Twinkle Star Sprites: La Petite Princesse (PlayStation 2) review
"It's a strange old world we live in when someone can look down on you for playing a game like Twinkle Star Sprites: La Petite Princesse. Explaining that it's the latest in Playmore's line-up of rejuvenated, Neo Geo classics does nothing for your cause, such mega street cred soon lost on a dozen incredulous looks and a patronizing pat on the back."
It's a strange old world we live in when someone can look down on you for playing a game like Twinkle Star Sprites: La Petite Princesse. Explaining that it's the latest in Playmore's line-up of rejuvenated, Neo Geo classics does nothing for your cause, such mega street cred soon lost on a dozen incredulous looks and a patronizing pat on the back. You'll try to elaborate, but even that won't shake your audience once they've discovered the truth behind Twinkle Star Sprites' leading heroine: a pastel shaded pre-teen with a penchant for riding her broomstick over a candy coated world of sugary goodness. Yeah, put like that, I'd be ripping shit on my mates as well...
But anyway, let's start this review with a claim you're probably not expecting...
Twinkle Star Sprites: La Petite Princesse - Quite the manly shooter
WTF?! ZOMG?!!?! The veterans know what I'm talking about, this beast'll separate the men from the little girly girls in no time flat. What makes Twinkle Star Sprites so special however, isn't its gender confused challenge, though admittedly its characters are really quite charming. No, in this case at least, the magic is worked by SNK's willingness to take a hefty crap on virtually every genre preconception you've ever had. It looks like a vertically scrolling shooter, but plays like a one-on-one fighter. It feels like a random blast of shoot'em up insanity, but has all the carefully placed technique of the world's best puzzler. Twinkle Star Sprites is something only the Japanese could dream of, and therein we find its appeal.
Yet as complicated as all that may sound, the hook is relatively easy to grasp. Like any good one-on-one puzzler, I mean versus shooter, the playfield has been divided in two: player one on the left, your soon to be crushed opponent on the right. Twinkle Star Sprites then begins in a fairly atypical fashion as players move up the screen shooting down a random assortment of cute, Japanese craziness. Clouds gently waft in from above, as do a number of faster moving bubbles, kittens, an assortment of smiley faces, and virtually an entire smorgasbord of steaming hot pastries. And each of which it should be noted, is looking to splatter your broomstick riding girly-ness all over the countryside.
Watch out La Petite Princesse, we're going in hot.
Now, if all that sounds simple enough, think again. Shooting down a single enemy causes them to erupt in a shattering display of pyrotechnics, which in turn sets off a chain reaction destroying anything else nearby. Fireballs then erupt from these explosions, shooting across the screen and into the path of your opponent who's no doubt using some very colorful language. Don't count them out just yet however, as they still have the opportunity to reverse those fireballs with a few well placed shots, returning the volley which has exponentially grown in size. Back and forth the action goes, players shooting down enemies, creating fireballs, and reversing attacks until someone takes a hit.
To say that this exotic blend of the genres is enticing proves to be an understatement along the lines of claiming the Neo Geo had only a few good games. Twinkle Star Sprites' real depth of play only begins to show itself once players have had a chance to plan their attacks, strategizing the number of enemies they shoot down and when. It'll do you no good what-so-ever to peck away at waves of 3-4 attackers, yet waiting until your side of the screen is swarming with activity may be a fool's decision. You see, further adding fuel to this bonfire of cross-genre love is the ability to launch boss encounters at your opponents when they least expect them. And with the screen already abuzz, the last thing they'll want to see is a giant, stuffed dog looking to make them its bitch.
So yeah, as far as the action goes, Twinkle Star Sprites is every bit a winner. The KDDI matching service for online play works a treat, but that of course is only available in Japan. Importers have to make do with a limited number of game play options, a story mode, versus tournament, and a 2 player one-on-one battle being pretty much it. The story mode doesn't really offer much of anything, a mere six rounds of frenzied action being all it takes to wrap up the plot and return players to the main menu with nary an unlockable extra for their troubles. Luckily enough however, it's the versus tournament that picks up this slack, providing a healthy number of characters to choose from and a far more difficult learning curve to climb.
I guess though, the underlying problem with Twinkle Star Sprites lays with its lack of true, long term appeal. Those that remember the 1996 Neo-Geo original will have a ball, drooling over the freshly rendered backgrounds before putting the game on a pedestal and saving it for posterity. Nostalgia however, isn't going to work for everyone, and once the abundant technique has been mastered, there's very little left for new comers to do. You've got nothing to unlock, and only the tournament modes to keep you going. Say, how about another round or three hundred? Still, if you're willing to take a chance, you're at least guaranteed to find Twinkle Star Sprites: La Petite Princesse to be one of the most original and unique shooters around. With the technique of Streetfighter and the depth to spare, it's most certainly here for a good time, albeit not a long one.
Even if your friends still want to mock it...
* You've never played anything quite like this before
* 2 player versus shoot'em up action
* Tight controls make dodging a breeze
* Believe it or not, there's more technique here than most shooters can dream of
* Veteran players will still find the challenge impressive
* The charming character designs will warm your heart
* Visually speaking, Twinkle Star Sprites is a pastel colored treat
* KDDI online play has been fully supported
* Twinkle Star Spites' story mode is little more than filler
* With only 3 gameplay modes, players may be left wanting more
* The KDDI online matching service is only available in Japan
Staff review by Michael Scott (August 21, 2005)
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