The Cotton series of shooters are an incredible bunch that practically no one has ever heard of because only one single release came to the US. And that game is one of the rarest and most expensive retro games of all time. Shooters starring witches were a consistent thing once upon a time and while most of those games stayed in Japan it didn’t matter; you are not playing a shooter for the plot. Twinkle Tale is a game that I am really surprised was never picked up for a worldwide release. It has everything: great graphics, an awesome soundtrack, and fantastic gameplay. Yet we still got crap like Beast Wrestler instead. This is a great game with a low profile that deserves an audience that it will never receive due to its scarcity. Find some way to play it as it is one of the system’s best.
I’ve called this a shooter and while it bears a striking resemblance to titles such as Phelios and Elemental Master Twinkle Tale has more in common with Mercs. Except instead of a beefy commando it stars a witch in a pointy hat. This top down action adventure has the pacing of an arcade game despite its appearance. The fantasy theme helps it stand out from other similar games such as Pocky & Rocky and the variety in gameplay keeps it fresh right up until its closing moments.
Saria is armed with three spells that can be switched at any time. The Diamond Arrow is basically your wide beam. The Shooting star is the strongest but only travels in a straight line. The Silver Comet is your classic homing attack; incredibly convenient but also weak. In addition you can hold a stock of three “smart” bombs, either a powerful stream of fire dragons or larger homing projectiles that also circle their targets for a few seconds. Both of these have their weaknesses and aren’t so powerful that you’ll one shot bosses.
Each of your spells can be leveled up three times by collecting stars. Collecting further stars after maxing out your current spell will apply it to the other two, a smart choice. Taking hits will degrade your spell however stars are so readily available that it rarely becomes a problem. While most gamers are sure to pick a favorite the game isn’t built that way and you won’t get very far. Switching and making use of your bombs (which are also resupplied frequently) is the key to victory.
Beyond its mechanics variety is what makes Twinkle Tale so great. Alpherion is a fantastical place and Saria’s journey will take her to all corners of the world. Each level presents some new challenge in addition to the various creatures you’ll face. Stage two features a number of outdoor areas where hordes of demons spawn suddenly. The open walkways of stage three buck the trend of providing a safe zone and let you fall off the sides. Stage four takes place inside the giant tree you just defeated prior. For a nice change of pace level seven is an auto scrolling shooter level and one of the most difficult. Most levels feature branching paths and hidden areas providing some incentive to explore. Combined with the environmental traps the level design is fantastic all around.
I found the overall difficulty moderate although the game does have its moments. In the early stages when your life bar is small it can be easy to make simple mistakes. The excess amount of power-ups early on is surely to make up for this. The balance shifts around the third level when your health expands. Eventually your health maxes out at eight points and there are longer stretches with no items and increased waves of enemies. The long boss battles are where you’ll most likely die and the limited continues mean you’ll have to memorize the levels and boss patterns to survive. Real skill is needed to earn more and see this to its conclusion.
Twinkle Tale was the only game released by Wonder Amusement Studio and boy did they make the hardware sing. Although Twinkle Tale was released in 1992 artistically it destroys many of the titles released for the system years later. The entire world takes place on a floating island and there is plenty of depth shown when viewing the distant background. While it is a bit grainy everything is packed with detail and no matter how many sprites crowd the screen it rarely slows down. The dark color palette accentuates shadows and light pretty well. The bosses are large and often occupy half of the screen and animated extremely well. The soundtrack doesn’t reach the same heights as the graphics but is pretty good overall.
It’s a damn shame Twinkle Tale had such a short print run and was never ported to any other platform. You’ll have to pay a pretty penny for it or get a reproduction cart but it is worth it as you’ll enjoy every second of this adventure. This is probably one of my favorite Genesis games and a title that I revisit at least once a year.