Rainbow Cotton Review - Screenshot 1 of 5
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

Developer Success’s flagship franchise since 1991, Cotton's enigmatic Halloween world and cutesy-witchy theme struck a chord with fans of the shoot-'em-up genre. Its zany premise of broomsticking across badlands in search of delicious candy, coupled with a magical mix of coloured gem grabbing, weapon power-ups, flashy bomb attacks, and mouthy fairies, have been staples in every instalment since the beginning.

Bar one pachinko outlier, most Cotton games follow the same 2D horizontal shooting format, including 2021's Cotton Fantasy: Superlative Night Dreams. But with Panorama Cotton, a 1994 Mega Drive exclusive and one of the system’s most technically impressive titles, Success switched the action to a 3D perspective, plotting the camera behind Cotton's back. It delivered a Space Harrier-style dynamic across eye-bleedingly colourful stages, occasionally with varying paths. Despite being a graphical showcase for the system, it wasn't as critically well-received as its predecessors, never appeared overseas (until 2021), and had a famously low print run.

Rainbow Cotton Review - Screenshot 2 of 5
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

Nevertheless, Success wanted one more attempt at the 3D rail-shooter format, conceptualising a new game for Sega’s Dreamcast. A relatively new team worked around the clock for months before launching Rainbow Cotton in 2000. Now, ININ Games has pinched it from the back catalogue and given it a full HD makeover. As colourful as ever and impressively crisp, it's now adapted for widescreen and features a few key gameplay enhancements.

All the animated cutscenes are now subtitled in English, but the in-game fairy chatter remains untranslated and is honestly a little intrusive. Thankfully, it can be turned off in the options. Elsewhere, a two-player co-op mode has been added, although this is more a novelty where a second player can control Cotton's fairy option, Silk, by homing in on various targets. The untampered original is also present, sitting under the ‘Retro Mode’ option - a nicely emulated bonus for enthusiasts.

When the Cotton series is at its peak, it's a fun, wacky, but well-considered affair offering a weapon enhancement ladder and an economy of magic attacks available by cycling gem colours. Rainbow Cotton has the same charm and much the same structure, but thanks to its perspective shift, less of the clarity. This is a different type of game, one that relies on action, set pieces, and arcade chaos.

Rainbow Cotton Review - Screenshot 3 of 5
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

What Rainbow Cotton does scream from the rooftops, however, is an incredible amount of ambition. Success’s team, despite being largely newcomers, went all-in to make a dazzling affair full of fantasy spectacle and impressive boss encounters. Where Panorama Cotton did a good job scaling flat objects on the Mega Drive, Rainbow Cotton has the advantage of fully realised 3D worlds coupled with the Dreamcast’s delicious polygon engine. And it positively pops with its high definition, widescreen scrub-up. The night-lit Christmas-themed opening stage, peppered with little houses and breakable barrels about the cobblestone path, really hits the right atmospheric notes. The rail soars you above an endless pink ocean and underwater into a lost, sunken city. It emerges from dank, lava-pooled caves into sun-bathed fields and villages.

It only has five stages and an extended final boss encounter, but those stages are long and littered with interesting features and secrets. The boss fights are well thought out, for the most part, and there are different paths to take, too, allowing the campaign to be played several different ways. Arrows highlight moments where you can go left or right, up or down, or shoot signs to send you down entirely new routes and up against new mid-bosses. The first stage's split path occurs at the town square, where you're beckoned either right or left by two shop fronts: head left and you take on a train assault over a railway bridge, its transforming compartments filled with cannon-wielding enemies; or head right to the river for a sterner challenge against a giant pumpkin mid-boss.

Rainbow Cotton Review - Screenshot 4 of 5
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

You have a limited amount of freedom to roam the screen, but, while you can't direct the camera completely, you can shift the action depending on the available space, as well as steer through specific gaps and under or over objects. You bounce off of scenery should you collide with it, and it doesn't cost any health. At best, it momentarily disrupts your flight line, requiring you to quickly get your bearings. Your crosshair represents your firing line, and you can hold the button for autofire or tap it for a slightly faster, more damaging shot.

Your goal is to use stage one to power up as much as possible, making bosses a great deal easier. When gold-coloured floating jugs appear, easily spotted by the face adorning their front, you can shoot them for bonuses. Some carry extra fairies, which circle you like options and fly off to attack enemies on your behalf, as well as health items, points, or critically, gems. Like all Cotton titles, the initial yellow gem powers up your shot and it's imperative you grab as many as possible, ideally forgoing magic entirely on the first stage. Otherwise, the gems change colour when struck, allowing you to grab red, blue, or green for various magic bomb attacks. Some of these rain an electricity storm down on the screen, others call on a meteor shower.

Rainbow Cotton Review - Screenshot 5 of 5
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

Making the most of the bonus jugs is integral to beating the game. You often have to train your fire on them while everything else is happening around you, which can be tricky in later stages. If you don't keep shooting the jugs they eventually head past you, off-screen and out of range. Thankfully, one of the best new features in this HD remaster is a new lock-on ability, whereby holding the button allows you to trace a target onto an enemy. Once done, your fairy options will hone in on those specific targets. That means when a jug appears, your fairies will keep it in play and doling out power-ups while you take care of everything else around you. It may seem a simple extra, but it's so practical, clever, and necessary an addition that it instantly elevates this to the definitive version of the game. Be aware the lock-on and other new features, such as boss health bars, are absent in Retro Mode.

Rainbow Cotton was never considered a great game, but there's certainly a very good game in here, it just takes a little dedication to eke out. One of its primary issues is that Cotton obscures a fair amount of the screen. You can't actually see what's directly in front of you when you're flying straight, and there's a certain amount of guesswork involved with this. Space Harrier, for example, has the same problem, but that game has far less happening than Rainbow Cotton, where you're applying yourself to several tasks simultaneously. It's not overly difficult to learn, and the new widescreen format makes things a lot easier to handle, but it will still take a few concerted efforts to settle into.


Although there's room for improvement in ININ's presentation, and it would have been nice to get a few more bonus unlockables, this is still the best version of Rainbow Cotton around thanks to its silky smooth frame rate, lovely upscaling, widescreen formatting, and all-important gameplay enhancements. It's a fun, at times spectacular, novelty adventure in the Cotton universe, that can occasionally feel confusing and cluttered. Stick with it, though, and an enjoyable and genuinely charming rail shooter bubbles to the surface.