Pop'n Twinbee
Box Shot
Pop'n Twinbee
Platform: Super Famicom
Publisher: Konami
Designer: Konami
Genre: Shoot-em-up
Players: 2 (Simultaneous)
Published Date 1993
Reviewed by: Kurt Kalata

"You'll be the envy of shooter fans everywhere." This is what fellow shoot-em-up fanatic (and Classic Review Archive reviewer) Bryan Cord told me when I mentioned I got my paws on a copy of the Super Famicom game Pop'n Twinbee. It's regarded as the best Twinbee game out there, and one of the finest shooters on the platform by video game gurus.

The saga of Twinbee is one of the many tragedies of the history of home video gaming (and who else would propogate this other than Konami?) Originally an arcade game released in Japan in 1985, the Twinbee series soon spawned a few Famicom titles (one of them was released here in America, known as Stinger. Ironically, it's the worst of the bunch.) Beyond that, Konami figured that the game was too cute and too weird to appeal to the American market, and any other Twinbee games were denied to gamers outside of Japan.

It's these things that make nerds like me break down and cry because of some ignorant executive decisions. Especially when the game is as good as Pop'n Twinbee.

At first a bit of an explanation...the stars of the series is a duo of sentient ships named the Twinbee (the blue one) and the Winbee (the pink one. On a side note, there's also the Gwinbee, their little brother, but he doesn't make an appearance here.) It's an overhead shooter taking place in a weird pastel world filled with evil fruit and flying panda bears. Instead of taking place in outer space, all of the battles are high in the sky over the Earth, landscapes, waterfalls and cities. The basic gameplay bears a slight resemblance to that old arcade classic Xevious, in that you can throw bombs to attack ground-based enemies.

As with most Japanese games, I'm not clear on the plot, but it seems that the evil Dr. Mardock (hey, only one letter off from my ex-girlfriend's name...does that mean something?) is planning to take over the world with his legion of strange looking blobby thingies. And he's also seemingly kidnapped a cute little girl named Madoka! As the pilots of the Twinbee and Winbee, one or two players can fly through seven levels of bizarre and cute shooting action.

You'll find that the power-up system works much different from anything you've seen before. Along the way you'll find huge grinning clouds. Shoot them, and a little bell pops out. If you keep shooting the bell, it will turn different colors. A standard colored copper bell will just give you points, but other colors will make your ship stronger...blue will speed up your ship, red will give you a shield, purple will give you a three-way beam, grey will give you a cannon, and green will give you a little pod clone (whose AI you can set right at the beginning of the game...choose from the standard shadow movement, the rotating motion, or a unique expanding movement where the pods move to the extremities of the screen and move perpendicularly in relation to where your ship is.)

Unlike many shooters, you actually have a life meter. So you really don't have to worry about losing your powers if you get hit, and hearts can be found regularly by bombing enemies on the ground. But each time you get hurt, you lose one of your little pod options. The game only allows four pods on the screen at one time, but if you gather any extra green bells, they're stored...so if you lose one, another one will take it's place without you even knowing it. In case the screen gets crowded, you can use a Chibi Punch, which sends tons of little pods killing nearly everything on the screen. You can find additional Chibis by getting flashing bells, but it's still best to conserve them for certain moments.

There's even a few other things that sets the gameplay apart from other games of the type. First off, you can actually punch bad guys...in addition to being more powerful than your simple bullets, it will also deflect enemy bullets. The game also stresses two-player gameplay more than most games of the type. You can transfer energy between the Twinbee and Winbee if you like, and you can even grab your companion and throw him/her bouncing around the screen, without any damage sustained!

Don't think that with the cutesy exterior, the game will be easy. While the first few levels don't seem very hard, even at the lower difficulty settings (there are seven total), Pop'n Twinbee gets almost insanely hard by the time you get to the sixth level. The screen will be absolutely littered with bullets, enemies, and monstrous evil Twinbee clones. You'll be using your Chibi Punches faster than you'll ever realize.

I'd bet that most people would write off the graphic style in this game, but I honestly like it quite a bit...it's a nice change from the bleak, outer-space or post-apocalyptic theme of almost every other shooter out there. Quite simply, it earns points for being different. Of course, the actual execution is excellent is well. Pop'n Twinbee really gives the illusion of flying high over cities or bizarre lego-lands... one level even has the Twinbee/Winbee duo flying over a levitating clone of the Great Wall of China.

The music is typically suits the game, and most of it is excellent. Still, the instruments feel a bit on the empty and souless side, especially when you consider the other games in the Twinbee series. Instead of wacky drums and flutes, there's just a subdued choir voice, a trumpet and some flat string pieces. I actually expected something a bit more on the wacky side, but that really doesn't reduce the quality of the music by much. But this is one of the few games where I can actually bring up the sound effects as being a valuable asset. I absolutely love the Twinbee's voice, whenever he grabs a power-up or screams as he's shot down from the air. Even better is the sound of the Chibi...as the Twinbee or Winbee bloats up, it makes a very amusing "POP" noise when they seemingly give birth to a gamut of tiny little clones. Even more amusing is the way a few of the bosses explicably belt out the first few notes of one of Beethoven's symphonies before attacking.

And all of this adds up to what every game should be: fun. Everything flows perfectly, from the intense action to balanced difficulty to enemy placement and attacks. Sure, the weaponry system is a bit thin (especially without the R-Type-eqsue charging beams found in other games in the Twinbee series) but it really doesn't need anything complicated. It's fine as it is. I think that marketing directors should actually play games before writing them off because of their cutesy themes (the opposite works too...some games are written off because they're too mature. But that isn't the point of this review.) Because to be quite honest, Pop'n Twinbee is one of the most fun shooters on it's platform, perhaps one of the most enjoyable ever...now I realize why it's held in such a high regard. If you see this game, pick it up...price does not matter.