If I can tie a common thread between all of the NEOGEO’s most popular games, that thread would be named “games you can enjoy playing with a friend". Some of those games, like Metal Slug and Sengoku 3, were cooperative in nature. Others, like King of Fighters and Samurai Shodown, were competitive games. Some genres lend themselves more naturally to one style or another, of course. Cooperative beat-em-ups make sense. Competitive one-on-one fighters are another natural fit. Twinkle Star Sprites ($3.99) is a rare shoot-em-up that chooses violence between its players, and that’s exactly what makes it so great.
Unlike many of the games we’ve seen in the ACA NEOGEO line-up so far, Twinkle Star Sprites arrived several years into the life of SNK’s console. It was a 1996 release, and it would end up being the final game released on the system by developer ADK before they moved on to supporting SNK’s handheld NEOGEO Pocket. It’s an unusual game to be sure, but it’s not hard to see what inspired it. Shoot-em-ups were always reliable earners in arcades, and competitive puzzle games had caught fire in the wake of Puyo Puyo. Why not try to combine them?
Thus, the competitive shoot-em-up was born. At least, I think this is where it was born. It’s certainly the first one of its type that I remember seeing, and it’s an idea that took some time for me to warm up to. Shooters usually see you making your way through carefully planned stages, grabbing power-ups, blasting everything in sight, and taking down huge bosses. Sometimes the aim is to reach an ending, but usually it’s about racking up a high score. If there does happen to be multiplayer support, it’s typically in the form of having another player jump in and help out.
Twinkle Star Sprites tosses each player into their own half of the screen. The players have to blast away the enemies in usual fashion, with a basic shot, charge shot, and limited stock of bombs serving as the main tools for doing so. But there’s no end to the stage or final boss waiting for you. No, your enemy is the other player. By blasting away enemies in chains, you’ll send attacks over to the other field. If they hit the player, they’ll take damage. Naturally, the enemies can also deal damage. Whoever runs out of life first loses, but the final hit can only come from the other player.
The really fun bit is that you can hit the attacks your opponent sends over to your screen, and by doing so you will send them back with a little extra mustard on them. After a few volleys, the attacks start getting really nasty, spawning invincible enemies and even bosses. Take too long to win and Death will appear, but even Death can be bounced over to your foe’s side of the screen. It’s wild stuff, and if you have two well-matched players the matches can get absolutely chaotic in all the best ways.
And that, my friends, is wherein the rub lies. Twinkle Star Sprites has single-player modes, and they’re as extensive as any arcade head-to-head puzzler’s are. But the real meat of the game is in that multiplayer mode, as the CPU can never be as fun to play against as another human player. While you can play the mobile ACA NEOGEO games with two players, you ideally need a couple of external controllers to do so. There is no wireless multiplayer or online multiplayer option available here, and you obviously can’t both use touch controls on one device. It really does hurt the appeal of this game.
It’s the usual set of options and extras from Hamster, in other words. Decent touch controls that work fairly well with the kind of game this is. External controller support for those who prefer that way and have the means. Tons of video, audio, control, and difficulty options to tweak to your liking. Additional modes that allow you test yourself against others on the online leaderboards. Your choice of the Japanese or Overseas versions of the game. A solid package all-around for this lovely little game, and the price is certainly more than fair.
Twinkle Star Sprites plays well on mobile in the mechanical sense. The controls work well enough, it’s running as smoothly as it ever did, and you have a wide array of options and features. With that said, similar to the fighting games that have been brought to the mobile ACA NEOGEO line, the relatively complicated and specific means of playing with another human really does a number on the appeal of this game. Can you still have fun with Twinkle Star Sprites solo? Sure. Maybe even enough to justify dropping the handful of coins to buy it. But this certainly isn’t the optimal way to enjoy everything this game has to offer.