If you read my reviews regularly then it should be no secret that I like to play and review old games. But this week is a special occasion because while yes I am reviewing a retro arcade title, this happens to be one that I hadn’t actually played before. In fact I had never even heard of Konami’s TwinBee (1985) until I decided to review the Arcade Archives PS4 port. In a lot of ways this was a really refreshing experience because I was able to play the game without bringing any personal history into it and could just enjoy it in its current form and think about it at face value.
Arcade Archives: TwinBee is an aerial shooter similar to games like Galaga, save for the fact that it’s not set in space. Though it’s not nearly as iconic, in many ways it’s a better game than its Namco counterpart. This game is set on an island that is currently in the throes of war. But because of the food theme, the game doesn’t look as dark as you would expect. There are two playable ships, which are similar but not identical in visual design. Both ships are more round and cute than fierce-looking. In similar style, the enemies aren’t that intimidating either. You’re facing things like flying pea pods, carrots, and kitchen ware. The land based enemies are things like pineapples and mushrooms. The pickups consist of fruits, stars, and bells. The color scheme is very vibrant and kid-friendly. Playing the game is kind of just a happy experience that doesn’t really match up with the supposed plot. Well except for the fact that it’s actually pretty hard, like all games from that era. I have yet to make it past stage 3.
There are four different modes of play, but I don’t really get one of them. You have the standard three you get in all Arcade Archives games. Original Mode is the unaltered arcade version. Hi-Score Mode is just Original Mode with no pausing or saving so you can’t augment your score in any way. Caravan Mode is just Hi-Score Mode with a five minute timer. But there’s also ROM Mode. I have no idea what the significance of this is because it’s not explained in the manual, which is a first in my experience with the Arcade Archives collection. HAMSTER kind of dropped the ball here. It plays exactly the same as Original Mode so I assume it’s just a ROM version of the game that some people preferred for some reason so they felt the need to include it.
This version of TwinBee runs smoothly for the most part. I felt like I had the slightest amount of lag occasionally, but I think it had more to do with the limitations of the game’s performance because of when it was made than any actual problems with the port. The enemies, controls, and power-ups all moved very well. The default version of the screen is very thin, but you can stretch it to fit any size screen. I will say though that when you play Hi-Score Mode you are not able to do this and must play it in its thin default form. The HUD is pretty standard for the time period, putting the hi-score in the top-middle, your score to the left for player one and the right for player two, and lives in the bottom corner of the screen, also contingent on which player you are. I was impressed by a lot of the power-ups available in the game from a visual standpoint. There were even a few that I’d never really seen before in basically any game. Ultimately it’s a dated, but visually pleasing experience.
The gameplay is pretty much every space shooter you’ve ever played with a few additions. All you can do is move around the screen in four directions, shoot bullets, and shoot bombs. But whenever you shoot bombs you also shoot bullets so it makes sense to just always use the bomb button in all honesty. The buttons are fully mappable, as is the case with all Arcade Archive titles. The enemies are mostly airborne and fly around in patterns similar to the ones in Galaga, but there are also stationary land based enemies that can only be hit with bombs. Even though they are on the ground and you are flying through the air, when you fly over the item drops of ground-based enemies you pick them up just like drops from airborne enemies. And in the same way ground enemies can damage you just like airborne enemies can. There are boss fights at the end of each stage and they work exactly how you would imagine them to. They are basically impossible without some sort of active power-up. Power-ups are one of the more interesting, but also irritating parts of the game.
One thing that’s really well done is the ship’s arms. The ship has two arms, which allow you to throw bombs. When you take a hit from either side, you lose that corresponding arm and the ability to throw bombs from that side. Losing both arms removes your ability to throw bombs. When this happens repair drones are sometimes sent out which, if you grab them, will restore both your arms. A direct hit to the body results in an instant death.
Power-ups come from collecting bells, which come randomly from shooting clouds, but they aren’t stationary. As soon as a bell appears it starts falling towards the bottom of the screen. They can be missed if not caught. They almost always start as yellow and picking them up in this form yields only points. But if you keep shooting them they change color. Each color is a different power-up. The problem is that once they change color, a single shot on them will change them back to yellow removing the power-up. You can keep shooting them to get another power-up but trying to grab the bell, without hitting it again, while dodging around and trying to shoot enemies can be rather hard even in the first stage. And it takes many more shots to get them to change color to a power-up again. There are many different types of power-ups. Some are common like shields and screen clear bombs. But some are quite original like my favorite one, which gives the ship three or four after images, all of which can shoot at the same time. It’s like piloting multiple ships at once with multiplied firepower. It’s definitely not comparable to modern shoot ‘em ups, but the gameplay is well done for something from literally 30 years ago.
I was very happy with the sound. The one song in the game is a very happy tune that again goes with the visual style but really doesn’t mesh with the plot that supposedly inspired the game. The sound effects are varied and quite appropriate. Hitting the bell, dying, killing enemies, picking up item drops, boss fights. Everything has its own special sound. HAMSTER always does a good job with their Arcade Archive ports when it comes to sound quality and mixing options and TwinBee is no exception.
There is no writing in the actual game to speak of, but the Arcade Archives manual provides a very concise version of what appears to be quite the epic background story. “Use the ships TwinBee and WinBee, created by Dr. Cinnamon, to fight against King Spice’s forces and take back Donburi Island.” That’s all you get but it’s some pretty epic stuff. I could write a screenplay based on that one sentence. Yet it never comes out in the game so honestly it’s not really that relevant to the experience.
As with all such games of this genre, the only replay value comes from the hi-score. There’s a local and online leaderboard plus six score based trophies. You can technically achieve all six in one round if you can hit 100,000 points on your first try in Hi-Score Mode. Because of that, I again have put this game in the list of Arcade Archive titles that are fun but a bit overpriced at the standard $8.
Arcade Archives: TwinBee is fun. It’s good old classic shooting with no drama, in true arcade style. Probably one of the better Arcade Archives titles I’ve played so far, but by no means the best one. Great for collectors but I say hold out for a price drop before grabbing this one.
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