The humble shoot ’em up is a troubled genre when it comes to retro consoles. While there are many games that did it exceptionally well, it was a formula that allowed itself to be easily copied and hacked together by amateurs. There are so many bland shooters out there that it makes the shmup scene look bad as a whole. Fortunately, for every Exed Exes, there is Twinbee close by to show them how it’s done.
This Konami classic is of the vertical-scrolling variety and has players control a little spaceship as it crosses seas and continents underneath. You have front-facing guns with which to blast enemies that swoop in from the top of the screen, as well as two arms on the side that throw bombs at foes on the ground.
Enemies travel in a variety of patterns and most of them have fun, colorful designs that are easy to distinguish, if a little generic. You got some novel enemies like knives that fire a shot and then journey in a stabbing motion downward, but most foes are just going to be random circle-like objects that harass you with projectiles. Still, learning how each one attacks is vital if you want to make it through the levels, which become pretty intense and busy as the game goes on.
A novel feature is that your ship can be upgraded, but this requires a trick. Clouds that drift by can be shot, whereupon a bell will pop out that grants points. You can also shoot the bell and juggle it, which is a fun bit of physics, but also serves a purpose. As you shoot the bell, it has a chance to change its color and become a power-up. You can increase your speed, receive shields, upgrade your guns, and even receive afterimages that follow you and fire shots as well.
The upgrade system is nice, but I recommend upgrading as much as possible early on and clinging to those upgrades with all your life. Later levels are so busy and fast that trying to count shots on the bells requires some serious multi-tasking. That is, if those bells ever come down to begin with. In some of these levels I am confident in saying that if those bells are actually coming back down, you probably aren’t shooting enough.
As is often the case, getting hit once will destroy your ship. You have 3 lives, but with each respawn you lose all of your upgrades and have to start again from scratch. You can “luck out” if you are hit from the side, which will only destroy the arms, but this leaves you unable to throw bombs that are almost required to make it through some of the gauntlets later on. You can also get a shield to receive an extra hit and there is an ambulance that restores the arms, but these are so rare that I have had entire playthroughs without seeing them.
Twinbee‘s colorful visuals and challenging gameplay are what makes it worth playing. It does recycle backdrops and there isn’t much of a story, but it’s a pleasant game to play and offers the intense shmup experience that its lesser competitors so dearly lack. Especially the boss-fights were fantastic and the bell system offers a nice risk vs reward balance.