Most of our readers could be forgiven for never having played TwinBee: after all, it began life in 1985 as an arcade game that never left Japan. It was later ported to the Famicom, and though some reports state that an NES localisation project was actually completed, for some reason it was never released. In fact, arcade TwinBee never saw release outside of Japan until 2007, when it was at last featured on the Konami Classic Series: Arcade Hits compilation for the DS... only it was inexplicably rechristened RainbowBell.
It’s not a particularly auspicious history for the game, and you’d be forgiven for assuming that Konami was alternately trying to hide it away and misidentify it deliberately, which is not the way developers tend to treat their better games. In fact, that tends to be the way they treat their worst games. So is this “3D Classic” a classic in the same critical sense as Excitebike? Or is it a default classic due to age alone like Urban Champion?
Fortunately, it’s the former. 3D Classics: TwinBee is an enormous deal of colourful, chaotic fun, and its unfortunate release history only serves to increase the value of this release; for many gamers, this will be their first opportunity to experience a legitimate lost classic.
TwinBee is a vertically scrolling shooter with extremely tight controls and a visual design that should be studied by any developer interesting in creating a vivid, colourful universe without crossing the line into offensive cuteness or overbearing quirk.
The visuals are crisp, pleasant and easily distinguishable. While the stages all have a great deal of enemies and projectiles to contend with, it’s always very easy to see what’s coming your way, and you’ll never get to use “how was I supposed to see that?” as an excuse for death. TwinBee’s challenge can sometimes be steep, but it’s never unfair.
You’ll fly forward over land and sea, battling enemies as diverse as frogs, paper plates, knives, Mickey Mouse-style gloves and stone heads that spit pink balls at you. Let it be said here that the world of Twinbee is never a dull one.
You fight back with two main attacks: a gun to take down skybound enemies and a bomb attack (which is adorably tossed down by the little arms on your ship) that takes out installations on the ground. The gun can be upgraded by way of power-ups, but your bombs will be downgraded to the point of inoperability if your ship takes damage. It’s an interesting dynamic that can lead to you being able to clear the sky of enemies with a simple barrage of rapid fire, and yet totally defenceless to even the weakest ground-based attack. Twists like this prevent you from resting for even a moment, even when you’re a totally powered-up flying murder machine.
Bombed installations on the ground can leave power-ups behind, such as a three-way splitter for your gun, an immediate screen clearance item or a 1-up, but the most notable powerup in TwinBee takes the form of a bell.
By shooting certain clouds, you can cause a yellow bell to appear. If you collect it, you'll get bonus points (which increase depending upon how many you collect in quick succession). But if you shoot it, you have a chance of changing its colour: depending upon the colour it can give you a doubled gun, a shield, a speed boost or an intangible reflection of your ship that follows you around and fires along with you. Shoot it again, however, and it turns back to yellow.
The juggling of these bells lends TwinBee a great deal of its identity, and its strategy. You need to be careful about spraying the air with bullets, lest you hit a bell containing a particularly sought-after power-up and reducing it to a mere score boost. The fact that these bells have a nasty habit of falling through streams of strafing enemies also means that this “choose your own power-up” mechanic is never too easily exploitable, and only adds to the game's challenge.
If we had any serious misgivings about the game — and do take note of the word “if” — they would be due to the bosses, nearly all of which require a simple, repetitive buffeting with projectiles to bring down, without really requiring much strategy or forethought. If anything, the bosses can sometimes seem like breathers at the end of their much-more-chaotic stages, but with stages as chaotic as these, that may not be such a bad thing after all.
As far as the changes made to TwinBee for the 3D Classics release, they’re actually very subtle. The 3D effect adds depth to flight, and it’s quite nice, but playing the game with that effect disabled isn’t likely to detract much from the experience at all. The quick save feature is certainly nice, but again, not entirely necessary. The control configuration menu, on the other hand, is worth its weight in gold, as it allows you to set multiple buttons for firing the different types of projectiles, assigning a separate rate of fire to each one if you so choose.
Why would you ever choose to have anything other than a steady stream of rapid bullets? Well, because that steady stream of rapid bullets will very quickly destroy those bells that would have given you helpful power-ups if you had shot them more carefully. Mapping different rates of fire to different buttons — and training yourself to switch between them correctly in the heat of battle — is essential to getting the most out of this 3D Classic, and we love that such passive depth was added to the gameplay as a result.
3D Classics: Twinbee takes an overlooked — but excellent — game and gives it both a fresh coat of paint and a new chance to shine, which is exactly what the 3D Classics series should be doing. The team responsible for the update knew that TwinBee was a game that didn't need much tinkering, and as such the 3D effects are satisfyingly subtle and the tweaks largely unobtrusive. 3D Classics: Twinbee is colourful, challenging and most importantly a great deal of fun. You may well have missed it the first time around, but the game's second chance is also yours. Don't miss it.