Saturday, August 18, 2012

Impressions: TwinBee: Rainbow Bell Adventure (SFC)

Received: July 30th, 2012 / Written: August 12th-18th, 2012 (Rough Draft) / Final Draft: August 17th-18th, 2012
TwinBee: Rainbow Bell Adventure

Year: 1994 | Developed and Published by: Konami | [ O ]

Choose your character!
Ah, TwinBee!  =)  Ever since I imported the PSP compilation TwinBee Portable from Japan last year, I fell in love with the series and became a huge fan.  Maybe not as well known (or as hysterically quirky) as Konami's other cute'em up series Parodius, I find this series of games very appealing.  The games are lighthearted, cute, colorful, cheerful, charming, and they have very and intuitive play control, too, with a fair amount of challenge to boot.  Not to mention have a very nice art style.  Back in the early '90s there were a couple titles in the series that were made for the Super Famicom and Super Nintendo console in Japan and Europe respectively: Pop'n TwinBee and TwinBee: Rainbow Bell Adventure (known as Pop'n TwinBee: Rainbow Bell Adventures in Europe).

I enjoyed Pop'n TwinBee immensely in TwinBee Portable, for I thought it was one of the best games in the cute'em up genre, if not the best.  The benefit of owning a Retro Duo is that I get to play and experience Super Famicom games from Japan, which is great and makes the world a much bigger place.  For the fifth Super Famicom purchase, I chose the (sort of) sequel to Pop'n TwinBee, TwinBee: Rainbow Bell Adventure, which is actually a spin-off (one of three, to be precise) of the series, which transitioned from vertical-scrolling cute'em up to sidescrolling platformer.  Ever since I first looked it up, I wondered how exactly a series transition like that would work.  Fortunately, it turned out to work very well, and it turned out to be very fun.

It's Hammer Time!!!
Funny story about the second 16-bit console TwinBee game: I don't know what its status in Japan or Europe is like, but as far as I looked up, it is very rare!!  No, seriously, take a gander on eBay, there are not many copies of it on there at all, if any.  And in cases when the game does pop up on eBay, it usually sells for a very high amount.  The copy I paid for sold at a very decent price.  I got lucky there.  Now how is it that a game of this caliber is so high up for grabs?  Is it because it's obscure?  Is it because it's a spin-off?  Is it because it's different than most games in the series?  Is it because both regional versions of the game had many differences upon release?  Which reminds me: as far as I looked up, when the PAL version was made, changes were made and certain elements were cut from the original Japanese version.  That version was linear, the dialogue between levels was removed, and it used passwords in order to continue your progress.  But in the Japanese version, the map is nonlinear, there are alternative exits, the map screen has dialogue between the characters, progress is saved through battery back-up, and there are several different endings...  Boy, PAL gamers sure got shortchanged when they got this game, weren't they?  Now I normally don't compare versions of games I experienced to those that I haven't since it's not exactly fair to those that have played said version, but I just had to make an exception here.  Another thing to note is that more often than not the PAL versions will be selling on eBay, while the Japanese versions don't appear as often.  Luckily, the copy I pad for was Japanese, so I got to experience the game as it was initially made.  I almost considered buying the PAL version, since it seemed like it was the only copy on there, but the moment I saw that a Japanese version was on there, I immediately jumped for it.  Totally worth it!  =D  Okay, rambling time over: it's GAME TIME!!!

Thanks to the ringing of a series of bells called the Rainbow Bell, peace had prospered in the universe.  Unfortunately, Dr. Warumon and his anthropomorphic EvilBee army step into the scene and decide to put a big end to that.  The EvilBees have snatched them away, and caused many to panic and worry.  What's worse: the ruler of Planet Meru, Princess Melora, who was previously seen in Detana!! TwinBee, is slowly beginning to fade away as a result.  What could Dr. Warumon hope to accomplish from all this?  Why, only the most diabolical thing imaginable: take over the world.

But luckily for the people the anthropomorphic bee-shaped heroes TwinBee, WinBee, and GwinBee have come to the rescue.  The first two are piloted by a couple teens called Light and Pastel (they're not called that in the game, but they were given names in the series eventually) while the third one is piloted by a baby called Mint (same with him); I kid you not!  In their adventure to stop Dr. Warumon's evil deeds, they will be aided by the pilots' grandfather Dr. Shinamon (via communication on the map screen).

Racing under a beautiful
aurora borealis!
 I remember reading years ago when I read Shiryu's description of his gameplay video that he described the gameplay was like TwinBee meets Sonic the Hedgehog meets RocketKnight Adventures.  Yeah, I can see how he would come to that, now that I played it myself.  That's a good way of putting it, really.  So in the game you can choose to play one of four save files or you could choose to use a password; but since the Japanese copy saves automatically, I find little point to use the password system at all.  From there, you have to choice of playing as the cyan and yellow-colored TwinBee, the pink and blue-colored WinBee, and the green and blue-colored GwinBee.  Of course, once you choose your character, you cannot switch to another one until after you continue if you lose a life.

