Monday, April 10, 2023

Twinkle Star Sprites - La Petite Princesse (Playstation 2)

Checkpoints OFF/ON
5 Difficulty levels
6 Stages
Ship speed fixed, selectable at start
- - - - - - -
Developed by SNK Playmore
Published by SNK Playmore in 2004

An unexpected sequel that nobody thought was coming in 2004, Twinkle Star Sprites - La Petite Princesse is actually one of the first games released by SNK Playmore, which was formed from the ashes of the old SNK. Despite carrying the style of the predecessor in its veins, this sequel came out completely under SNK Playmore since the company had by then acquired the rights to all titles developed by ADK, including of course the first Twinkle Star Sprites.

Since almost nothing was changed from the core gameplay of the first game, many people hesitate or even refuse to consider La Petite Princesse a proper sequel. I for one can surely remonstrate this perspective, after all the game adds brand new characters while bringing a few old faces from the original, on top of applying a full 3D makeover to the cute approach to graphic design. In fact, the game is a real treat for anime fans since it's almost unbearably cute, it's just a little underwhelming that all voices and interactions are conveyed in Japanese only. Honestly, even character names are difficult for Western people to figure out.

Players can have fun in three game modes. In Story mode you take the role of a witch named Time Buttermint, fighting six adversaries in order to save the world from a dimensional star distortion rift. She flies a broom and is always followed around by her faithful dog, who also determines the behavior of her magical powers. Time Buttermint takes over the protagonist role from Load Ran, which is now only available in Character mode along with 14 other cute competitors with the most diverse stats for power and speed. However, from my experience no matter which mode you choose La Petite Princesse is definitely easier than its predecessor. Finally, Versus mode is only applicable when two people get together to face each other in glorious shooting combat mayhem.

Riding a powerful guitar to reap the spoils of victory

Even though shooting is the basic input as usual, combat is the core element of the gameplay in La Petite Princesse. In a nutshell, it's exactly the same as in the original Twinkle Star Sprites. The few differences are in the number of levels in Story and Character modes, which is now 6 instead of 7, a new item that can show up in the flipping coin (P), a few new golem wave formations and one single extend registered with 500.000 points (previously it was one extend at every 500K).

You can shoot indiscriminately at will, but that might just not cut it to defeat the opponent on the other side of the screen. Default inputs consist of shot (□ and ○), rapid shot (△) and bomb (×). Gameplay 101: several different waves of colorful minions/golems cruise the screen; destroy them in order to send fireballs to the player on the other side; popping all of them together/faster creates more fireballs; you can deflect enemy fireballs by shooting at them or engulfing them in your own golem explosions, which is even better; if the amount of aggression increases you automatically begin sending character-related special attacks to the other side, inclusing boss attacks; these attacks can also be triggered by using charge shots (hold □/○) powered by an energy gauge that fills up automatically; charge shots at max power (3) trigger boss attacks; when hit, fever orbs preceded by two exclamation marks (!!) increase the efficiency of your attacks for a short time; bomb to clean your own screen and survive impossible odds.

Each character gets a health bar of 5 hearts. Damage comes from getting hit by enemy fire or by touching a golem, which also stuns you for a few seconds and reduces your speed/firepower. The fight is lost if the health bar depletes. If the fight drags for too long cute grim reapers will appear alternately for both players and chase them around the screen, killing at contact regardless of the status of their health bars. Grim reapers can be killed though. Some golems are endowed with shields that add to their health, but these shields can be instantly broken if you collect the star item that comes on a flippling coin. In addition to the star, this coin can also appear carrying an extra bomb (B), extra points ($) or extra charge power (P). Health is recovered partially by successfully hitting your adversary.

Besides head-to-head shooting combat there's also an scoring system in place for Story and Character modes, which share the same high score tracking. Everything you hit lands some points, but you can use several techniques to score higher. Destroying golem waves without wasting a single shot, for example, starts a PERFECT chain that can be sustained for as long as you keep doing it. After each victory you get bonus points for max chain achieved and the time taken to beat the level. Time bonus is trivial though, after all sustaining longer fights is obviously better for scoring, it's just hard to do that in the starting levels because opponents will practically kill themselves.

A cute introduction to an even cuter game
(courtesy of YouTube user Hell Tantrumbull)

All the above techniques are familiar to those experienced with the previous game. However, Twinkle Star Sprites - La Petite Princesse brings a new element that makes all of them pale in comparison. This new element is the $ money sign in the flipping coin: the first one is worth 10 points only, but each subsequent $ you take multiplies the previous value by 10. This means the 6th one will be worth one million points, and so on and so forth! The catch is that this is valid only for the current fight/level, provided you continue getting $ signs consecutively without collecting any Bs, Ps or stars in between. Note: if you're wondering about not seeing the score counter during the fight, just press L1 to toggle its appearance.

Although not outstanding in terms of extras, the PS2 disc is at least competent on a basic level and includes automatic saving, vibration, input configuration, an art gallery and a few special contents to be unlocked. On the first contact with Character mode you'll notice three empty slots at the bottom, which are reserved for Realy Till, Load Ran and Mikoto, the new final boss. To unlock them all you need to do is beat them in Story mode, then complete the game afterwards (Realy Till is the only one that appears randomly in stage 4, so keep trying until you get the chance to fight her). A nice treat is that if you beat Character mode with these three competitors you'll then unlock the original Twinkle Star Sprites, which will be accessible from the start screen. All unlocks can be achieved with continues, so at least there's no 1CC grinding involved in any of this.

Time Buttermint is a nice replacement for Load Ran in Story mode, but except for Memory I admit I didn't try playing with any of the other characters besides the ones needed to perform the unlocks. My best 1CC score was achieved with Mikoto in the default difficulty (3).

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