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Panorama Cotton Review


I should have done my research before signing up for Panorama Cotton. To me, the name of ‘Cotton’ is synonymous with side-scrolling shooters, a bit like ‘Gradius’, ‘Parodius’ or ‘R-Type’. There was no way that this wasn’t going to be a left-to-right shoot ’em up, likely full of cutesy characters, fairies and giant-faced bosses. Right?

We weren’t wholly wrong, but we were still wrong (accurate tombstone quote: I might write that down for myself). Panorama Cotton arrived in 1994, late in the Cotton franchise’s life. It was a Sega Megadrive/Genesis exclusive, and – as such – developers Success probably thought they had to fit in with the games already on that system. So we got Panorama Cotton, which is undoubtedly inspired by Space Harrier, perhaps with a dash of Afterburner. Which means away-from-the-camera shooting, within a simulated 3D space. Not what we were expecting at all. 

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Panorama Cotton may not be what you expect

Some things remain the same, of course. The story still comes out of bizarro leftfield, focusing on the Willows that power the magic of the world. The Willow fruits are going bad, turning black in the ground, and that’s bad news for fairyland. Simultaneously, the Fairy Queen Velvet is talking absolute nonsense, and she pops down the shops only to never return. Are these things connected? You bet your copy of Sailor Moon they are. You play as a combo of witch Cotton and fairy Silk, as you chase down the malevolent force behind it all. 

We should probably pause and note the state of this port, overseen by ININ Games. Previously, we had harsh words for the slowdown that we experienced in Cotton 100%, another port which launched on the same day as Panorama Cotton. But things are much better here. We didn’t experience any performance issues, and can say with confidence that this is an accurate re-presentation of the Sega Megadrive experience. 

It’s also a decent framing of the material. Much like Cotton 100%, Panorama Cotton comes with plenty of additions to tailor your experience. We over-used the rewind function, mainly because Panorama Cotton is rock-hard, and there are in-game save functions as well as visual toggles. Baked into the game itself, rather than the port, you also have access to additional cheats like invincibility, as well as sliders for number of lives and difficulty. A Challenge Mode disables all of these features, and comes with its own set of achievements. 

By golly did we need all these difficulty and extra-lives sliders. Because we found Panorama Cotton to be an unholy alliance of naturally difficult, as well as impossible to read. It’s a shoot ’em up through a pixel blizzard while wearing an eyepatch, completely removing any depth perception. As exciting as that sounds, it isn’t wholly a selling point. 

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Difficult to read

There’s a whole host of reasons why Panorama Cotton – at least in our case, and playing with a very modern perspective – feels messy. The graphics are a biggie. Back in 1994, the world was in the thrall of faux-3D, with Super FX, Star Fox and the Mega CD all making it seem like the future. But it was also very rudimentary, and there’s a reason that very few of the 3D games released in 1994 are held in as much esteem as their pixel-art counterparts. You can see the problem in Panorama Cotton. Everything is so grainy, jagged and polygonal. It’s ugly and choppy, and can make it hard to physically understand what is going on in the space. Are those enemies or backdrops? 

Then there’s the depth-perception thing. It killed us. It’s incredibly hard to tell whether an enemy is in the near-, mid- or back-ground, which is a problem when you’re meant to dodge the damn things. Do you have time to scoot to the opposite side of the screen before they hit you? It’s a toss up, and we eventually just guessed. If the top-right of the screen was slightly less densely packed than the top-left of the screen, then we moved there. It felt like we were pissing in a hurricane. 

There are so many other inelegances that make Panorama Cotton such a hard play. Since perspective is a thing, it’s hard to judge where your bullets are firing. Bosses can be leagues away from you, so where can you fire to hit them? Again, it’s guesswork, as you learn to calibrate based on whether the bullets landed or not. And the levels themselves don’t help. There’s a lot of swooping through arches, dodging moving walls, and skipping up and down on parallel tracks. It’s impressive in its freewheeling imagination, but we’re buggered if we know where it wants us to be. 

It all comes with practice, of course, and undoubtedly Panorama Cotton had a committed fanbase that memorised the attack patterns as well as the positional shooting. But you should be absolutely aware that Panorama Cotton is as immediately accessible as blind 4D chess with Magnus Carlsen. 

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Parts of this will make you clap

With all of that context in place, Panorama Cotton is still wholly imaginative and capable of left-turns that make you clap. It hasn’t lost that with the move to three dimensions. Some tracks resemble Mario Kart levels more than they do shoot ’em ups, as you Rainbow Road your way through tunnels and undulating loops. Hulking bosses and minibosses have you contending with giant kangaroos, swords with arms and circus robots. The levels are never boring, as they whip violently through different colour palettes and themes. 

But we couldn’t help ourselves. We cheated on Panorama Cotton. We kept imagining what Panorama Cotton might have looked like if it was ported back into a 2D side-scrolling shooter. We wanted to play that game: it would have been inordinately more satisfying, and would have captured everything we loved about the previous series. 

Instead, back in 1994, Success Games chose to emulate Space Harrier instead, and we are left with this bewildering kaleidoscope of a game. Cotton games are known for being charming and precise, but Panorama Cotton feels ugly and unwieldy. It’s not the most ideal of trades. ININ Games have done a sterling job of porting this curio, but we warn you: as a modern gamer, it’s a bumpy ride.


  • Much better porting of the original 1994 game
  • Plenty of options for personalising the experience
  • Bosses and levels are constantly inventive
  • Space Harrier doesn’t suit Cotton
  • Depth-perception is a constant issue
  • Inaccessible shooting
  • Massive thanks for the free copy of the game, ININ Games
  • Formats - Xbox Series X|S (review), Xbox One, PS4, PS5, Switch
  • Release date and price - 7 December 2023 | £7.99
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<b>Pros:</b> <ul> <li>Much better porting of the original 1994 game</li> <li>Plenty of options for personalising the experience</li> <li>Bosses and levels are constantly inventive</li> </ul> <b>Cons:</b> <ul> <li>Space Harrier doesn’t suit Cotton</li> <li>Depth-perception is a constant issue</li> <li>Inaccessible shooting</li> </ul> <b>Info:</b> <ul> <li>Massive thanks for the free copy of the game, ININ Games</li> <li>Formats - Xbox Series X|S (review), Xbox One, PS4, PS5, Switch <li>Release date and price - 7 December 2023 | £7.99</li> </ul>Panorama Cotton Review
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