Genre: Shmup Developer: Imagitec Design Publisher: GameTek Inc. Players: 1-2 Released: 1992
Within the genre known to many as shmups, there exists a sub-genre of shooters with cute themes and characters. Known as “cute-’em-ups, they’re quite popular in Japan, though they were pretty much unknown in America during the 16-bit era. We got a few of them here and there, but for the most part western audiences spent their time in space as a lone pilot out to save the Earth from an alien armada.
One of the few CEU to make it to the Genesis was Gametek’s Gadget Twins. It lacks the sexual characters and innuendo Ashcraft mentions in Arcade Mania!, but the cute is there in spades. Telling the story of a world populated by vehicles (think Thomas the Tank Engine, but with about a million more grams of sweetness), Gadget Twins is about two planes, Bop and Bump, who are charged with retrieving the kings stolen magical gem, which was stolen by the evil Thump. Great names, huh? Too bad Bump doesn’t have a sister named Grind!
Two players can shoot their way to victory simultaneously. The first player uses Bop here, and player two is Bump, but other than that they both play exactly the same. To me, co-op always makes games more fun, and Gadget Twins eliminates the “sit there and watch me play” cloud that single-player titles cast over many game sessions. I really wish more shooters would include this feature, as it makes gaming so much more fun.
The six bright and colorful levels that compose Gadget Land are very detailed and filled with large sprites. Each scrolls automatically in several directions, and I sometimes found the auto-scrolling to be a bit unforgiving, especially around corners and columns. It’s quite easy to get stuck on the scenery, but at least this doesn’t mean an outright death. Instead, players are tossed back into the middle of the screen, with only a bit of energy loss for their troubles.
One thing Gadget Twins doesn’t skimp on is the boss battles. Each stage has two of them, and Thump always appears in some mechanical contraption like a infantile version of Dr. Robotnik. Though their patterns are simple, Thump’s machines move around much quicker than the Gadget Twins, which means that lots of cheap hits are common. I found myself getting through some stages pretty easily, only to lose several lives fighting the bosses. This is partly because the hit boxes are so small, Bop and Bump must practically be on top of the bosses to hit them. Protip: Buy the hover mines and drop weights as quickly as possible for distance attacks!
The bonus sections after each level are labyrinths filled with treasure, and unless players find the exit before the time expires, they’ll lose all they’ve acquired. This sounds fine enough, but some of these, like the one after stage three, are downright brutal to navigate, and there’s no clear path to take. It’s kind of frustrating to lose all my gold because the developers left no way for me to know if I’m going the wrong way.
Each stage has multiple shops, like in Fantasy Zone, where players can purchase several upgrades for Bop and Bump. Hover mines, yo-yos, drop weights, and hammers are some of the nine power-ups available. Once bought, they can be assigned to any of the four directions, allowing for up to four upgrades to be equipped at a time. At death, players can quickly move to reclaim a lost item if they’re fast enough, and there’s always the option to rebuy if they aren’t. Other power-ups can be found in the chests and barrels that litter each stage. Everything from speed ups to shields and extra lives are waiting to be taken, and care must be taken to not let greed overcome battle instinct. Enemies don’t just sit around and wait for players to finish plundering their loot!
Sounds great so far, right? I found one, big problem: the gameplay. Gadget Twins is a shooter, which means players are constantly hounded by enemies that assail from all around. For this kind of game, good reflexes and an intuitive weapon system is needed. This is not the case with Gadget Twins, which relies on using the “B” button to choose a direction, and “A” to attack. I know this owes itself to the dynamic of assigning a weapon to each direction, but in practice it’s very cumbersome. Having to press the “B” button three time to go from left to up in time to hit a descending enemy is not practical, and it often results in players taking a hit before they can respond.
The same problem occurs with taking items and shooting through barriers. When the screen starts to scroll vertically, and there’s a barrier across the top of the screen that needs to be destroyed, it can be a real chore to have to cycle through two or three directions to fire up. The control scheme isn’t impossible, and it can even become almost natural after some play time, but it isn’t intuitive. That is the biggest sin a shooter can commit, and it is Gadget Twins’ only major flaw.
What we have here then, is a game that gets the presentation and theme so right, only to go so wrong where it needs to succeed the most. I really wanted to like Gadget Twins more than I did, but the amount of effort it requires just to be able to comfortably control the main character is more than a shooter should ask. This is a genre that is the epitome of “pick up and play,” and to force players to learn an unintuitive control scheme is the best way to get them to play something else.
Should you ignore Gadget Twins then? No, I think it still warrants play, and the charming atmosphere might be enough to get some gamers past the control. Those who are looking for something to play through with a friend might want to try something else if they’re not long on patience. As it is, Bop and Bump should probably just be renamed thud, which is the sound my interest made shortly after I started playing this.
SCORE: 5 out of 10