Windjammers 2 should be a contender at The Game Awards

Nominations for The Game Awards have been announced for 2022, inspiring several articles about various games snubbed. However, there’s one exceptionally crafted game that received no recognition from Geoff Keighley and company, and was even glossed over by said articles. It’s a cruel double blow for a game that deserves much more recognition, and that’s Windjammers 2.

Windjammers 2 was released in January of this year and continues the vital work French development studio and publisher Dotemu has put forth over the past couple of years for taking classic games and breathing new life into them. 2020’s Streets of Rage 4 revitalized a series left in the dust since 1994, while this year, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge provided a loving and faithful tribute to the TMNT arcade classics of old.

For those not familiar, the original Windjammers, which started life in 1994 as a hybrid of pong, beach volleyball, and the most intense round of frisbee you’ve ever played in your life, grew a cult following over the years. It ended up with a healthy competitive scene in France, and several ports to consoles such as the PS4, Vita, and the Nintendo Switch. But while the ports were solid, the online play was at best functional and at worst unplayable.

This is something Windjammers 2 looked to solve and despite some teething issues at launch, the game went live with an online experience that finally matched up note for note with offline play – the delights of rollback netcode. And what an experience it is. Core gameplay centered on tight controls and lightning-fast reflexes. Brightly coloured characters with smooth animation complimented by a bombastic 80s guitar-fueled soundtrack. A savvy balance of throws and special abilities meaning no matter what your opponent throws at you, if you have the skill, you can send that disc right back. It retains the all-important Neo Geo experience so well you’d be forgiven for thinking this was a console port of an already-released arcade game.

So why was Windjammers 2 snubbed? For one, its January release doesn’t help – compound that with a tidal wave of heavy hitters in the past couple of months, and it’s easy to see why the disc-throwing game isn’t on people’s minds.

Looking specifically at The Game Awards, though, the Best Sports and Racing Game category has F1 22, FIFA 23, NBA 2K23, Gran Turismo 7, and OlliOlli World. Including FIFA – a series with minimal yearly revisions – is a choice. The Game Awards tends to go for that year’s flashy racing title, meaning GT7 is a likely winner, but I’d argue Windjammers 2 offers a competitive thrill that none of the above can match.

Best Art Direction is heavily and, almost embarrassingly, skewed towards the big-budget triple-A style of production and design. God of War Ragnarök and Horizon Forbidden West are two sides of the same – admittedly impressive-looking – coin and you could argue Stray could pass for an SIE production. Windjammers 2 continues Dotemu’s work of taking impressive pixel-art visuals and adding a sumptuous, hand-drawn, modern-day comic book sheen. There are many delicate touches, like the frisbee coming closer to the screen during an overhead lob or the sheer fire produced from special throws. The game really does pop off the screen, assisted by a blistering 60 FPS.

It’s also painful to see the revamped soundtrack lose a spot on the Best Score and Soundtrack category to Metal: Hellsinger, which is filled to the brim with Scandinavian metal, which is – let’s be honest – the worst kind of metal. Maybe Dotemu could have squeaked in a nomination if it had also booked Hozier to blast out a few tunes for the game.

The most significant point of contention – especially when you look at the contenders for Game of the Year – is a single-player campaign that feels stripped to the bare bones regarding content. If you’re looking for a meaningful character backstory or expecting someone to get thrown into a volcano – look elsewhere. However, crucially, the game retains the original’s spirit in that it shines brightest in local co-op and with a worthy opponent. You could argue that if the game were to be an actual Game of the Year contender, it should excel in single-player mode, but all that tells me is you’ve never been to the arcades.

Admittedly, Dotemu left several design choices on the chopping board that could have made the game more approachable to casuals, especially with the Game Pass option. Instead, it focused on the one thing that matters with a game like Windjammers 2: gameplay.

And if you focus on this core element alone, nothing else this year touches the exhilaration of high-octane disc throwing.