Retro Review: Stinger is as challenging as it is cute0 Comments
Reviewed on: Nintendo Entertainment System
Also available on: Nintendo Virtual Arcade, Nintendo Famicom
Developer: Kazuhiro Aoyama
Once upon a time, Konami was arguably the hottest third-party video game publisher in the world. A long line of Konami titles stand today as some of the biggest classics on the Nintendo Entertainment System, due in part to a special style that instantly identified their many titles. However, some of Konami's NES titles fell through the cracks, despite being just as solid and challenging as their many hits. One of these titles is Stinger, released in North America in the fall of 1987.
Stinger was originally released in Japan in 1986 as Moero TwinBee: Cinnamon-hakase wo Sukue!, which roughly translates into Burn TwinBee: To the Rescue of Dr. Cinnamon! It is part of the TwinBee series, which was and still is a big deal in Japan, spawning multiple games, an anime series, and even a radio drama. Since this series wasn't well known in the United States, Stinger removes the storyline and some features from the game, leaving behind a silly but challenging shooter.
Two players can play at the same time, a somewhat rare feature for this type of game at the time. Most stages play from a horizontally moving style similar to Namco's classic Xevious, while stages 1, 3, and 7 switch to a side-scrolling challenge similar to other Konami titles like Scramble and Gradius. This alternating point of view was more famously used in Konami's more popular Life Force later on. However, Stinger does a better job in using these differing viewpoints to keep the game fresh as you progress through it.
The graphics are cute, as are most of the enemies, something that might have factored into Stinger's relative obscurity in North America. Instead of alien formations attacking you from outer space, you are attacked by flying coat hangers and donuts against a bright blue sky. Boss battles take place against cartoon sea creatures and flying instruments instead of amazing monsters and aliens. As a result, Stinger doesn't appear as cool as other games in the genre at the time, such as Konami's own Gradius, but once you really get into the game this becomes easier to overlook. It might look like something for younger players, but it doesn't play like it.
A unique feature within the game are the bells that come out of the clouds. When you fire upon the clouds, these bells pop out, giving you the opportunity for various power ups or bonus points. You can keep these bells in play by shooting them again and again, something that must be done to keep your bonus multiplier up or eventually change the bell into a power-up item. Yellow bells help push up your point total, blue bells increase your speed, the white bell gives you additional firepower, and various flashing bells provide some very powerful help to the player. Yellow bells shot enough times can turn into power-up bells, giving the skilled player the option of upgrading their ship at needed times, rather than simply chasing a high score.
Frustrating at first, this feature is not only important to the game, but a key feature of the incredible challenge it presents. Keeping the bells active while avoiding and blasting enemies is the 8-bit version of juggling fire clubs while balancing a set of fine china dishes on your head. Getting good at doing it comes with an incredible sense of satisfaction that is absent in many of the other games in this genre.
Controls are responsive, though Stinger might be one of those NES titles that really does play better with an NES Advantage or NES Max controller. The quick moves required to master the game can be hard on your thumb after a while if you are using the standard d-pad controller. Remember, not only are you blasting and dodging enemies and picking up power-ups, you are also keeping the bells in play and attempting to catch them as well. Rare in Stinger is a point where you go in a straight line for very long, at least if you want to play the game well.
Despite a spike in the prices of Nintendo Entertainment System games in recent years, Stinger remains fairly low priced, especially for such a fun and fairly uncommon title. A look at eBay at the time of this review showed a number of copies for $11 and under. It is also available on the Nintendo Virtual Console for both the Wii and Wii U, a highly recommended purchase if you haven't already taken it for a spin.
Don't let the cartoon graphics fool you, Stinger provides as much fun and challenge as any game on the Nintendo Entertainment System. Younger players should enjoy the colorful graphics and characters, while older players should enjoy the "Nintendo hard" challenge it provides. Competitive retro game players should also consider the game, as the potential point pressing it contains could create quite a stir in the many old school websites now tracking scores on games from this era.