4 Difficulty levels
10 Stages (loopable)
Ship speed fixed
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Developed by Toaplan
Published by Banpresto in 1996
Here it is, the spiritual sequel to Toaplan's seminal Tiger-Heli, or at least half of it. Half, you wonder? Yes, Twin Cobra is none other than the US/world version of the Japanese Kyūkyoku Tiger, which by all means is the "legitimate" spiritual sequel. Imagine the same relation that exists between Konami's Salamander and Life Force and you'll get the picture, even though the differences between Kyūkyoku Tiger and Twin Cobra are much more subtle, graphically speaking. The main draw for me, however, is the fact that Twin Cobra is the easier of the two, and therefore a much more approachable game for regular shmuppers. That doesn't mean it's a walk in the park though.
Twin Cobra is 1/3 of the Toaplan Shooting Battle compilation released for the Japanese Playstation, which also has Tiger-Heli and Kyūkyoku Tiger. Publisher Banpresto provided a nice home package that makes this disc a very sought after item for shmup fans, especially those who appreciate the early Toaplan verticals. The game is entirely customizable (TATE available) and includes an additional option for an arranged soundtrack, complete with a new set of sound effects. I will gladly join the choir that preaches that Kyūkyoku Tiger/Twin Cobra is one of the cornerstones in the history of vertical shooters. A perfect evolution from Tiger-Heli, it established the mold to be used for years by Toaplan and a handful of other companies, with an undeniable influence that makes it a mandatory experience for everyone who wants to really get to know the genre.
The PS1 port of Twin Cobra is just like the Arcade original, and the game stood the test of time gracefully. Take off from a base carrier and blast your way through ten stages of relentless enemy forces. Tanks, choppers and deadly turrets await you, all of them firing this very same yellow bullet of death. It's old school challenge for men, it's brute force against the hardest military odds, and it's definitely up there if you want to select a game to represent Toaplan's finest hour. You could say that Twin Cobra is all about gameplay and challenge, but the soundtrack is definitely one of the most memorable early displays of great shmup music. Graphics are not fancy, but they're decent for a 1987 game and that's fine by me.
On its way to victory, the hero chopper has four weapons at its disposal: vulcan (red), laser (green), spread (blue) and a four-way shot (yellow). Changing the weapon from the default vulcan to any of the others is made by taking the cycling colored circle released by the carrier choppers, which also bring the S power-up and the B item for extra bombs. It takes a good number of S icons to max out the weapon, while bombs have a delay between their deployment and the time they hit the ground, neutralizing bullets and damaging everything within its radius blast. And that's it for basic gameplay: fire with one button, bomb with the other. As a rudimentary but effective scoring mechanic, get stars released by ground targets in order to win an end-of-stage bonus (number of stars collected × 3.000 points). Don't be greedy when things get hectic, the most important thing is survival through memorizing the terrain, learning enemy patterns and dancing around bullets in order to survive.
I say "dancing" because that's exactly how I felt whenever I died in later stages. You must anticipate the danger with extreme care in order to recover with a default vulcan weapon, and finding the zone in which you're able to move between those pesky helicopters is essential to go on if you die after the 5th stage. There doesn't seem to be any kind of rank, only a steady progression into overwhelming hell as the game unfolds. Twin Cobra is known for killing the player in the most frustrating ways, such as a stray bullet fired from a surprise sniper tank or a single enemy helicopter with the most erratic movement possible. It's as if the game knew where you're going, and that's part of its undying charm (a suitable euphemism for raw difficulty?). And if you think it's too hard, just try experiencing the checkpoint-based Kyūkyoku Tiger, which has an even tougher difficulty progression...
Twin Cobra's classic first stage
(courtesy of YouTube user MamePlayer)
(courtesy of YouTube user MamePlayer)
Taking the blue power-up and sticking to it during the whole game is the best strategy to use if you want to get the loop done. Later on it's just stupid to use vulcan or laser, there are so many enemies attacking you at once that blue - or yellow to a lesser extent - is the only way to go. Don't mind stocking more than seven bombs because that's the limit, so bomb away if one of those huge airplanes decides to get in your path, point blanking it during the bomb blast for a faster kill. Be careful with bosses though, they are armored beasts that spew bullets like crazy, so it's not really a good idea to try point blanking them. Fortunately you're allowed to stock more than the ten lives displayed on the top of the screen by getting score-based extends (first with 50.000 and then for every 150.000 points). Additionally, surviving long enough within a stage turns one of the later stars into a 1UP (this doesn't happen if your life stock is at ten though). "Wow, more than 10 lives?", you ask. Believe me, you'll need them!
Aside from the lack of checkpoints, the possibility to play in co-op with a friend is the most distinctive departure from Kyūkyoku Tiger, the original game. For a list of all differences between both titles you can go to the bottom of this nice page. Even though the Playstation version of Twin Cobra is the reference for home play due to its arcade-perfect nature, most of the many other ports are also very solid games in their own right, and deserve all the love we shmuppers can give.
I was able to loop this version until stage 2-2, playing on NORMAL with game speed set to "Arcade". The synth-heavy arranged soundtrack is a nice extra, but I still prefer the original tunes and sound effects, and that's what I listened to during all my runs.