Recently I've been messing around with old shmups, and it got me wondering, what is the first game to have all the standard features of a shmup?
I knew a lot of the super primitive stuff from the 70s like asteroids let you pilot a ship that could shoot, but thats not really a shmup. Galaxian came out in 1979, everyone knows its enhanced form Galaga from slightly after that. But thats not a shmup either. In 1982 Xevious implemented a lot of the standard features, scrolling, a big enemy to fight thats harder than the others, and for the first time it kinda feels like a shmup, but, it has no levels, just an endless terrain that loops every 12 minutes or so. In 1985 Konami made their own Xevious style game but with plenty of originality, it was the birth of Twinbee, which would become a long standing series. As far as I can tell this was the first real vertically scrolling shmup. It has power ups, a secondary weapon, the game is divided into levels, and each level has a boss at the end complete with scary music. The only thing the game doesnt have is an ending/end screen, much like the game from my last post Tiger Heli, which was released only 4 months after Twinbee. It makes sense that they loop because they are arcade games, and even Tiger Heli's sequel Twin Cobra which has an end screen, will start up at level 1 after.
So I've been playing Twinbee, I've had plenty of experience with later games in the series like Detana Twinbee, and the protagonist Twinbee ship is in all the Parodius games, but I had never played the original until now. Twinbee not only created the first true shoot em up, in doing so they also created the first cute em up(the visuals are very cartoonish) and established the time honoured tradition of giving you a bunch of lives for no reason, because as soon as you lose your powerups the 2nd half of the game is unplayable without them so you might as well reset the game. Oh how I loath this feature of shmups and there it is already in Twinbee. So guess what, no only did I beat Twinbee, I came damn close to 1CCing it. Basically, to have any chance at winning you need the shield. It protects you for about 10 hits, making it an absolute godsend in an otherwise unforgiving game. Twinbee is the series with the weird bell power up system where you shoot bells until they turn different colors and you need them to be the right color to get the right power up. The shield is red, which requires you to shoot a bell exactly 20 times. So probably about 50% of my playtime for this game was the 1st half of level 1, where I had to flawlessly get a blue bell(4 shots) to increase my speed to more than molasses, then flawlessly get a red bell, before it was too late to survive. Any time it didnt work out perfectly I just reset the game. The game is 5 levels long before it starts looping, and all the difficulty lies in level 5, so you basically want to aim to get to level 5 with your shield no more than half depleted, so taking only 4-5 hits across 4 levels. IF you do this though, you have a serious shot at finishing level 5. Before the boss is a valley of death with tons of enemies shooting tons of bullets, and a cute little Konami HQ building on the ground. Many times I had lost my shield at the start of this valley and quickly had the 7 lives I had accumulated to that point destroyed as I struggled to dodge a storm of enemies while moving at snail speed. Finally though I had a run where my shield lasted until halfway through the valley. The enemies dont stay on screen forever, so if you can dodge them for like 20 seconds they will go away even if you cant kill them, and this is what gave me a small chance to make it through the final 30 seconds before the final boss. The ship's horizontal speed is slightly less crippled than its vertical speed for whatever reason, so I had to strategically fly mostly horizontally and stay alive for ideally 10 seconds per life to survive and I did just that. It sounds easy but they really make sure to give you a super quick respawn time so they can annihilate your lives quickly. By a stroke of luck I only lost 5 lives in the shitstorm of enemies before the boss, so I had 2 left to confront him. The bosses are not too complicated though and typically dont require a ton of speed to defeat, its more a matter of pattern recognition. So he was about as complex as the other bosses, meaning I had a chance even with no power ups. I played it safe, got in 2-3 shots for each of his attack cycles, and eventually he died! When it loops to level 1 it does so on hard mode, but by then I was pretty damn good at getting the shield on level 1 and I was lucky enough to get it that time, so with my final life I managed to finished levels 1, 2, and most of 3 on hard mode. Overall my impression of Twinbee is basically the same as its sequels, fair basic but solid shmup fun, hampered mainly by a bizarre power up system.
Now Im wondering what the first shmup with an end screen is. Alpha Mission from later in 1985 has one but the NES port omits it. Gradius is a horizonal shmup released 3 weeks before Twinbee, and the later NES version has an end screen, but the original arcade does not.