HomeReviews3.5/5 ReviewRainbow Cotton Review

Rainbow Cotton Review

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Cotton fans will know all about it, but we were surprised at how much of a wild ride the Cotton remasters have been. The ININ Games re-releases have let us experience the Cotton rollercoaster of genres. Panorama Cotton was a reasonably formulaic 2D side-scrolling shooter, Cotton 100% was a sidestep into Space Harrier, and now we have Rainbow Cotton: a 3D shooter that is best described as Star Fox glazed with sugar. Each game is a bigger swing than the last. 

Rainbow Cotton might be the most Dreamcasty Dreamcast game that ever existed. It’s incredibly hard to find in a physical format, which is on point for a Dreamcast game (a copy will set you back about £300). It’s odd as a spilt bag of crackers, and the graphics ooze Dreamcastiness. Everything is a big slab of colour and polygons, but with a sharpness that only the Sega system could provide. 

Rainbow Cotton review 1
Rainbow Cotton looks lavish

Money was clearly spent on Rainbow Cotton. As soon as you boot up the game, you’re greeted by intro cinematics that aren’t too far removed from an anime. For the first time, you’re watching Cotton the cartoon, instead of some abstract stills that attempt to introduce the characters. There’s no attempt at improving the traditional Cotton story – it’s still Cotton being duped to help the fairy world of Filament through the promise of Willow Candies. But everything is lavish and more involving.

Rainbow Cotton can be played in a Retro Mode with original graphics, or in co-op for a bit of two-player action. Regardless, the game stays the same: its five levels, each following the pattern of level-miniboss-level-bigboss. A score awaits after each level, coupled with the customary addition of a ‘tea shower’: a kind of bonus round where you grab tea packets to multiply your score.

The ININ Games preservation is simultaneously brilliant – there is no slowdown here, and the crispness of the graphics would get Gary Lineker salivating – and also a little disappointing. There’s a lack of save functionality, difficulty sliders and rewinds. They’ve appeared in other ININ games but not here, which makes this an unusual omission.

We’re warmer to the game itself, though. It doesn’t take long to find its rhythm. Rows of sweets, gems and eyeballs appear on the horizon and will zap you unless you zap them first. To help you along, Rainbow Cotton gives you an auto firing weapon, upgradable through eight ranks by collecting stars; some collectible fairies that orbit you and provide some covering fire; and four slots for smart bombs. These can be blue, red, green or yellow, and depend on the colour of the gem when you collect it. Shoot a gem and it switches colour, so you have a small window to make adjustments to colours before the gem is collected.

Rainbow Cotton review 2
A great variety

It’s a motley bunch, all said. We upgraded our basic weapon to its eighth state at the end of the second level, and there it stayed for the rest of the game. That’s not a great deal of variety. The four different smart bombs are fun to tinker with and explore, but collecting them can be a pain. We were firing continuously, which would accidentally nudge a potential gem further back into the level. To make best use of them, you have to stop firing, and that feels counter to what Rainbow Cotton wants you to do be doing.

Our biggest gripe is that shooting doesn’t quite feel right. There’s no lock-on feature, which would have solved the feeling that, to shoot something, you have to really be in the path of it. That invites damage, which a lock-on would have mitigated. And we never really felt like our weapon was impactful. It’s hard to judge where you’re shooting, and harder yet to judge if it hit something. Again, we wished for Star Fox’s clear sense of impact.

But that’s not to say that Rainbow Cotton isn’t enjoyable. While the shooting’s a bit splashy and the weapons don’t lead to a huge amount of choice, the levels and the enemies in them are gaudy wonders. The five locations are wildly different, and have fun mucking about with the 3D perspective. Castles, mines and underwater levels have you choosing your path, firing at signs to turn locations on or off, and playing through different, optional routes. All the while, Cotton and the camera swoop around with no regard for seasickness.

The enemies are a little samey (do we need to see quite so many dumpy goblins and eyeballs?), but the bosses are bordering on the sublime. Our favourite was a sea worm, diving in and out of water before forcing the perspective backwards so you’re being chased, rather than doing the chasing. The bosses are uniformly great, all cute beasts overgrown by eating candies.

Rainbow Cotton review 3
Rainbow Cotton is a bit of a pick-and-mix

Our last caveat, just so you know what you’re getting, is the difficulty. Or more specifically, how Rainbow Cotton deals with death. There are no lives here, only continues, which means that death leads to a complete replay of the level. That’s pretty old school and not entirely friendly. Be aware that you will be replaying each level multiple times – even on Easy – without any guarantee that you will succeed this time. 

Which is all to say that Rainbow Cotton is a pick-and-mix of good stuff and bad. It certainly meets its ‘Rainbow’ target. This is as colourful as any Parodius: a shoot ’em up that enforces the need for sunglasses. New surprises and fun elements are waiting to swoop past any corner, and the bosses in particular are a dalliance with the unexpected.

Sure, it’s on the unfairly punishing side, and both the controls and the weapons could have done with more work, but this is a worthy rewind to the time of the Dreamcast. Pick up Rainbow Cotton on the Xbox and save yourself that £300.

SUMMARY

Pros:
  • OTT Dreamcast shooter
  • Bosses are some of the genre’s best
  • Co-op play and retro mode are neat additions
Cons:
  • Weapon systems are a touch shallow
  • Enemies can get repetitive
  • Shooting feels occasionally inexact
Info:
  • Massive thanks for the free copy of the game, ININ Games
  • Formats - Xbox Series X|S (review), Xbox One, PS4, PS5, Switch, PC
  • Release date and price - 9 May 2024 | £17.99
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<b>Pros:</b> <ul> <li>OTT Dreamcast shooter</li> <li>Bosses are some of the genre’s best</li> <li>Co-op play and retro mode are neat additions</li> </ul> <b>Cons:</b> <ul> <li>Weapon systems are a touch shallow</li> <li>Enemies can get repetitive</li> <li>Shooting feels occasionally inexact</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, PC <li>Release date and price - 9 May 2024 | £17.99</li> </ul>Rainbow Cotton Review
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