8 Difficulty levels
10 Stages (loopable)
Ship speed fixed
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Developed by Toaplan
Published by American Treco in 1991
General consensus has it that most 16-bit shmup ports were made easier than their original arcade counterparts. However, every now and then we might find an exception, so here’s a game that defies that notion with bold determination. Twin Cobra is the Sega Genesis name to the Japanese counterpart Kyūkyoku Tiger. Actually the Genesis cartridge should’ve kept the Japanese designation in order to comply with Toaplan’s little mess: checkpoints, survival-based rank and non-uniform craters appearing from ground targets? The game is clearly adapted from the arcade version of Kyūkyoku Tiger, not Twin Cobra. Most people don’t really care about that, suffice it to say we’re talking about the spiritual sequel to Tiger-Heli.
Thinking Western audiences wouldn’t really buy the game based on its regular designation, Sega thought it would be wise to add the Desert Attack Helicopter subtitle for the Genesis version. Granted, it pretty much tells what to expect from the game. A helicopter raids mostly desert landscapes and destroys tanks, cannons, boats, hatches and rooftops of what seems to be an enemy country. Cities, oceans, battleships and military facilities also appear as grounds, whose air force comprises choppers of varied make and firepower. Enemy resistance is fierce and relentless, armed with sneaky aimed bullets and ready to take you down in whatever lapse of focus that you, as the pilot, might happen to slip into. The death explosion you hear upon receiving the first bullet in the [chopper’s] face wipes cheap expectations and mockingly taunts brave players to keep on trying, therefore initial impressions on the difficulty are rarely flattering.
Bombing the third boss for great justice
Fact: Twin Cobra on the Mega Drive is probably the most underrated shooter in the system. The amount of online bashing I read so far amazes me, it seems people aren’t playing the same game I am or do not know where the game comes from. Excluding the modified horizontal span of the console port everything about the game is reasonably faithful to the source, down to the graphic textures and the awesome music. Okay, explosions and minor details are simplified, but that’s cosmetics as far as 16-bit games are concerned. The sound on the port is definitely a highlight, and I daresay in a few aspects it tops the original. Not only does the bomb explosion sound better, but the music is also improved by an awesome layer of drumming that always makes me bang my head in sheer accomplishment joy after I’ve dispatched a boss. It feels great! Songs repeat in the second half of the game, but with such a cool soundtrack I cannot complain about it.
There are four types of weapons to use in Twin Cobra. You can’t select them any time you want though, it’s necessary to collect an item that cycles colors and defines the currently used weapon. Red is the default straight vulcan shot, green is a very narrow laser, blue is the spread shot and yellow corresponds to a 4-way pattern (horizontals/verticals). The S item powers up the weapon and the B item adds one bomb to the stock. Most items are brought by a large green carrier helicopter, but bigger enemies will also release them when destroyed. Ground bunkers and constructions often hide stars that provide a few points and are worth 3.000 points each within the current life at the end of a level (star count is reset whenever you die). If you manage to play well and survive long enough, in selected places of the game you might come across a 1UP instead of a star. The good news is that in Twin Cobra you can also count with score-based extends: the first one comes with 70.000 points, the second with 200.000 points and further ones with every 200.000 points.
Just like the impression I had when playing the arcade version included in Toaplan Shooting Battle for the Playstation, the gameplay in the Mega Drive port can be loosely compared to “dancing” around bullets and enemies. During the first couple of levels it’s okay to stand still and dodge as bullets are approaching, but later on it’s essential to keep moving at all times. These bastards have no respect for point blanking and you never know when something will shoot you down. Then there’s the “how to move” aspect: as you sweep from side to side, do not turn unless you’re sure all bullets have passed behind you and the remaining enemies are at a safe distance for another sweep. Knowing enemy behavior is paramount for survival: all helicopters in a stage move in a specific pattern, some will approach you and develop and outer arch before leaving, some will just ram into you after hovering briefly at mid-screen and others might only appear from the sides and flee to the bottom of the play field.
Dealing with ground enemies and static turrets is all about positioning and anticipation, and the same can be said about stronger foes such as the green carrier helicopter or the mid-sized boats that always approach vertically. The helicopter, for instance, fires three equally spaced patterns of 3 spread shots. It won't be any problem if you time your movement according to this and prepare to take it down after the third spread if it hasn't been destroyed yet.
16-bit Toaplan rules!
(courtesy of YouTube user GameplaysELV)
(courtesy of YouTube user GameplaysELV)
There are places in the game where you’re better off bombing instead of facing the enemy barrage. Large planes that come in pairs tend to protect whatever is behind them, and well-placed bombs help clean up the danger faster. Be aware that the bomb takes a little while to hit the ground and explode, and during that time you still need to be careful before protecting yourself inside its radius blast. Memorizing isn't really necessary but it certainly helps, as well as knowing when to be extra careful with the stars uncovered to the sides. Going after them can expose the helicopter to almost unavoidable hazards. The longer you live the harder the game gets because enemy bullets become increasingly faster, but thankfully rank is reset once you die and get respawned in a previous checkpoint. Careful though, if you die too fast you get sent even further back - a situation that's only advantageous (for me at least) if I die on the 8th boss. Returning two checkpoints allowed me to reach the boss with the correct number of bombs and vulcan firepower to beat the bastard.
Speaking of bosses, it's interesting to note that they're all preceded by a slight scrolling hiccup, timing out after a while if you don't kill them during the confrontation. This is actually essential to get past the 7th boss, as you're better off avoiding the damn thing instead of facing it (that's the hint, just move around him carefully and don't break the link that unites both tanks). Instances of slowdown are really rare, the only one that really stood out for me was a section in stage 6 where I approached two horizontal lines of tanks with a fully powered blue weapon (it's more in the line of brief frame drops than actual slowdown). One of Twin Cobra's weaknesses is the fact that the only really decent weapon to play the game with is the blue spread, and red to a less extent. Picking up the wrong weapon by accident later in the game is a guaranteed means of unnerving failure. Even though the green laser is the most powerful one, how are you supposed to survive with it?
In my opinion Twin Cobra is one of the hardest shmups on the Mega Drive. Things heat up considerably before you're even halfway into the game, and getting past each boss is an intricate challenge in itself. I consider stage 8 to be the wall, everything seemed a tiny notch easier once I got past that damned boss. Difficulties in this port have a funny designation, going from Easy A to D, then Hard A to D. I played the game on defaults (Hard A) and once the loop was done I managed to get to stage 8 again. I noticed that in the second loop the difficulty got bumped to Hard C.