Review by Overdrive

"You aren't giving me much to work with here, guys...."

If I'd been the big cheese at Konami, there never would have been a multitude of TwinBee games released over multiple platforms. Hell, I never would have even allowed the characters of TwinBee and WinBee to even appear in my company's Parodius games as playable ships. They'd have been stricken from the record and my first prayer before falling asleep at night would be that no one ever remembered a single game bearing that name ever existed.

Because no matter how entertaining, amusing and downright fun those TwinBee games got as time went on, the NES version of the first entry in the series really gives Alpha Mission a run for its money for the “prestigious” title of Worst Nintendo Shooting Experience Ever!

The TwinBee series is in the same shooter niche as the Cottons, Fantasy Zones and many others. Dubbed “cute-em-ups” by those obsessed with the genre, games such as this take a more whimsical approach to things. Instead of fighting mutated helicopters and rejects from Alien, you tend to be taking on goofy foes like giant watermelons and big ol' pumpkin heads. The “cute-em-up” concept really is a wonderful one, as it's a great way to take a stale shooter and breathe new life into it. After all, who cares if that boss acts and fights just like 50 other bosses in 50 other games? It's a freaking planet with a smiley face — and, therefore, it's super cool!

Sadly, in 1986, Konami hadn't really mastered the formula to crafted a successful “cute-em-up” — a problem that really was put on display in their original TwinBee game. The short form of this review simply would say that TwinBee isn't cute, isn't appealing, isn't funny and isn't fun. It's simply impossible for me to thing of anything to say about this game that doesn't damn it to oblivion.

TwinBee only has five levels. After finishing the final one, you simply start over at a higher level of difficulty. There's no ending, no “congrats” screen, no credits or any other reward. A black screen simply says you're ready for the sixth level and you commence playing the first level with the action moving a bit quicker.

Of course, if it wasn't for that black screen popping up after boss fights to tell me what level I was ready to start working on, I'd never know this game had more than one stage. Four of the five five levels look nearly identical. In this vertically-scrolling game, you'll fly over small green islands and large green continents. The third stage varies things up, as the ground will be brown instead of green. Those backgrounds are sparsely and crudely decorated and add nothing to the action with the exception of a few small enemies that need to be bombed.

Those ground enemies tend to look like little pine cones, which makes them one of the rare foes that I actually can wager a guess as to what they MAY be. Of the many flying enemies (which come in what seems to be an infinite number of boring waves), many are so poorly drawn that you're left scratching your head. Bosses are even worse. Resembling small insect-shaped spaceships, there is nothing cute or interesting about these foes. You simply shoot for a little while, watch them disappear and move on to the next stage. To be honest, I can't remember EVER playing a NES-or-later shooter with bosses of such little quality.

Of a bit more interest to me was the game's actual mechanics. TwinBee has two modes of attack — a regular gun and a bomb. Nothing new here, as that was a pretty common set-up for most of those old shooters. However, the game made it so that if you take a hit, you don't necessarily perish immediately. One bullet to you will simply destroy your bombing device, forcing you to progress with only your standard bullets. While this isn't the advised way to do things, as you can't destroy the pine cones and you can miss out on some nice point bonuses and power-ups this way, it is nice to not die the second you screw up something.

The game's power-up system also was pretty interesting. While you can find a couple by using your bombs, you have to EARN most of them. Shoot one of the many clouds that float by and a bell might pop out. Start blasting the bell and it occasionally changes color. Grab that colored bell and TwinBee will be an improved little soldier. Blue bells make him quicker, while other colors can give him a pair of ghost ships, a shield or a double shot. This adds some entertaining challenge to the game, as to get the better power-ups, you have to essentially juggle a bell for some time — while dodging or blasting wave after wave of foes.

But the sad thing is that, as fun as that power-up system may be, it can't save this dog. TwinBee is a short, ugly game that also doesn't sound that good. A couple generic little shooter tunes combined with a series of annoying “beeps”, “blips”, “boops” and other mundane sound effects had me reaching my hand toward the mute button more than once. And, like I said, the enemies come in the same sorts of waves the entire game. You'll see a line of five enemies of one sort diving toward you. A few seconds later, a handful of another brand of baddie will divebomb your ship. Repeat that process about 20 more times and you're ready for that level's crappy boss. The more I think about it, the more I feel that power-up system may be the only positive aspect of TwinBee.

Which means I honestly have to give Konami a ton of credit. After this game, they were able to turn TwinBee into a very entertaining franchise that was showcased in the arcades and on the TG-16, SNES and other systems. Heck, just by playing the second (known as Stinger here) or third (Japan-only) NES games in the series, you can see an immense amount of improvement in virtually all aspects of the game. The TwinBee series became a very nice “cute-em-up” series — it's just that the first installment was a very lousy game that only has value to a person wanting their collection to be complete.

Reviewer's Rating:   1.0 - Terrible

Originally Posted: 01/04/05

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