Updated: Feb 7, 2022
A relatively obscure coin-op release, Windjammers is nonetheless often ranked among the best games on the legendary Neo-Geo MVS (Multi Video System) arcade hardware. Unleashed in 1994 by the low-rent yet beloved Data East Corporation, Windjammers is in reality little more than a re-skinning of the classic Pong concept. But you won't do better for a fast-paced, competitive game with catchy music and effectively-simple visuals. Windjammers is ridiculously fun with two players, and still a great game when played against the computer. The cartridge has been running in my home arcade for years. (These games have since been moved from New York to Arizona!)
Here's an overview of the Windjammers gameplay. None of this is as complicated as it sounds, and in fact you could just skip over my OCD and get right to the video below. A combination of tennis and soccer, two players square off in six different courts and hurl a "flying disc" (Frisbee is a registered trademark!) at each other, trying to make it hit the opponent's net. The net stretches the height of the court, and is divided up into different point zones: mainly three points, with two smaller areas being worth five. The placement of the point zones varies by court, and some courts have partitions which will put English on the disc when struck. If the disc is failed to be caught by either player, the opposing side receives two points.
Even if a player catches the disc, if he or she doesn't resist the impact and hits the back of the net, it still counts as a point for the opponent. The winner is determined after the best two out of three rounds. If the first round is a tie, the second round becomes the third round. If there's a tie after three rounds, the game goes into sudden death, wherein the first point decides the match.
Windjammers offers six characters, each with different strengths. The disc can be thrown at different speeds and directions via the joystick, or lobbed with the B button.
There are also a couple of mini games contained within Windjammers. The first, appearing after two of the six opponents have been defeated, is called "Dog Distance." In it, the player controls a pooch in pursuit of the disc along the beach, jumping over sunbathers.
Beat a couple more suckers into submission, and you're treated to "Flying Disc Bowling," a truly surreal experience that's exactly what it sounds like!
A few years back, Retro Gamer magazine ranked Windjammers as one of their Perfect Ten titles on the Neo-Geo, an impressive feat considering the platform is host to 156 official releases, with very few stinkers. In addition to the arcade software, Windjammers is available for the Neo-Geo home consoles. Pushing a decade ago, I owned the Neo-Geo CD version, but I sold it when I picked up my MVS Windjammers cartridge. The Neo CD release had longer match times (ninety-nine seconds instead of the arcade's default of thirty), and the game really dragged. Windjammers is a title you should be able to breeze through. (Thank you! I'll be here all week.)
There are some regional differences in the game: It's known in Japan as Flying Power Disc. The British character S. Miller (named after Data East's musical composer Steve Miller) is renamed in the Korean version as B. Yoo, and also receives a different voice, speaking Korean instead of English. An interesting side note is that almost all of Data East's games for the Neo-Geo had regional differences. Let's look at some! Any of the following titles may get their own Retro Injection article at some point.
A basketball game known by the titles Dunk Dream (Japan), Street Hoop (Europe) and Street Slam (USA) was another fantastic release, known for its polished three-on-three street basketball action and extensive use of cheesy basketball-themed rap vocals, written specifically for the game by Steve Miller. The Japanese and European versions of the game represented its teams from being around the world, while the American Street Slam made them from different U.S. states. I own Dunk Dream on the Neo-Geo home cartridge system. I'll take this over Midway's NBA Jam any day.
The Japanese Fighter's History Dynamite is known elsewhere as Karnov's Revenge. This release was the first sequel to Fighters History, which survived a Street Fighter II copyright infringement lawsuit from Capcom. I used to have Fighters History Dynamite on home cartridge, but it was so abysmal, I parted ways with it. Karnov's Revenge is currently available for download on the PlayStation 4, but I'm not sure why anyone would want it.
The side-scrolling, yo-yo flinging platformer Spinmaster is known in Japan as Miracle Adventure. This excellent game is also available for download on the PS4.
A prototype game called Ghostlop is the only Data East Neo-Geo game without any regional changes. It was originally slated for release in 1996, but failed to surface until years later as an unofficial, fan-produced MVS cartridge. Once these bootlegs of the completed game started to circulate, many players regarded Ghostlop as one of the best experiences on the Neo-Geo. Sometimes referred to as Data East's Ghostlop, in 2012 it was released on the Steam gaming network by G-Mode, the primary holder of Data East's intellectual properties. (Data East itself filed for bankruptcy is 2003.) Here's my bootleg MVS copy of Ghostlop:
But let's get back to Windjammers. I'm such a huge fan that I jumped at the chance a few years ago to get a custom-made shirt bearing a rendition of the title screen artwork, with the Data East logo on the back. The company which produced this garment is no longer with us, but they didn't fold on my account: I also bought their Capcom 1943 Kai and Nazca Neo Turf Masters shirts. They used to include fun freebies in the packaging; this Windjammers shirt came with a mini green flying disc. Shockingly, I actually threw that away.
Windjammers is a game which inexplicably didn't get an official release on any system besides the Neo-Geo until recently, when it appeared as a downloadable title on Sony's PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch. Also, after all these years, it's received an indie-produced sequel! The gaming public at large can now experience what only a lucky few had known.
In 2018, Fangamer released the score for Windjammers on vinyl. With pixelated sleeve artwork, eighteen tracks from the game and a 2017 remix track, this record is an example of how strong Windjammers fandom runs. And how appropriate for it to be on a format you can throw to your dog! (Don't actually do that with your records; Fangamer also released an official Windjammers Frisbee!) It's too bad Data East isn't around to see the resurgence of Windjammers, but at least the game's legacy hasn't been tossed. (I'll stop now.)