I’ve played my fair share of shooters of all stripes. Bullet hell, cute em ups, rail shooters, the list goes on and on. I’ve adapted to some weird mechanics but I can safely say that for the longest time I absolutely hated the Twinbee series. Juggling bells for power-ups while dodging enemies and attacking ground based targets was not my thing. And it also didn’t help that my first exposure to the series was Stinger, a game that had……problems. I’ve rambled on to give you some idea as to why It is so shocking that Pop’n Twinbee is one of my favorite shooters and SNES games of all time. Detana Twinbee turned my opinion of the games around but Pop’n Twinbee truly cemented it. This is one of the best games in the system’s library.
Juggling the bells for power-ups still remains the core of the game and this is no exception. Doing so is made easier by the vertical scrolling viewpoint. I’m no expert and I was capable of juggling eight bells pretty easily. Bombs for ground based targets return as well. Now they will automatically target the closest enemy although they aren’t perfect. Prioritizing is key since you can’t drop bombs and keep firing your normal shots.
The weapons available are highly reminiscent of Gradius which more than likely is intentional. You can pick up three options that follow your movements but unlike that game they can be destroyed. There is a temporary shield that will absorb a few hits and speed up/down bells. Surprisingly there are only two main weapon upgrades: a weak three-way shot and a more powerful wide shot. One last attack that more than likely won’t be used as much is the chibi attack, which fires countless mini versions of your ship at everything on screen. Its use is limited because it sacrifices one of your lives but is worth it to kill the bosses faster.
Punching is probably the most interesting addition to the game. On their own neither of the two weapon power-ups are especially strong. Your punches are the strongest attack in the game and a lot more useful than just deflecting bullets. There are stronger enemies that appear in groups and trying to destroy them one by one is futile. One well timed hay maker can eliminate the entire group. About midway through the game strategic use of this attack will help tremendously as the difficulty picks up. The fact that you can keep it charged up while firing normal shots is also a sign of good game design.
I found the overall challenge to be fairly balanced. You can take several hits before death and the game uses a checkpoint system. So long as you stay on top of ground targets you can find a decent number of hearts to replenish health. The game is very generous with clouds as they come in bunches so you have more than enough opportunities to collect power-ups if you are bad at juggling. The game picks up significantly towards the end, to the point where it can seem overwhelming at just how chaotic things get. But at the end of the day it will only take a couple of hours for most to finish this on the default setting.
There are seven levels yet Pop’n Twinbee is actually pretty long. Each level runs close to ten minutes or more and with the way it gets hectic in the final stages you will most likely end up playing some of these a few times before progressing. The multi-stage boss battles are simple despite how long they take. As much as I would love to have had one or two more levels I feel the game is perfectly fine as it is.
To say that Pop’n Twinbee looks incredible is an understatement. The presentation is simply amazing. Pop’n Twinbee looks like an arcade game with its insanely detailed backdrops and use of color. Like nearly all games in the series the art style is heavy on the use of pastel colors and is incredibly vivid. The world is full of steampunk technology that powers the giant sized mechs and industrial machinery. Special effects are kept to a minimum outside of transparencies but that’s because the game doesn’t need them. And all of this with next to no slowdown. Outside of some flickering Konami has simply worked magic to create this game.
I fully expected the soundtrack to be full of bright and chirpy music that would grate on my ears after one session but instead was greeted by a symphonic score that is just excellent. The music is appropriately happy and adventurous when setting out but can also become dark and menacing at a moment’s notice.
Pop’n Twinbee is a truly fantastic game and in the running for the best shooter on the SNES. Next to Harmful Park and Gradius Gaiden this is one of my favorite shooters of all time. I am still insanely jealous that Europe got this instead of us but in the grand scheme it doesn’t matter. If you are even a slight fan of the genre buy this now!