Rainbow Cotton – PS5 Review

Rainbow Cotton is an on-rails shoot ’em up and is a port of the Dreamcast exclusive game of the same name, originally published in 2000.  ININ have already been busy porting other games from the series over to modern consoles including a reboot of the first game, Cotton, as well as Panorama Cotton which is more relevant to Rainbow Cotton as it was the game that first took the series from being a horizontally-scrolling viewpoint to an into-the-screen type.

Now, it’s worth noting that Rainbow Cotton didn’t exactly set the world on fire in 2000.  While people liked the colourful visuals and classy anime cutscenes, pretty much everyone struggled with both the controls (which were imprecise and sluggish) and the on-screen clarity of the action.  Alas, Cotton, the titular heroine of the game, was a pretty large character model and with the camera being placed behind her, she obscured much of the action.  And, of course, of all the shoot ’em up sub-genres, this was always the worst with most of its classic era games, such as Space Harrier and Afterburner, looking amazing at the time but essentially being very little fun to play.  Certainly there wasn’t enough there to warrant the game getting any type of US or EU release.

But here we are in 2024 and ININ have enlisted German coders KRITZELKRATZ 3000 to not just port the game for modern audiences but also hopefully smooth out some of those legacy issues too.

Unusually for a shoot ’em up, the Cotton games are quite story heavy (albeit with no affect on the gameplay) and that’s definitely the case with Rainbow Cotton.  It tells the story of a witch, Cotton, who is tasked with saving Filament, a fairy kingdom, from invading monsters.  She’s not really in it for the public service though and is more interested in protecting the Willow, a form of candy that she’s seemingly hopelessly addicted to.

On firing up the game’s main mode you’re introduced to the story through the original Dreamcast cutscenes which have been upscaled a little but still use the original 4:3 aspect ratio.  They look pretty rough but anime fans should be happy with the general standard of art design and animation and the lower resolution and scrappy quality definitely gives it all the feel of a 1980s cartoon.  It’s all a bit nonsensical and melodramatic but that’s Japanese storytelling for you, so you’ll know what to expect.

But then you’re into the action and you’ll pretty much know within a few seconds if this is a game for you or not.  The headline is certainly that it feels much like Rainbow Cotton ever did with any improvements being subtle.  Evolution rather than revolution.  The action is certainly smooth enough with everything gliding along at a solid framerate and there’s colour for days, definitely giving you that old school Sega feel that we all love.

There are five, long-ish, stages to battle through.  Each one takes close to ten minutes, arguably a tad too long for the genre, and is punctuated with a boss battle at the end.  Generally you’ll just be trying to blast enemies out of the sky but there’s a degree of extra complexity when it comes to the magic system.  As with other Cotton games, you’ll need to pick up gems to arm your magical attacks and these gems can be circled through variations by shooting them.  They come in pretty handy during boss battles, which are where you’re at the most danger.  Aside from that though, there aren’t any other mechanics to figure out.

So, is the gameplay improved this time around?  Well, the answer isn’t a resounding ‘YES!’ but rather a ‘yeah, I guess, kinda.’

Certainly, Cotton is still in the way of the action, taking up too much screen real estate just where you don’t need her (although the new widescreen aspect ratio does give a little bit more room compared to the original 4:3).  Also, your aiming reticule/cursor isn’t exactly accurate to where bullets will target.  There are actually two of them, showing trajectory rather than the final target and that’s a little annoying.  At least now the cursor doesn’t auto-centre itself like it did on the original game but it still feels like an awkward way to take on an enemy horde if we’re being honest.  This is reinforced by enemies taking a few too many shots to die and for the sound and visuals not doing enough to sell their deaths.  It feels like with all the background music and shooty-shooty sound effects, enemies don’t so much die and just disappear.  There’s no real sense of impact here at all and it eventually makes the game feel weak and a little unexciting.

Some of these are issues that just can’t be easily resolved when porting a game like this and it’s a shame because the devs did make improvements where they could.  A big one is giving the bosses health bars.  A nice touch but something that is only needed because of a lack of feedback in these situations.  The branching paths in each level are now signposted which is a handy addition.

They’ve also improved the usefulness of Silk, Cotton’s sidekick.  She now has a better lock-on system and can also be controlled by another player if you fancy some co-op action.

Ultimately though, there’s only so much you can do with the original to make it actually enjoyable.  We’d have loved an auto-shooting twin-stick mode, that might have been a real game-changer but, aside from that, the devs have done all they can to smooth Rainbow Cotton out for modern audiences and it’s not quite enough to redeem the game from the ‘mixed reviews’ category.  But, with that said, what they have done is produce the definitive version of the game and one that is sure to make fans of the Dreamcast version very happy.  It might not be our cup of tea but if you liked the original, you’ll like this.

One of the biggest legacy issues comes from the structure of the game.  As we said, the levels are pretty long and this is a problem if you die because you’ll need to go back to the start of the level (using up one of your five credits) unless you die on a boss battle, at which point you’ll just continue there.  The fifth level adds some extra bosses though and if you die on any but the last one, you’ll also have to restart.  Also, that level represents quite the difficulty spike, which ultimately was our undoing.  And due to the chaotic nature and viewpoint of the game, it’s hard to ‘learn’ the levels here.  Instead it feels like the way to survive is to always be moving, which then makes it hard to commit to sustained offence.

So, yeah, Rainbow Cotton isn’t going to win you over if you didn’t like the original and we’re not sure it’ll earn many fans from younger audiences, despite the cheery presentation and cutscenes, but if you’re looking for the definitive version of the game, this is certainly it.

Rainbow Cotton
6 Overall
+ Colourful visuals
+ Feels like an authentic port of the original
+ Some basic improvements implemented
- Still a bit of a pain to play
- Not necessarily fun either
- Stages can drag a bit
- Cotton still obscures the most important action
- Uneven difficulty
If you never liked Rainbow Cotton, this port doesn't do enough to really change that. But fans of the Dreamcast original will no doubt be very happy with this port as it's now the definitive version of the game.



About Richie

Rich is the editor of PlayStation Country. He likes his games lemony and low-budget with a lot of charm. This isn't his photo. That'll be Rik Mayall.

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