"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
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.