Stinger is a sequel to the 1985 shmup Twinbee, though take that with a grain of salt. A “sequel” would imply that this is Twinbee 2, whereas I feel Twinbee 1.1 would be more accurate.
This is the first game in the Twinbee series that would come to North America, hence the change in the game’s title. In Japan, the game was known as Moero TwinBee: Cinnamon-hakase o Sukue! and came out only a year after the first game. As such, it largely follows the same formula.
The game is still a shoot-em-up where you collect new power-ups by shooting clouds and collecting the bells that pop out of them. You still have to juggle these bells with your shots until they change color, which is tricky to do while also avoiding enemies and their projectiles. New, however, are the horizontal-scrolling shmup stages, with Stinger switching between the two perspectives after every stage.
It’s interesting to have a game that switches between modes like this, but it’s a design choice mired in compromises and which, I feel, came at the cost of more valuable gameplay innovations and polish. I noticed that the power-ups this time around didn’t feel as useful and their effectiveness changed drastically between the two playstyles. Hit-detection was a big issue here, with especially the laser that pierces through enemies often passing through targets and bells without registering. Picking up points and power-ups also doesn’t seem to register unless you touch these dead-center.
Horizontal flying also doesn’t work well for Twinbee, which mixed flying and ground-based enemies. While in horizontal mode, the regular firing button also repeatedly lobs bombs to the ground. Since you are firing non-stop anyway, you are bound to hit these ground-based targets without even noticing. It’s also weird to basically crash your ship into the ground to collect the points these drop.
Stinger also has visual issues, as enemy sprites and projectiles are often obscured by the background. I constantly found myself dying to barely-visible projectiles, which wasn’t this bad of an issue in the previous game. I also wasn’t fond of the new boss-fights, as they are preceded by a minute of building suspense before the fight starts, which also features brightly-flashing screens. Unpleasant, and even dangerous to those who are at risk of suffering epileptic attacks.
I am being harsh on Stinger, but I really did expect more from a sequel. It feels like a step backwards and I don’t think the inclusion of horizontal stages adds enough to excuse the technical and presentation problems present here, though somebody who hasn’t played the original may be more forgiving. The game still has amazing visuals and cute sprite-art, it still has co-op shmup fun, and its gimmicks will still be fresh to many. It’s not without value, but I hope the next entry will innovate more and polish the many rough edges.