Retro vertical shmups don't get much more colourful than TwinBee. Although it's an undeniable classic, does it still hold up in this day and age? Let's take to the skies, shoot at some clouds, and hope a few bells come out.
TwinBee originally released back in 1985 a couple of months before Gradius came out. It's played a lot like Namco's Xevious in that you shoot at enemy forces ahead of you and drop bombs on ground-based foes. Your thumbs have to be quick if you want to take care of every enemy because they get relentless. A nifty gimmick is that when you shoot at clouds, sometimes bells appear. Collecting these bells rewards you points. The more bells you collect in a row, the more points you get. But, you don't want points, do you? If you'd rather have power-ups then you can shoot the bells and juggle them until they change colour. Different coloured bells have effects such as doubling your firepower, increasing your speed, deploying doppelgangers, and materializing shields. The key to success is gathering as many of these power-ups as you can because every little upgrade will help you deal with the challenges ahead. Overall, the simple gameplay combines with this exciting power-up system to create one addictive 2D shooter.
Back in the day, it was rare for a shoot 'em up to be as cute as TwinBee. The colourful environments are great fun to soar over. There's a wide variety of enemy types, too. Most of them aren't what you'd expect because they range from carrots to knives to octopuses. To match this silliness, the music and sound effects are quite playful. Even shooting your gun sounds adorable and picking up power-ups results in a satisfying little ditty. In the end, it looks and sounds great for its time and it's still a joy to play today.
Believe it or not, this is my sixth review of an Arcade Archives game. If you've read any of my previous reviews then you know that I frequently complain about the lack of content in these releases. Although TwinBee doesn't feature everything that I'd like to see (such as a gallery with history, images, interviews, etc.), it goes above and beyond what I've come to expect from the series. You can play either the original "Bubble System" arcade version or the ported "ROM" version. However, the features that I'm very impressed by are the two additional high score modes. The first one tests how high of a score you can achieve with default options before depleting all of your lives and the second is basically the same except with a time limit of five minutes. Climbing the leaderboards in these modes is going to be tough so I wish you the best of luck if you decide to challenge them.
The main issues that I have with Arcade Archives: TwinBee are actually limitations of the game itself. As a huge TwinBee fan, I must say that the original sure doesn't hold up as well as its superior sequels. The most significant hurdle to overcome is that it gets intensely difficult very early on. Any shmup fan could make it past the first stage without any trouble, but from then on things become crazy. Enemies relentlessly hone in on you and can occupy any area of the screen so staying constantly moving is your only option. With so many hazards onscreen at once, it quickly becomes unbearably challenging. After playing for hours, I personally found it difficult to make it much further than stage 5 which is embarrassing to admit but after trying it for yourself; you'll agree that it's ridiculously difficult. To add to the challenge, your power-ups reset every time you bite the dust. This is expected, but your default speed is way too slow to dodge enemy fire. Therefore, you'll likely see the game over screen shortly after the first time you get hit. Finally, the boss battles can be grueling yet they're very repetitive and unimaginative when compared to a game like Darius. They mostly consist of small crafts that sometimes have objects rapidly rotating around them. I hate to say it, but that's just boring.
Before ending this review, I should mention that you can play cooperatively with a friend. Doing so allows you to perform awesome combination shots together but playing this way can be frustrating unless you're synchronized completely with the other player. Basically, it's an incredible feature that not many games took full advantage of in the mid-80s and it's still fun to try out nowadays.
If you're looking for an enjoyable vertical shmup then you won't be disappointed with TwinBee. Although it has its shortcomings, any retro video game enthusiast will find a lot to love about this old-school cute 'em up.
- + Simple retro shoot 'em up gameplay with a fantastic power-up mechanic
- + Cute presentation and satisfying audio
- + Additional high score modes are enjoyable
- - Difficulty becomes insufferably challenging much too early on
- - Default ship speed is way too slow
- - Bosses are repetitive and uninspired