Konami's TwinBee is a timeless classic arcade shmup. More than a year after its debut, a console-exclusive sequel was released and later ported to the west under the title Stinger. Does this iteration live up to its predecessor? Dr. Cinnamon might know, but let me tell you.
When you first start playing Stinger, its bare-bones presentation will probably disappoint as there were many far better looking NES games by the time it came out here. After watching the odd opening scene, the lack of detail in the textureless stages and pure black backgrounds when you fight bosses will make you feel like you're playing an early 80s arcade game. Considering graphics aren't that significant of a factor when it comes to retro games, I'll just say that at least they don't get in the way of gameplay. Speaking of which, you get to play within both horizontally and vertically scrolling stages which is a fantastic way to help keep the campaign interesting. Other Konami shooters like Salamander and Axelay also took this approach which made them stand out from their peers. Overall, Stinger has a mostly bland presentation but the implementation of different perspectives more than makes up for that.
You play Stinger like most other shooters but it has a few TwinBee staples that give it a unique feel. You tap one button to shoot and another button to drop bombs in vertical stages (just like in Xevious) or release hearts above your head in horizontal stages. Power-ups mainly come in the form of the famous bells that change colour when shot enough. Collecting different colours of bells can give you a double-shot, laser, speed boost, or additional ghost ships that provide more firepower. The problem is that, unlike other TwinBee games, the bells take way too many hits to grant you something worthwhile. This is especially irritating in the horizontal stages because they fall to the ground much easier since they're frequently out of reach when enemies enter the screen. Anyway, its classic shmup gameplay still generally holds up. The best part about it is that you can play cooperatively with a buddy which was quite a rare feature for its time. Playing multiplayer is definitely worthwhile if you can find someone else who loves retro 2D shooters.
Now that we've gone over the basics, it's time to discuss Stinger's shortcomings. After completing the campaign, one nagging issue stood out which is the fact that enemy patterns are almost entirely unpredictable when you first see a new variety of foe. Unless you've already played through multiple times and memorized what every enemy looks like and how it behaves, you'll end up getting hit many times by their deceptive movement patterns. Of course, you can always stay back and observe but with so many enemy types in the mix, their sheer relentlessness is a nightmare to deal with. Some enemies spontaneously speed up, home in on you, swoop around in a circle, simultaneously spawn in all four corners, or fill the bottom of the screen thus giving you no room to manoeuvre when more foes come down from the top. It ends up feeling unfair since it forces you to memorize everything in order to succeed.
Finally, the stages themselves are very long, drawn-out, repetitive, and downright boring at times. Even though the enemies get exceptionally tough, you'll still wish there was something to break up the stages like mid-bosses since they go on forever and start to lose their appeal about two minutes in. You'd think that the boss at the end of every stage would be a relief, but most of them are incredibly uninspired and easy to defeat. I swear that many sections of the stages are much more difficult than any boss the game has to offer. So, that's all you do; fly through monotonous stages only to face a lame boss at the end.
As a fan of the TwinBee series, I must say that I expected much more out of Stinger. If you love the series then it's worth checking out but anyone just searching for a great retro shooter should probably look somewhere else.
- + Mix of vertical and horizontal stages provides some enjoyable variety
- + Classic shoot 'em up gameplay
- + Worthwhile cooperative multiplayer
- - Enemy patterns are haphazard and require a lot of memorization to master
- - Stages are drawn-out and repetitive
- - Disappointingly lame boss battles