Maybe it’s just me, but if it weren’t for Giant Bomb, I never would have known Windjammers ever existed. The 1994 Data East arcade game seemed like one of those yesteryear games Jeff Gerstmann and company had a tendency to obsess over awhile before their attentions diverted elsewhere. It was fun to see Windjammers fever take hold ,and while I had no means to play the game, I found it really fun to watch. As Giant Bomb’s interest waned, so did mine, and once again the disc-based sports game fell from my memory. That is, until I received a review copy of an emulated port just ahead of its August 2017 release. Now that I have played the game for myself, I understand how it captured hearts. An easy enough game for anyone to pick up and play, Windjammers is a fantastic addition to any party game playlist.
Windjammers conjures up the image of a sleepy, well-worn neighborhood pizza joint where the buzzing of white fluorescent bulbs can be heard just above the din coming from the aged television displaying highlights of yesterday’s high school football game. For all its splashy, pitch-perfect pixelated visuals and sun bleached locales, the game is basically a modern take on Pong or air hockey. International athletes take the place of solid white paddles that toss a disc at each other in attempt to break through the other’s defense and score points. The trick lies in letting loose with fancy bank shots and power throws to catch the opponent off guard.
The concept and execution of Windjammers is quite simple. However, it never fails to captivate and keep itself interesting. One reason the game held my attention involved changes to the design of scoring nets. In every venue, each player’s goal is marked by three- and five-point zones. Getting the disc into these zones adds the appropriate score to the board, with the winner of the set being the first person to reach a score of twelve. Different courts are equipped with nets that change the size and ratio of the scoring zones, requiring creative geometric thinking.
Skilled players will use trick shots to their advantage along with lobbing the disc in the air, super power moves, and even putting a curve on disc’s flight path. This is where the game has a shortcoming. The tutorial is little more than a series of screens that tells you how to toss the disc around and perform super moves. It's a teeny bit difficult to wrap your head around at first, so it would have been nice if there were some sort of practice mode to help understand certain moves. Compete against the AI in the game’s Arcade mode long enough and you'll have enough practice under your belt to experience the real thrill: human players online (for the first time ever!). It’s these sorts of matches that make Windjammers worthy of attention. Going toe-to-toe with other people is a lot more fun play and spectate. Arcade may give you a chance to practice strategies against the AI, but Online is real the serious thrills are.
My initial thought towards the renewed interest in Windjammers was little more than a fun, limited time joke. Only after emerging victorious against fake international flying disc enthusiasts and human players did I “get” why the game received the attention it did. For something made over twenty years ago, it still has legs and the entertainment value to stay in the consciousness of new gamers and those that still play cash games of Warlords to this day. A wonderful relic of the past (seeing the Data East logo pop-up after all these years brought a tear to my eye), Windjammers is an awesome and unique sports game that, having survived semi-obscurity, might have the cache to become a staple of modern competitive gaming.
Teen Services Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.