All right, here are the basics.  If you keep holding the left or right button, you will be moving until you gradually start to run like the wind.  If you press down while running your character will be sliding ahead on its belly.  You can also throw a punch (should you not have a yellow bell power-up) by pressing the Y button in any direction.  If you want to throw a very potent fire punch attack, hold down the Y button until the Punch gauge is full, and then release the button in order to launch the fire punch towards faraway enemies in any of the eight directions.  You can also jump on most enemies and bosses via the B button, and it's also possible to propel yourself into the air and fly for a short period of time in any of the eight directions.  Just hold down the B button until the Jump gauge is full (on the ground or in midair), and once you release it while holding a direction, you'll fly as fast as you can.
The TwinBee Team
Throughout the stages there are angles, walls, and ceilings, and if you fly towards any of these surfaces, then you'll be ricocheting off said surfaces, which is very fun.  While in midair, you can even hover as long as you hold up, though you'll slwoly go down as a result.  From time to time youll come across a button with a "?" mark on it, and once it's been pushed, you'll find one of the following: a missile, a bouncing ball, and a wipeout bomb.  By pressing the X button you can pack them up and put them down, and if you press the Y button while hodling them you'll be using them.  The missile seeks out the enemies, the bouncing ball temporarily bounces all over the screen while knocking out enemies, and the wipeout bomb does exactly as the name implies.  If you want to see what's ahead of you, you can hold down either the L or the R shoulder button to shift the camera to the left or to the right, and to look upward hold up and to look downward hold down.

Having a nice conversation with
Grandpa Shinamon
In the TwinBee-verse you usually shoot at clouds in order for the bells to appear, but in TwinBee: Rainbow Bell Adventure you have to defeat the enemies in order to get the bell power-ups.  Just make sure you catch the bell as it falls, otherwise you'll miss it.  The white bell gives you a special set of shoes, the yellow bell gives your character a special weapon (with it, TwinBee can use a hammer, WinBee can use a ribbon, and GwinBee can use a rattle toy to throw towards distanced enemies), the blue bell gives you a laser gun which can be utilized with the A button, the green bell gives you a Chibi-Bee wingman which will follow you around and damage enemies upon contact (only up to three), the purple bell forms a shield around you (which is disposed if it's hit once), and finally, the pink bell renders you invincible for several seconds.  Be careful, though, because if you're hit, then all the bell power-ups you currently have will jump out from you, and you only have a chance to recuperate a few of them as they fall.  That darn "Sonic the Hedgehog Syndome"!  >=(  Oh, and you only have a health of three hearts, so if you lose your last heart regardless of whether or not you have bell power-ups on you, you'll lose a life.

The pastel-toned visuals lathered in each area are bright, colorful, eye-pleasing, and oh-so inviting.  To name a few: in the sunny green areas there are neat-looking mountains and hills in the background, as well as a few floating islands with a waterfall streaming down.  In the cavernous areas it's all dark save for the round oval centering on your character, and the way the rocks and enemies are revealed as they're in the vicinity gives a rather cool atmospheric feel.  The rainforest areas are great with all the vegetated trees and the water-filled parts you can swim in, while the snowy areas are simply beautiful to look at with all the snow, the ice, and the sky which has a wonderful aurora borealis the higher up you go (I'm a sucker for those).  Each of the main characters are designed very nicely, and they all display smooth animation.  Their various animations are neat, especially the running and idle ones.  The enemies and bosses look great, too, and I love how there are character portraits for whenever dialogue is taking place.

Exploring the dark, strangely
atmospheric cave
The TwinBee cute'em ups usually have a good amount of smooth-flowing challenge while at the same time not being too difficult.  I don't know what to say about this game's challenge, however, and I'm not even certain how I feel about it.  Basically the goal of each stage is to reach the goal represented by a small arch with Dr. Shinamon's face on it.  Some stages are straightforward in that there is only one goal, but in other stages there are alternate goals, similar to Super Mario World.  If ever you feel lost, you can consult the stage's grid-based map whenever you pause the game.  The "G" grid stands for Goal, and if it's yellow it means that it hasn't been accessed yet.  In certain stages, if you haven't gotten them yet, you'll notice a key symbol on the map.  There are six colored keys in total, each found in their corresponding areas.  With these keys in possession, you'll be able to enter the door(s) in each stage that corresponds to that color.  Entering them will send you to a different part of the stage in a secret room.  You'll know you haven't entered the door yet if the map shows a black door symbol on certain grids; why that's important I'll get to shortly.  You'll notice in each stage that there is a timer at the top, and fortunately you can stick around as long as you want with no repercussions whatsoever.

