Friday, June 5, 2009

TwinBee (NES)

Checkpoints OFF
1 Difficulty level
5 Stages (loopable)
Ship speed by icons
- - - - - - -
Developed by Konami
Published by Konami in 1986

I’ve heard and read somewhere that TwinBee (or Twinbee, Twin Bee, etc.) was one of the best selling shmups for the Famicom in 80’s Japan, alongside Xevious and Gradius. By this statement one cannot overrule the importance it had in the beginning of the genre’s history, even though its popularity waned over the years to the point of nobody caring much about it anymore. As usual I arrived rather late to the party, and only got acquainted with the series a few months ago with Pop’n TwinBee for the SNES.

On the Famicom, TwinBee revealed itself as a standard shooter that surely provided some innovative gameplay concepts for its time. The series trademark is the bells, which can be retrieved by shooting the clouds and then be converted to power-ups when shot a number of times. Special bells include speed-ups (blue), options/shadows (blinking red), shield (red) and double shots (?). The catch is that the power-up is up for grabs only until the bell takes the next shot, when it will change back to the initial white bell. If taken as they come, in the white color, bells are converted to points. These evolve to a maximum of 10.000 points for each bell if you don’t let any of them fall down the screen – if this happens, the bell multiplier will restart at 500 points (if the bells are shot repeatedly they will be destroyed and replaced by a Galaga-like insect). Additionally, the player can drop bombs just like in Xevious, using his "hands" and a fixed target in front of the ship. Most ground enemies will yield fruit when destroyed, but sometimes a special item will appear, such as the star (screen wipe-out), a candy (3-way shot) or a bottle (I don’t actually know what it does).

There’s a story behind the name TwinBee and the character you play with here, with a special nod to the fact this game offers a co-op feature. I had no partner to play with me, so I’ll leave this out of this text. Regardless of how it plays in co-op though, the Twin Bee series is regarded as being a flagship of the cute’em up subgenre, but it’s important to note that this characteristic does not apply that much to the Famicom game, mainly due to its somewhat washed out color palette and the raw and primitive nature of the graphics. Even not so flashy though, subtle weirdness lies everywhere: fruit in weird landscapes, flying knives and forks, flying crabs and impossible-to-identify bosses are good examples… It’s obvious Konami improved these crazy ideas later on when launching the Parodius series, even including Twinbee itself as a playable character in the game (bells and most power-ups included).

Besides the fact that you can play TwinBee with a friend, a few other pros here are the lack of slowdown and the simple albeit solid sprite manipulation. It’s also cool that the music changes after you get a blue speed-up bell, reverting to the slower paced theme when you die. When you’re hit by a bullet you lose your arms and bombing capability, but instantly a healing icon will drop for you - don’t lose it, or you’ll be unable to bomb until you die. And you can use it only once, mind you.

Where this little game tries to shine is in the scoring system, which is rather intricate for such an early shooter and represents the reason why people will love it or hate it. I’m not in either category: the bell power-up system is not my cup of tea, but I do get the rush when all those 10.000 bells keep coming my way. The challenge in my play style is to power-up my Twinbee to the point I feel comfortable maneuvering (for me it’s 3 speed-ups + options or 3-way shot) and only then concentrate on bell scoring. If I’m lucky enough to get a shield then it’s all heaven for a long while, especially in the cluttered and overlong 5th stage.

So here's the main problem with the NES/Famicom TwinBee: bell power-ups are a chore to get, and it really feels like it's always a gamble. Luck seems to play a strong part for you to go well in any run, and it does get frustrating really fast if you keep getting crushed while waiting for those valuable bells for options and shield.

The high score below was obtained in one of these lucky runs. Here I played up to stage 2-5.


  1. As a shmup newbie, I'm enjoying this blog! Hope this comment doesn't come across as petty, but you've got some weird black text going on in this post. For instance, this is all black when I view this post: "When you’re hit by a bullet you lose your arms and bombing capability, but instantly a healing icon will drop for you - don’t lose it, or you’ll be unable to bomb until you die. And you can use it"

    1. Thanks for pointing that out, Greg.
      I'll be correcting these black sections at once!

      Glad you're enjoying the blog, by the way! :)

    2. Pronto!
      But holy damn, blogspot went totally nuts when formatting the text from this post... I reckon it got better over time. Hopefully!