It's not particularly well known outside Japan, but for a while TwinBee was one of Konami's main shoot 'em up series. A lot more cutesy than Gradius and the like, its colourful graphics and characters were its biggest appeal. A while back the original TwinBee was remade as a 3D Classic, but now here we have Pop'n Twinbee, one of the few titles to originally get a release outside Japan, and the last shoot 'em up in the series before it went down the spin-off route and eventually, sadly, dying completely.
If you've played the original title, then you should know what to expect here. Pop'n TwinBee is a vertical shoot 'em up with very colourful, cute graphics and fittingly whimsical music. While the ship you control, TwinBee (Or WinBee, if playing with two players) possesses the standard endless stream of shots like most shoot 'em ups, it's also possible to fire bombs to attack enemies on the ground, much like in Xevious.
The most unique feature, however, is the ability to punch enemies — your ship, which just so happens to be alive, possesses two arms, which it can use to punch nearby foes in the face, even hitting other enemies in the vicinity. While this move needs to be charged a tiny bit and doesn't come out until you release the button, rather than pressing it, it's possible to do so while firing normal shots, allowing you to keep a punch ready for whenever you need it most. Rounding out your arsenal is a nuke-like attack, which naturally comes in limited supply and hits all enemies on the screen.
While Gradius has its fairly well-known red, stationary capsules as powerups, pickups in TwinBee come in the form of bells in a variety of colours — always hidden in clouds, they can be shot several times to change their colour, which also changes what they'll give you when you finally decide to pick up, which can be anything from helper ships to a shield or a different weapon. It's slightly annoying that you might need to shoot a bell a lot to get the colour you want, but luckily they usually come in bunches you can pepper with fire, to hopefully get at least one of the desired varieties.
Although the original TwinBee game could get quite brutal, Pop'n TwinBee is, at least on its default difficulty, rather simple — your ship can take several hits before exploding, you can restore health by finding certain pickups, your shots cover a huge section of the screen, and your punch can even destroy enemy bullets caught in its radius. Thankfully for those seeking a challenge, the game's option menu has a difficulty slider with a whole load of settings, allowing you to make it as hard as you want it to be.
There are only 7 stages, but don't be fooled, each is quite long and can easily take close to 10 minutes. In an inversion of most games like this, the bosses tend to be pushovers, with each of them having easily avoidable attacks and a fairly small health pool, making them more of a breather than the level's challenging conclusion.
One fun thing about this one is that the two player mode is a bit more fully featured than those in other similar games — when you're playing with a friend there are a few co-op moves available, such as one that allows one player to throw the other around, as well as an option that makes enemies only target player 1, which is perfect if one player is less experienced than the other.
While the previous games in the series were already a joy to look at, naturally, the power of the SNES meant that the developers were able to have even more detailed graphics, making this entry even more beautiful. The music is also pretty good, fitting the action perfectly.
It's not a particularly hard game by default, but Pop'n TwinBee is a highly enjoyable, decently sized shoot 'em up that oozes charm and has a fair amount of replayability, mostly due to the many different difficulty settings and a fun two player mode. It's an often overlooked series, but give the TwinBee games a chance — chances are high you'll be hooked.