As was the case with the last game, you have health and must beat the stages in one life.  Fortunately, you have an unlimited amount of continues at your disposal.  Unfortunately, your health is comprised of three hearts, while depending on the difficulty (or how you play) feels a little restricting and can make the game harder than it really is.  Some spikes will alleviate you of one heart, while certain other spikes will put an end to your journey, so it's best to be cautious.  The only way to recuperate health is if you either find a heart lying around, or if you collect a hundred round bells (every hundred will reward you with one).

I've got nothing creative to say
about this screenshot
Each Rainbow Bell is guarded by a boss who's name ends with the suffix "Bee" (it's a little like how in the Digimon series pretty much every non-human character's name ended with the suffix "mon"), and the only way to confront Dr. Warumon is if you have gathered all seven of them.  The thing about certain boss stages is that some of them can only be accessed once you find an alternate exit; in the monitor with Dr. Shinamon neat it, there are arrows in each grid that show where you'll be heading depending on the exit you take.  Some exits are easy to reach, while some are rather difficult to access (particularly that one in a Toyland-like stage).  The boss battles require a bit of strategy, and your choices of combating them are to jump on them or to do the fire punch.  The fire punches are more effective since they'll take out four of the bosses' health away.  The thing about fire punches are that you have to wait until the fire gauge is full in order for them to work, and that it takes a second or two depending on which character you play as.  TwinBee takes an equal amount of time to charge up his punches and jumps, while GwinBee pulls off faster fire punches and WinBee propels herself in the air the quickest.  Since you have three hearts, being careful when fighting the bosses are a must, and messing up will lessen the chance of victory; so as a result, GwinBee is your best bet when it comes to boss fights.  I have not defeated any of the bosses on my first try, not even the first one.  A personal quibble I have with this game is that if you hold down the B button while jumping and while holding a directions in moments when you don't need to propel yourself, do not let go (unless the Control Pad is left alone).  If you do, you'll accidentally fly off when you didn't mean to, which is a big issue for someone who regularly holds down the jump button whenever it comes ot jumping; but that's just me.  TwinBee: Rainbow Bell Adventure is neither an easy game nor a hard on, but I'm not exactly sure what difficulty Konami was aiming for here.  That's why I didn't know what to say about this aspect.

That is so adorable!
If I were asked to give this game a score from 1 too 10, I would give this game an 8 at best.  But did this spin-off live up to the TwinBee name?  Yeah, I think it did.  Does it in any way exceed the other games in the series?  No, not really.  I didn't expect it to surpass the series upon playing it (don't know about the two Nintendo 8-bit games and the two PlayStation spin-offs, since I haven't played those), but I had a lot of fun with it in the end, for it had all the charm that I love about the series.  The stages are fun and good-looking, the stage designs are decent (if not difficult at times), and the gameplay is rock solid.  The visual style is pleasing to the eyes, the still shots seen after beating a stage in certain areas is appealing, and the music fits perfectly with the atmosphere.  I just wish there was a consistent difficulty here, because I didn't feel that there was one, which I found distracting.  The boss fights were nice (the way a pair of them react on one stage upon losing is absolutely adorable), the final boss encounter really took me by surprise, and I like how there is a lot of replay value.  I loved how the characters weren't simply palette swaps, and that they actually had differing animations and stats that made them stand out.  The various exits lead to different stages, and some of them will take a long time to access.  I only got one ending so far, but at the end after the credits have finished rolling they show you the results of your performance; you'll be shown how many fairies you gathered, how many doors you opened, how many exits you reached, and how much of the game you've completed.  Some fairies can be found by searching thoroughly in the stage; some of the foregrounds are breakable (there are ones that are obvious and ones that are concealed by blending with the scenery), and some fairies are found by accessing secret rooms once you access a colored door.  Most fairies are hard to find and collect, so stay alert and be careful.  There are different endings, too, and I'm curious as to what happens during them.  It has its glaring flaws, sure, and the inconsistent difficulty drove me off (I regularly have an easy time talking about a video game's difficulty most of the time), but in the end I had a good time with it.  It's fun, cute, charming, and very lighthearted.

I know what you may be thinking when earlier in this post: "fifth Super Famicom purchase"?  "What about your third and fourth SFC games?  Why didn't make an impressions post about them?"  For those that are curious, my third purchase was Gokujō Parodius! ~Kako no Eikō o Motomete~ and my fourth game was Tenchi Sōzō (known to many as Terranigma).  The reason I didn't share my impressions about the former is because I want to create a full-length review of that game (so don't expect news of it anytime soon), and the reason there isn't an impressions post made regarding the latter is because I lost my rought draft.  =(

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