Twin Cobra

aTwin Cobra USA 188x266 Twin Cobra NES Nintendo Review ScreenshotDeveloper: Micronics
Publisher: American Sammy

Released: January 1990
US Cartridge ID: NES-QT-USA

Players: 1
Genre: Shooter
Supported Peripherals: Controller

ROM Size: 2 megabit
Mapper: MMC3 (128k PRG, 128k CHR)

Requires Flash10

Originally released in the arcades in 1987 as the sequel to Tiger Heli, Twin Cobra bolstered Toaplan’s already notable reputation as a top-tier developer of coin-op shooters. Significantly improving on its predecessor in nearly all respects, Twin Cobra featured stateTwin Cobra USA 001 Twin Cobra NES Nintendo Review Screenshot of the art 16-bit graphics, a raucously infectious FM-soundtrack, and an intense difficulty level, all earning it a great deal of esteem upon release. The years following the game’s initial release hosted a slew of ports to popular consoles of the time, including American Sammy’s 1990 rendition for the Nintendo.

Unfortunately, while owners of the Sega Genesis and the TurboGrafx-16 were treated to fantastic adaptations at the hands of extremely capable developers (the latter in Japan only), NES fans were not quite as lucky. Instead of tapping their in-house talent (Treco, a subsidiary of Sammy, ported the game themselves to the Sega Genesis in 1991), Sammy reacquainted gamers with infamous developer Micronics, renowned for their uncanny knack for maiming classic 80s coin-op games. Despite Micronics’ well-earned reputation for producing software crippled by glitchy gameplay, repugnant aesthetics, and spiteful difficulty levels, Twin Cobra for the NES is not the unmitigated disaster that one might expect following such travesties as Super Pitfall, Ikari Warriors, and Athena.

The requisite dispensable plot establishes the player as the pilot of the world’s fastest helicopter, complete with bombs and an unlimited supply of ammo, destroying naval and air fleets en route to an island stronghold. Against this established “context,” players Twin Cobra USA 011 Twin Cobra NES Nintendo Review Screenshotnavigate a lone chopper across ten vertically scrolling stages, bobbing and weaving through torrents of gunfire while attempting to destroy everything in sight. Each stage begins with the helicopter lifting off from an aircraft carrier’s helipad and jetting toward the mainland. Shooting down the opposition’s air forces or destroying ground defenses and infrastructure will occasionally release power-ups that serve to augment the player’s firepower, current score, and supply of bombs. Upon completing a stage, the player will face a heavily armored vehicle boss, which must be thoroughly destroyed before returning to the air craft carrier.

Twin Cobra plays very similarly to other vertically scrolling arcade shooters (1942, Sky Shark, etc), and as such will feel natural to anyone familiar with the genre. The controls are simple, with the B button shooting the primary gun (of which there are four, each activated by a power-up) and the A button dropping a bomb that inflicts severe damage on anything caught in the blast radius. The helicopter responds smoothly to commands and the hit detection is generally accurate, generally avoiding subjecting the player to frustrating, unwarranted deaths at the hands of the controls.

When the cobra does go down in flames, all collected power-ups go with it. Like with Gradius and Abadox, the penalty for making a mistake is severe: the guns are reset to the default weapon at its lowest power. This isn’t a massive impediment for the first three-quarters of the game, since until stage seven the enemies move slowly, fire in predictable patterns, and are fairly easy to kill without sustaining any damage. After stage seven, however, the sudden extreme spike in difficulty makes a fully powered weapon essential. The enemies will double their speed, fire faster projectiles in higher volumes than before, Twin Cobra USA 084 Twin Cobra NES Nintendo Review Screenshotand actively chase and swarm the player, leaving absolutely no tolerance for error.

The problematic curve in difficulty is compounded by issues commensurate with the increased number of bullets and enemies simultaneously on-screen in later stages: flickering sprites will disguise bullets and enemy planes flying at the player’s helicopter, making for the occasional cheap death when things get hairy. More maddening still is the inconsistent speed at which the game runs, particularly during boss battles. The large boss sprites and the bullets that they belch forth place sufficient strain on the NES’ CPU to slow the game down. While this can make incoming fire easier to avoid in some situations, the game will revert to its normal speed the instant the boss explodes, often sending the player hurtling straight into the last volley of shots fired. This is, however, partially counteracted by the axing of the checkpoint system. Unlike in other versions of the game, the NES port of Twin Cobra does not reset the level nor send the player back to a checkpoint after dying. While eliminating checkpoints does make the majority of the game seem easier than it should, this concession does help to mitigate the frustration resultant from technical hiccups in later stages.

Twin Cobra‘s graphics are a reasonable representation of their namesake’s. Though Twin Cobra USA 147 Twin Cobra NES Nintendo Review Screenshotheavily downgraded for the 8-bit platform, all enemies and backgrounds will be recognizable to those familiar with the arcade version. The levels retain their original layouts and backdrops faithfully, and the brightly colored bullets rarely become lost amidst the chaos (flickering issues aside). For the sake of speed and graphic fidelity, the two-player option has been lamentably excised, and bosses that originally attacked in pairs no longer appear simultaneously, but rather the second appears only once the first is defeated.

The game retains the fantastic music of the coin-op, but some heavy concessions have been made in their synthesis. The melodic hooks are well preserved, but the arrangements tend to employ shrill, arpeggiated leads that emphasize the notable lack of bass and drums, leaving the tunes sounding tinny and hollow. The sound effects, while effective, are comprised of the generic “shoot” and “boom” sounds heard in most NES shooters.

Twin Cobra is a fascinating heap of paradoxes. It’s a serviceable port of a good game Twin Cobra USA 254 Twin Cobra NES Nintendo Review Screenshotplagued by a multitude of niggling issues, yet the problems rarely threaten  the extremely fun game play. The graphics and the sound are subpar by NES standards (especially for a game released in 1990), yet they manage to channel enough of the original’s flair that their middling quality never becomes a distraction. The game was produced by a company that earned its notoriety from the staggering number of Christmas mornings ruined by its calamitous efforts, yet Twin Cobra manages to be an enjoyable game. As long as players don’t expect a AAA-title as they slide Twin Cobra into their NES’ for the first time, they’ll be pleasantly surprised by what they find.

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flag us Twin Cobra NES Nintendo Review ScreenshotTwin Cobra
American Sammy, 1/1990
flag jpn Twin Cobra NES Nintendo Review Screenshot究極タイガー (Kyuukyoku Taigaa)
Ultimate Tiger
CBS Sony Group, 8/1989