in most sales going for as high as $500 even! But, for now, most are clocked at $250 - $300 so it is not yet the rarest. At least, not until it comes close to its twentieth anniversary in a few more years.

Rainbow Cotton
(Release Date: January 20, 2000)

Yes, there is in fact one last entry in the series. This one is a spiritual sequel to Panorama Cotton, but this time with legit 3D. But no, not on the SEGA Saturn; this was on the Dreamcast. That is right, this series was good enough for SEGA to once again create another entry for their acclaimed Dreamcast, a system of which they saved only the best titles for. There is not too much to talk about, however, for it simply feels like Panorama Cotton but slower; and unfortunately bears no speed adjustment options as its spiritual precursor did. However, for its time, it features very unique 3D graphics and these people once again proved how much good effort can make a game look; I would go so far as to say it bears similarities to Shenmue in terms of effort.

Not a very good image of its gameplay, but the game itself looks better than this. The gameplay is a little rusty, and all of those fun ideas from Cotton Boomerang sadly did not follow this title. As such, I would say this is the most basic Cotton game in the franchise; even more basic than the very first one released! And that is quite sad, but not all hope is lost for it still has the specials you can use that look pretty awesome. Also, the 3D is a sight to behold as well. The best highlight of this game, however, lies within its music for it all sounds really good. So, this and the graphics would be the true reason you would be buying this game. The graphics and music, combined with the atmosphere of the lively places that are less dark from the previous release, makes this the most calmest Cotton game in the series to play that links within the game's theme and instead offers vibrant scenery in place of the gloomy environments the series is known for.

The enemies are kind of easy; but the aiming system tells you otherwise. Panorama Cotton had an excuse for being a first attempt and we were not too upset with aiming being a problem. You do get a crosshair, but it always goes back to the middle when you stop moving, resulting in really hard aiming. But, the controls are very tight and it is still a fun experience that won't bring you down too much.

If you caught my hint from the beginning then you have a watchful eye, for this entry did in fact decide to do cutscenes in anime style! The intro of this game is just that: all anime, and for a solid five minutes too, so the wish I had of this series becoming an anime came true. It is very good that we did get to see the series interpreted into an anime just once, and by the original creators too! However, Cotton's personality was not what I anticipated at all; she is really barbaric and looks quite different when actually moving about. Her animation quality dwindled a lot from her prior Saturn appearance, which is really depressing. The same can be noticed with Silk as well. And also, Appli has been completely written out, proving my theory that she was in fact simply thrown in just because the game had co-op. Kind of sad, but hey she did get to appear moving once in Cotton 2 so she did not miss out on being animated as those sprites looked really good. She only missed out on being legitimately hand-drawn.

Aside from the intro, the game is similar in its delivery of cutscenes as Cotton 2 was: every time you beat a level, a new scene plays. Put all these scenes together and you got a pretty hefty Cotton anime that is quite enjoyable if you know Japanese as I loved the acting a lot. Maybe, because I just like the series a lot and I was just so happy that it became an anime just once. I felt like it deserved its own separate section since it was just so cool that they did this, even if it was not the way I thought it would look. I anticipated more of the first image I showed you on this article as to how she would look in an anime. But, this one was not a disappointment for it delivered a hefty amount of cutscenes that I enjoyed a lot. I just wish it was in the style that I expected it to be in.

Cotton 100%
(Release Date: March 27, 2003)

I will not bring up title screen images for this one since they are exactly identical to the Super Famicom version. And that is just what this is: a Playstation port of that version. So do not worry, SEGA and Nintendo did not get all of the Cotton fun! Sony did get a ride, but it was at the very last seat of the coaster. I do not wish to extend this a lot since it is simply an emulation of the Super Famicom version on a Playstation. Same concept, same style, same everything. It most likely upped the sound and music quality thanks to the new CD storage, but not too much outside of that.

For collectors, this goes surprisingly higher than the Super Famicom version, retailing at around $100. But, that extra seventy is mostly paying for the better sound quality. But, a Super Famicom has a beastly SFX chip inside of it and stereo sound anyway, so it's not like you are missing out on too much. It is probably higher quality at best. And also, it probably has more loading times since it is coming from a disc, unlike the Super Famicom that is in cartridge form. But, if you are a collector, I see no reason not to add it to your roster of Cotton games.

Magical Pachinko Cotton
(Release Date: May 1, 2003)

It is a pinball game, not too much to be said. No gameplay exists online, so I have no idea what the title screen looks like; but luckily I did find the cover of it, released on the Playstation 2. Thought I might as well throw it in here since it is the last official game in the series released by Success before they decided to sadly part ways with it.

Hey look, Appli is back! Maybe the last game was too calm for her skill and she decided to return to the pumpkin kingdom, but now that she sees Cotton playing some pinball she is once again ready to show up her rival. So, yeah here you just play pinball with Cotton. What better way to say goodbye than with a nice game of pinball? Sony sure was not all that creative with their entries in the series.

This entry retails for about $20, but I recommend it only to those that are collecting the games. For any casual gamer, this probably isn't all that fun. It is more of a treat for those whom are familiar with the Cotton games and for whatever reason wanted a pinball machine with her pasted all over it.

Rondo of Swords
(Release Date: August 9, 2007)

Behold, just a random game that, for whatever reason, threw Cotton in.

Not gonna lie, though. I did enjoy the artwork they did of her.

Just her completely random appearance alone might convince me to buy this game.


I would like to thank you for sticking to the end, as I reviewed the gameplay aspects of every single Cotton game, including the unfaithful pinball entry. I hope this was a good history lesson for those whom saw these games and did not think much of them before, for they are really exotic titles and each one has a unique sense of style that makes them stand out from each other. And, I guess the Playstation games as well for those collectors out there. However, this series will pretty much blow your wallet into the water once you begin collecting for it due to the franchise gaining cult status recently for both fans of cute-em ups and shmups as the game has the weird cast of characters, but also the serious edge of shooters.

If you are skeptical of which one to begin with, there's no better way to start than with the first! For it probably has the calmest enemy patterns to work with and will not be too hard, as the sequels begin to approach a more serious edge in gameplay. I hope you enjoyed the read, and I look forward to writing again as soon as I can. Hope this article intrigued you enough to at least give Cotton a shot (pun intended) at some point, especially for those that are owners of several SEGA systems for she pretty much appeared on all the well-known ones at least once or twice. In fact, that is pretty much all she appeared on after the Super Famicom release.
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