Twin Cobra is not officially a sequel to Tiger-Heli, but it sure seems like it. Although Micronics developed the arcade port for the NES for its predecessor, the pleasure of publishing Twin Cobra went to American Sammy in 1990, rather than Acclaim’s work to distribute Tiger-Heli.
Twin Cobra is a military-themed vertically scrolling shoot-’em-up in which the player controls an advanced attack helicopter and wages a one-craft war against the evil enemy, who fights back with copters of their own, tanks, boats, turrets, in addition to other vehicles and obstacles. There is some horizontal scrolling as well, a bit to the left and right, adding a sense of size to the ten looping levels and an enhanced sense of flying freedom for the player.
The A button launches a devastating bomb, of which the player can hold up to nine at a time and find by shooting various objects for bonus items. The B button fires the primary weapon. Twin Cobra has a very solid variety of weaponry. To begin with, there are four types of ammo: The starting weapon, which has red-orange shells firing forward; a green-projectile weapon, which concentrates fire in a straight direction forward; a white-blue shot, which spreads in a radiated path forward; and a crazy multi-directional brown-ball weapon, which even slightly homes in on hostiles.
In addition to the variance in weapon types, they can also be upgraded via collecting “S” items, with six total levels of upgrade, resulting in an annihilating amount of firepower. Even though only two shots can be on-screen at once, when fully upgrades, this still represents several projectiles in mid-flight, even up to a couple dozen in certain cases.
The player begins with three choppers, gaining an extra one when 50,000 points are reached; afterward, 150,000 points is required per one-up. Five continues are given. To grant the player a rest between frenetic rounds of bullet-blasting, each stage ends by landing on an aircraft carrier helipad for a brief rest from the firestorm festivities. Bonus points are totaled if the player was able to collect an amount of star items without dying. The white stars, rather than give bonus points, instead grant temporary invulnerability, as does a respawn.
Twin Cobra does not have the most polished presentation, but it definitely offers a challenge that makes hearty demands on a player’s reflexes and flight tactics. Fans of the genre will enjoy discovering the absolute to-the-pixel limits of the chopper’s hit box, while casual players may be intrigued by the sheer amount of action on the screen at any given moment. There are even boss fights to contend with. Better than the plainest of shooters but not quite as refined in its quality as the better titles, Twin Cobra is quite decent, and will be fancied by some while ignored by others.
Twin Cobra definitely has to deal with flickering and slowdown. With multiple moving enemies firing multiple projectiles while the player-copter itself is firing multiple projectiles of its own, perhaps it is no minor miracles that the NES does not simply give up and freeze during the proceedings. The actual vehicle designs are alright, somewhat par for the course as far as these games go, but presentable. The staging is solid, as the player will find the chopper traversing over ocean naval forces, jungles, and even fighting some enemies on rails. The projectiles can seem a little odd, since most of them are just colored balls, but such lack of realism can probably be forgiven, given its 8-bit setting.
Eh. The music is not awful in its composition, but the tonal quality leaves a bit to be desired. Those square-wave channels are a little obvious, and come off as tinny, plain (for digital musicianship), and not as rich as it could be. As for the sound effects, an enemy ship exploding sounds like a soft splash in the ocean, whereas the protagonist definitely suffers from “pew pew pew” syndrome, with very wimpy gunshot sounds. Twin Cobra is not a soundtrack powerhouse. Those wearing rose-colored glasses may find some appeal in its simplicity.
Twin Cobra is undoubtedly not the first military-themed vertically scrolling shooter on the NES, and not even the first to feature a helicopter as hero. Thankfully, it features a much greater gameplay variety than Tiger-Heli, especially in the arsenal offered and enemy/boss designs. The basic level-loop, high-score-seeking shell is intact, and the general rule of “your mileage may vary” applies here. One does get the impression of Twin Cobra being somewhat rough around the edges, if anything. Overall, not the most staggeringly innovating 8-bit video game, but it can hardly be accused of being boring. A worse starting point for the shmup category could be found.
Rating: Two and a half stars out of five.