Stepping into any arcade in the '90s would see you engulfed by a familiar cacophony of sound; you would no doubt distinguish heated Street Fighter 'Hadoken' exchanges, hear the Mortal Kombat announcer shouting 'Excellent!' and perhaps even pick out Takenobu Mitsuyoshi screaming 'Rolling Start!' on top of his lungs. However, no arcade establishment worth its salt could be without the sound of frisbees (or 'flying power discs' if you prefer) violently bouncing against walls; Data East's Windjammers may have launched to lukewarm reviews but it went on to become one of the most popular two-player Neo Geo titles in memory, and now it's on Switch.
After a few moments with the game, you quickly realise that underneath the '90s radical extreme sports styling lies the DNA of one of the earliest examples of player-versus-player video games: Pong. The dot has been replaced with a round plastic disc, the paddles have been turned into six totally bodacious dudes and dudettes and the black emptiness of the playing field has replaced by colourful beach venues, complete with cheering audiences and defined goal-lines. Underneath this vibrant, colourful exterior lies the exact same objective you had in Pong: to trick your opponent into letting the ‘ball’ fly past him to score points. But the way you achieve this in Windjammers is why it still comfortably remains the pinnacle of 'versus' experience.
Upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that besides Pong there's also a little one-on-one fighting game DNA spliced into the formula. You could even argue that Data East's game has more in common with fighting games than it does with sporting ones, a conclusion that comes naturally when you realise you can perform input motions to add swerves to your throws or even pull off flashy special moves with ridiculously hard-to-predict flight patterns. For a simple two-button control layout, the amount of diversity you can add to your throws - and catches - is quite extensive, turning what at first appears to be a simple frisbee catch-and-receive outing into a compelling exercise of both your wits and your reflexes.
DotEmu - the company behind the port - hasn't taken the simple ‘emulation wrapper around the original MVS ROM’ approach for this release; instead, it has added some welcome 'quality of life' upgrades to the existing experience. Not only you can tinker with display filters to mimic old CRT scanlines and fiddle with the screen ratio (we're still baffled why anyone would want to play this in 16:9) you can also pick your soundtrack from the original MVS chiptunes or the fancy Red Book audio heard in the Neo Geo CD version. Newcomers to the franchise will also find handy tutorials that mean you'll quickly be on an equal footing with veterans. You can even quickly access the game’s two fun bonus games (‘Dog Distance’ and ‘Bowling’) right from the start instead of having to play against two versus CPU rounds. The gameplay is, of course, utterly spotless, with the same beautifully animated Neo Geo sprites dashing around the sand just the way you remember them; the controls are tight and responsive and the whole thing is a joy to play.
By far the biggest luxury of this re-release is the addition of online multiplayer, complete with leaderboards. Sadly, the servers were not live at the time of writing, so we were unable to ascertain the smoothness of the matchmaking and gameplay, but at least the Switch's hybrid nature means that even if you are locked out of Wi-Fi you can still enjoy the game - as long as you have like-minded friends around, of course. Simply remove the two Joy-Con and you've got an instant multiplayer contest. As was the case back in 1994, the short single player tournament can't hold a candle to getting a fellow player involved; solo players be warned.
Over the years, Windjammers has slowly achieved cult status due to its simple pick-up-and-play controls that hide complex mechanics that only become apparent the more you play against human opponents. Data East’s extreme sports versus title has now arrived on the ultimate multiplayer-friendly console, once again brandishing the same fast and addictive gameplay that had us hooked in 1994. Despite the passing of the decades the core gameplay still manages to entertain, and the 2D visuals have likewise stood the test of time rather well. The bone of contention remains the single-player side of things; if you're playing alone, you'll get bored relatively quickly. However, with online play and easy-to-configure local multiplayer, there's plenty of scope to embrace the game's true USP: two-player action.