Retro Respawn – Pop’n TwinBee

I’ve still been waiting for Retromania Wrestling to make its way to the Nintendo Switch over here in the UK, but thankfully, I’ve finally gotten around to downloading the Super Nintendo and Nintendo Entertainment System emulators that you can get on the Nintendo Store, and I’ve tried delving into games that I haven’t played before. Whilst perusing the library of games on offer, I noticed one called Pop’n TwinBee, a relentlessly cute shoot ‘em up (or “shmup” as fans of the genre like to refer to them as) from Konami. I normally don’t tend to play that style of game, but I found myself attracted to Pop’n TwinBee after having a quick go on it and decided to hunker down and play it some more so that I could write about it this week.

Released for the Super Nintendo and hitting European shop shelves in the autumn of 1993, Pop’n TwinBee is a thoroughly Japanese game in all the ways that a Japanophile would enjoy, down to its wacky artwork and vibrant soundtrack. You fly around shooting at giant pieces of fruit whilst flinging bombs onto cute critters on the ground in the hope that doing so will provide you with hearts to replenish your health. It’s completely and totally bonkers but in a really endearing and fun way. Anyone who has played SNES-era Konami games should find the excellent soundtrack instantly recognisable, with the boss battle music in particular giving me flashbacks to when I used to play Turtles in Time on the very same system.

Pop’n TwinBee’s plot is also suitably wacky as a previously nice scientist has gone all evil due to bonking his head, meaning that you now have to shoot down his minions in a quest to thwart his attempt at world domination. You don’t have to do it alone if you have a friend willing to help though as the game supports a co-op two-player mode, which I sadly didn’t get to see myself due to being a psychotic loner who lives at the top of an oak tree and eats pasta out of a sock. Sorry, might have overshared a bit there. Anyway, the fact the option exists is great because the game is already a super frantic shooting gallery at times, so I can only imagine just how much the ante could be upped if you had a pal willing to share some of the burden with you.

I must admit to not having much experience of the shmup genre, so it could be that what I consider to be projectile dodging anarchy might be more in line with a pleasant stroll in the park for a more hardened veteran of flying around and shooting stuff. I’ve dabbled with games like R-Type over the years, but Pop’n TwinBee was probably the first time I’ve ever really sunk what you could class as a significant amount of time into a game from the genre. It’s not that I think shmups aren’t fun or worth my time, but honestly, I just find them a tad too hyper and off the wall sometimes. It can even get to the stage that just watching someone play one of these games will cause my eyes to hurt as there’s just so much going on at any given time that it’s hard to keep track of it all.

The best way I could describe what a shmup at its most wild does to my brain would be to use an analogy. Picture a game of football/soccer where a player is running down the wing with the ball and is trying to beat the full back so that they can pop a cross into the box. However, before they can get past that player, suddenly 30 objects of some kind start flying at them, and they have to dodge them all whilst also avoiding being tackled by the opposing player and still putting the cross into the box without hitting a player other than the target in the process. Imagine nestling into your armchair for the World Cup Final and then being bombarded with that? Well, that’s what playing a shmup is like for me a lot of the time. My brain just can’t keep up. It’s like a grandparent chasing a toddler grandchild around the living room; after a while they just need to sit down for a moment to grab their bearings.

For that reason I eventually reached a point on Pop’n TwinBee where it just got too difficult for me, even on a more generous difficulty setting. Without liberal use of the rewind function on the SNES emulator, I probably wouldn’t have been able to get anywhere in the game. Again, I’m not sure if that’s because Pop’n TwinBee is an especially difficult entry in the genre or simply more down to the fact that I have as much propensity for playing these sorts of games as a Snorlax has for running a marathon. I certainly wasn’t bored whilst playing it, and I genuinely loved both the graphics and the soundtrack. Pop’n TwinBee is just a very endearing game in general, and chances are that if you can handle this sort of gameplay, then you’ll probably have a good time with it.

It was certainly nice to venture back to the halcyon days where the Konami logo represented a high standard of quality rather than just another lazy attempt at fleecing some people of their hard-earned cash by bastardising a well-liked video game series in order to get pensioners and salary-men to play on a fruit machine. Pop’n TwinBee reminded me of just how good Konami used to be, especially in the fourth generation, and I couldn’t help but feel a pang of sadness that those days are well and truly over.

However, let’s not close on a downer, eh? I found Pop’n TwinBee to be a lot of fun, and I heartily recommend giving it a go if you have the Switch SNES emulator, especially as it’s free with a Nintendo online membership. Even if you struggle with the gameplay as I did, there’s still a good chance that you’ll enjoy the overall aesthetic and find the game to be an amusing distraction from the fresh heck that is the world in 2020. Give Pop’n TwinBee a go; those cute creatures deserve to be blasted out of the sky!

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