Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Detana!! TwinBee (Playstation)

Checkpoints OFF
8 Difficulty levels
7 Stages
Ship speed by icons
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Developed by Konami
Published by Konami in 1995

Upon a brief research, I just found out that Detana!! TwinBee is actually the fifth chapter in the bell-juggling cute'em up series. Between TwinBee 3 for the Famicom and this one there's also TwinBee Da! for the Game Boy, a title I had completely forgotten about but that's also available in a revamped colored version for the Playstation Portable. Detana!! is the first real arcade entry since the original TwinBee, and represents a huge leap in graphics and audio quality from everything that came prior, in a massive overhaul that sort of kicked the series into a new era that spawned several products across a multitude of genres and styles.

Speaking of shmups only, Detana!! is the third to last TwinBee game ever released. During the 32-bit video game generation it was bundled with final chapter TwinBee Yahho! in the TwinBee Deluxe Pack disc that came out for the Sony Playstation and the Sega Saturn. Pop'n TwinBee, the Super Famicom game released between Detana!! and Yahho!, is out of this compilation for obvious reasons. These three games share the same high standards established by Konami at its creative peak, and in the case of Detana!! TwinBee, also known as Bells & Whistles out of Japan, I have nothing but praise for the sheer creativity, the exquisite use of colors and the incredibly catchy soundtrack.

And for a guy that always had some serious gripes with the bell mechanics, I admit the gameplay deserves some sort of positive endorsement. Most of the time it's at least less irksome than it was in TwinBee, and that's saying something. A cute backstory and quick character panels between levels are also there for those who fancy this sort of thing, which admittedly acquired a whole new dimension after this particular chapter.

Where have both my arms gone, TwinBee?

Even though the Playstation port of Detana!! TwinBee lacks a TATE mode, the horizontal stretching of the screen isn't that bad to cope with. From the practice rounds I had in MAME, I'd say the game is otherwise pretty much arcade perfect. I certainly missed the possibility to map autofire to the shoulder buttons of the Playstation controller though. The game only allows the configuration of face buttons, and in the default setting you get shot in button ×, rapid shot in button □, bomb in button ○ and rapid bomb in button ∆. Considering you must use a lot of the regular shot, I was fortunate for being able to play well with these default conditions. Holding shot is after all the best new resource the player has against some bosses and many of those cute enemies showering down from above in deadly flocks.

This new charge shot just doesn't work against ground enemies, which is naturally expected. To destroy them you need to use bombs dropped by the tiny hands of bumblebee android characters TwinBee (P1 side, blue) and WinBee (P2 side, pink), respectively controlled by pilots Light and Pastel. Their hands can get hit and lost, which then diminishes the ability to destroy ground targets. If both hands are gone an ambulance crosses the screen once per level to repair them (if you lose them again before the level is complete you won't be able to hit ground enemies anymore). Aerial firepower, on the other hand, can be upgraded in several different ways both by juggling bells coming out from clouds or by collecting specific ground items.

Bell are, as usual, the foundation of the gameplay in Detana!! TwinBee. The very first one is yellow, but it changes its color once it takes five hits. New to the series, the order of the color change is fixed and transfers to all subsequent bells you're able to hit, starting with white (twin shot), blue (speed-up), green (trailing options), red (barrier), purple (tail barrier, solidifies your options and makes them cancel bullets and damage enemies) and finally black (speed-down) before initiating a new cycle. Colors you've already activated are replaced with yellow bells, and you just can't have red and purple at the same time. Last but not least, all yellow bells taken without letting any fall down the screen increase their value in steps of 500, 1.000, 2.500, 5.000 and 10.000 points (max). If one bell is lost the chain value is reset.

Most ground items consist of fruit and vegetables for points, with a few extra ones appearing randomly. The ground bell gives you a 3-way shot and the star is a smart bomb that deals damage to all enemies on screen. GwinBee is special because when taken it hugs and flies alongside you while immensely boosting your firepower. The charge shot, for instance, gets wider and much more powerful. The downside is that the hitbox, which is already big for the regular character, gets even bigger. Much like your arms, GwinBee is instantly lost if hit by a bullet or an enemy.

Welcome to the Valley of the Wind on the Playstation
(courtesy of YouTube user The VideoGames Museum)

Despite the cute looks, the fluffy music and the deceivingly low bullet count, Detana!! TwinBee is a very cruel game for a series of reasons. The first couple of levels aren't exactly demanding, but soon enough all caveats of the gameplay start to show up. First of all, each and every power-up you take increases rank by a certain margin, which means that the more beefed up you get the harder the game becomes. It's naturally full of traps such as enemies materializing out of nowehere or quickly zapping into the screen as you're about to pick up a bell or just trying to get the best of an incoming cloud, an aspect that eventually beats you down to the point of completely discouraging excessive greed unless you have a solid route to score and survive at the same time. Getting back up after dying is extremely difficult, and since there are absolutely no extends this is another case where you'll absolutely end up aiming at a 1-life clear of the first loop. As for the second loop, it's probably one of the hardest things ever conceived even for the most hardcore of hardcore shmup players.

I believe that finding the balance between the use of charge shots and rapid shot is one of the keys to success in beating the first loop. Well placed charge shots do wonders, but in the second half of the game you can get easily overwhelmed if you let enemies live long enough. Some will turn back and ram into you if you let them go by. While a few bosses require charge shots and good timing to be properly beaten (that tentacle boss of the 4th stage is a serious offender), it's just better to fire away against others for a faster and cleaner fight. And regardless of your power-up strategy, the purple bell is simply mandatory no matter what. It's a life saver due to its ability to block even the most threatening enemy attacks, such as those V-shaped projectiles fired by a series of crab-like creatures in the final level.

Detana!! TwinBee might be too hard to actually be fun in the long run, but tough gameplay aside it never feels unfair. Sure, you can still feel royally screwed by taking an unwanted speed-down or dying stupidly while trying to get an item, but to the game's defense bullet count is never overwhelming in the first loop and the challenge level never spikes out of nowhere like in TwinBee. I played in the default difficulty (medium / 4) and got the top result below after dying horribly in stage 2-1 against that duo of materializing grape stems. I forced myself not to fret over lost bells and beat the first loop in a single life, as planned.

A port of Detana!! came out for the PC Engine shortly after the arcade release, and the beautiful pastel shades presented in this game would be put to a much milder experience two years later in Pop'n TwinBee for the Super Famicom, which in my opinion is the true highlight of the TwinBee series.

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