The first installment in the Cotton series – Cotton: Fantastic Night Dreams – came out in Japanese arcades way back in 1991. Part of a subgenre of shoot ’em ups known as ‘cute ’em ups’ thanks to their colourful and appealingly cartoony styles and subject matter, Cotton featured a witch (the Cotton of the title) and her companion, Silk, riding on their broomsticks and taking down legions of enemies in a quest for candy. Yes, candy – or rather, Willow candy specifically, which Cotton is obsessed with.

The first Cotton game was remade last year as Cotton Reboot! – but there have been numerous sequels in the intervening years. Cotton Fantasy is the latest game in the series – and it’s a game that seems to have retained all of the charm that the series has been known for over the last three decades.

There’s an awful lot of variety in the colourful, reasonably accessible shooting action too; with six diverse characters to choose from and a number of variations on the scrolling shoot ’em up formula, with vertical and horizontally scrolling levels featuring, as well as lots of really well designed enemies and bosses.

Going back to the accessibility of the game, it’s not a hardcore, bullet hell shoot ’em up by any means, despite the challenge becoming more significant towards the end of the game (as you’d expect). Rather, players can expect a stiff challenge only if they select one of the higher difficulty levels; otherwise, this is as welcoming an experience as you can find in the genre, which is truly refreshing. Far too often, shoot ’em ups – even cute ’em ups – feel as if they’re designed only for old school, hardcore gamers – leaving most of us mere mortals unable to progress much beyond the opening stages. I’m pleased to report that this isn’t the case with Cotton Fantasy, which is a charming and fun game throughout, without resorting to the frustrating and sometimes cheap-feeling tactics that are usually employed by games of this nature.

The characters on offer really do change the tactics available to players too, with each one also featuring their own exclusive level, which unlocks once you complete the game with them. This extra level is also themed around the specific character’s abilities and style too, adding further variety to what is already an impressively varied game.

Having not been able to keep up with many shoot ’em ups in the last few years – those aging reflexes are to blame – I’ve not had this much fun with a shooter for a very long time. Cotton Fantasy is a genuinely engaging, well designed and appealingly colourful game that I can heartily recommend. Only hardcore shoot ’em up enthusiasts may come away feeling underwhelmed by the experience, but even then I can’t see how they could fail to be impressed by the sheer variety of levels and playstyles on offer.

Cotton Fantasy is out now on Switch and PS4. Many thanks to PR Hound for providing me with a code for Cotton Fantasy for review purposes.

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