Review: Cotton Fantasy [PS4]

In 1991, developer Success released a unique side-scrolling shooter starring an adorable witch named Cotton: Fantastic Night Dreams in Japanese arcades. Cotton would be ported to multiple home consoles, and the series would continue in sequels, predominantly in Japan only. The series gained a cult following across the world soon after. 

Success never forgot the franchise. In 2021, they teamed up with ININ Games to bring the series back with Cotton Reboot!, a remake of the first game that gained confident reception from the fanbase. Now, after 22 years since their last installment, it’s time for a new entry into the franchise.

Cotton Fantasy (known as Cotton Rock ‘n’ Roll in Japan) is finally over here state-side! Thankfully, developer Success and publisher ININ games have brought back the series with love and care for its 30th anniversary. And that’s coming from a first-time player of the franchise! During my time with Cotton Fantasy, I recognized quickly why the series has a cult fanbase.

Cotton: Fantastic Night Dream

Cute-Em-Up 101

First and foremost, we should clarify that Cotton Fantasy falls into the category dubbed by the gaming community as a “cute-em-up.” This is a sub-genre of the shoot-em-up genre that specifically involves cute protagonists, enemies and art design. The Cotton series has been one of the most prominent examples used for years to describe the sub-genre. So Cotton Fantasy gets that down, right? Absolutely. 

Our “Cute ’em Up Mega Meter” hit 10 right out of the gate once we saw the adorable art and character designs, which establish a pleasant and unique feel. Even the enemies can be endearingly cute, but all that cuteness takes a left turn once you reach the first boss fight. We won’t reveal how, but it definitely took us by surprise!

While the characters and world are full of charm, the story is rather on the light side. But the story is funny in where it goes for each character! It’s enough to be a way to get from level to level and give some laughs.

Cotton Fantasy 5

Be on your toes

For how much we’ve gushed over about the “cute” factor, I we haven’t even delved into the core gameplay itself. Let me make something clear. If you think because Cotton Fantasy is cute, it will be easy? No way. Get that thought out of your head right now. Cotton Fantasy is a shoot-em-up at its core and a challenging one. Enemies will barrage you at all points with as many bullets as possible. Sometimes even filling up the whole screen. You will feel like you’re facing inescapable death if you don’t know what you’re doing. Thankfully, the game gives you more than enough mechanics to utilize to survive. 

The core mechanic to gameplay is the magic system that your characters’ attacks utilize. Characters have three types of magic that alter your shots: wind, electric, and fire. As you defeat enemies, they will drop crystals of different colors. Grab these, and your magic will change to the designated color. But if you grab a yellow crystal, you will gain EXP to level up your attacks. Deciding what crystals to snatch and how to get yellow ones becomes a strategic way of survival as the game goes along.

You got weapons at your disposal

Accompanying your main shot, you also have a bomb per life that can dispose of all enemies and enemy bullets on screen. Furthermore, it turns them all into bells that can give you a score multiplier to rack up points. While that’s a cool feature, the bombs become more necessary for survival in hectic firefights. That and utilizing your special attack. Each magic has a special hold attack that can take out a sizeable amount of enemies on screen.

Both these come at a cost, though. Use your special attack, and you lose that magic until you find its corresponding crystal. Use a bomb, and you lose it for the rest of your run until a game over resets them. Plus, at least with Cotton, using bombs causes you to lose firepower with your fairies disappearing. It’s an ingenious way to make sure you only use them when absolutely necessary. Use them too early in a boss fight, and you’re done for. It was a mechanical usage I found very refreshing to raise the challenge on further replays.

Mixing retro with modern

One factor that worried me going into Cotton Fantasy was how effectively they’d combine old-school mechanics with modern sensibilities. Fortunately, this fear left within minutes of playing.

There’s an abundance of elements from old-school shoot-em-ups that mix with modern technology to excellent effect in Cotton Fantasy. The scrolling through 3D sections at points is marvelously handled. The vistas you zoom by in levels sometimes are awe-inspiring to see. Cotton has always been substantial at scrolling techniques, and Fantasy continues that trend in fantastic ways. 

The soundtrack is another standout as well. Composer Kenichi Arakawa manages to make a fresh and cute vibe to every level. Each track feels like they have elements of the shooters from the 16-bit days while mixing in the modern techno-style beats we see in current indie titles. It’s quickly become one of my favorite soundtracks of the year from a game. 

The last modern feature I believe will get a lot of attention is the leaderboards. I’m not too big on ranking my scores in games with others. But I know there’s a massive market for players like that. Rest assured, the game has you covered. Leaderboard rankings will show your specific route and score once you complete the game. I’ll be curious to see how high people get on the game’s release and what paths they take!

Cotton Fantasy isn’t for everyone. And that’s ok!

It’s hard to wrap up this review without bringing up some criticisms of Cotton Fantasy. For starters, this game is not for everyone. There are people who will never get behind shoot-em-ups as a genre. And there are definitely some that won’t get past cute-em-ups. This game won’t change your mind on those fronts. It’s both of them unapologetically. 

The game’s $40 price tag could be a bit high for newcomers, who are already unsure about it. Plus, players might be irked that it’s tailored for massive replay value instead of one long campaign. There are 16 levels to potentially play through, and six characters to play as with more you can unlock. But you see all levels through multiple short playthroughs with the different characters.

While those marks didn’t bother us, we do feel compelled to bring them up for those who might be on the fence. This game brings the heavy feel of the titles of the arcade days. And while we love that, ws know some would rather wait for a game to be on sale to indulge in that style of play. 

Final Thoughts

We appreciate that ININ is working hard with developers to bring old franchises like these back. It becomes clear with every new title that they care to bring these series back accordingly. Success should feel proud that they can get new fans to play like me to enjoy this classic series in a new entry. Now go grab some candy like Cotton and enjoy the cuteness!

Cotton Fantasy is developed by Success and published ININ Games. It’s available now on Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4/5 digitally and physically.




Cotton Fantasy is a sensational return for the franchise while also being approachable enough for new players. By mixing shoot-em-up mechanics with modern graphics and performance, Success and ININ have brought the series back to a new light. Fans of the series will be ecstatic to have the franchise back in a new adventure. Who knows, newcomers might even find themselves enjoying the game more than they initially think.

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Alex Lehew

28-year-old gamer, writer, content creator, weeb, and Sega fan! I'm old enough to remember when you played Sonic The Hedgehog 2 on a CRT, or how weird Revelations: Persona is. Constantly begging Atlus to make Snowboard Kids 3.
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