Thursday, 8 May 2014

Review - Twin Tiger Shark (Xbox Indie)

An indie tribute to classic arcade shmups, now on your Xbox 360!

Wide Pixel Games, or Mikael Tillander as he is known to his friends, is back with another Xbox indie title following a string of enjoyable and well made titles. Twin Tiger Shark is a vertical scrolling shmup that obviously has a hard-on for classic coin-op shooters from the late 80's and early 90's, most notably those of developer Toaplan. Both the visuals and sound mimic the look of the arcade games of yesteryear perfectly, giving it an air of authenticity that will delight fans of titles such as Capcom's 1942 series, Raiden and especially Toaplan's Twin Hawk, Twin Cobra and Fireshark. Indeed, the likeness is so spot-on that I initially thought it was a straight-up clone of one of those titles, so much so that I had to boot up MAME in order to discover which one it was. I never found a match, of course, but it pays such faithful tribute to their various titles that it's hard to tell - from the almost identical plane to the one used in Twin Hawk, the similar plane formations, background environments and soundtrack of Fireshark, or the enemy vehicles seen in Twin Cobra, every element of Twin Tiger Shark appears to be from a Toaplan title.

As a fan of arcade shmups, especially the ones mentioned above, Twin Tiger Shark instantly appealed to me and kept me hooked thanks to it's fast paced action, tight controls, challenging gameplay and, of course, the coin-op presentation. Everything is instantly accessible, and will feel instantly familiar to fans of the genre. Your ship has its standard shot and the usual, extremely powerful, smart bombs that come in limited supply. Power-ups dropped by certain enemies come in either red or blue, representing either your standard, straight ahead firing gun, or a spread shot. Collecting the same coloured power-up as your currently held weapon will increase its power and spread. Bonus stars appear in destroyed enemy vehicles and buildings and can be collected for additional points, something that actually matters in an arcade shmup. The best power-up comes in the form of ally planes, who create a formation around you, adding to your firepower as well as acting as a handy shield - they can even collect the stars for you should they come into contact with them. 

With its classic 'war meets futuristic technology' theme you will encounter many familiar backdrops and enemy types of the genre. You will fly across beaches, forests, ports and the open seas, shooting down a plethora of planes, choppers, tanks, boats, and gun turrets of varying sizes. Naturally, there is a large boss waiting for you at the end of each stage, with a hefty health bar and a multitude of projectiles and lasers to fire in your direction. While initially fairly laid back (for seasoned shmup players, at least), the difficulty soon ramps up, and it isn't long before you are being assaulted by a multitude of air, land and sea based enemies, with projectiles flying everywhere. With no continues on offer once your lives have been expended, it will require much practice to finally beat it, especially as the game loops back to the start after a few stages, with ramped up enemy attacks to boot. It also uses the Raiden style approach to death, with the player restarting a little way back from where they died rather than instantly respawning. 

The only negatives I can really level at Twin Tiger Shark is that some of the audio is distinctly below par, with many sound effects sounding out of place, too loud or distorted. The other thing that irks me slightly is that the screen is very, very narrow. Now I know this is the norm with regards to vertically scrolling smhups, but here it seems excessively slim, cutting off some of the playing area - your ship's wings disappear off the side when you get to the edges of the screen and the first digit of your score (should you reach a six figure number) is not visible. This should really have been fixed prior to release as it makes the playing field seem a little restrictive and claustrophobic. On the plus side, you have the option to rotate the screen, should you be willing to flip your TV on it's side - something I seriously recommend! The icing on the cake is the addition of online scoreboards - uploaded via a QR code that needs to be scanned - which are perfect for keeping you coming back to try to beat your previous scores. Aside from a few minor issues, I am thoroughly enjoying Twin Tiger Shark and highly recommend it to even casual fans of the genre. I would probably go as far as to say it's now my favourite indie shmup on the Xbox 360. It also costs next to nothing, so what are you waiting for? Go buy it already!

Title : Twin Tiger Shark
Developer : Wide Pixel Games 
Year : 2014
Systems : Xbox Indie
Price : £0.69
Genre : Vertical Shmup

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