I love it when games try something different. Sticking to a known formula is never bad as long as you do it with quality, but it is also important to strive for new ideas for innovating a genre or the media as a whole. Even failures can showcase what to do onwards, which Talespin sadly is one of. Although, I am a bit unsure of how this could have been fixed. Because of this, I am here to simply rant about it for your enjoyment.
Unique and broken concepts
Being a horizontal shooter, you take control over Baloo in his airship where you will encounter villains, dodge obstacles, and fight a boss at the end of each stage. There is a story involved, but it is only there to give you a reason for taking on his trips and not much else, making the gameplay at the forefront. One of the main gimmicks of this title is the ability to tilt the bear’s plane to aim diagonally as you ascend or descend. This is a neat mechanic, but it makes the journey needlessly difficult. When you merely want to move up or down, you will not be able to hit targets right in front of you as your projectiles will pass above or beneath them. Combine this with the enemies having much better accuracy than you and flexible firearms in general, and lives will be lost with ease.
Another unique action you have is changing the aircraft’s direction by flipping it upside down. It is again an interesting concept, but the levels auto-scroll towards where Baloo is facing. Despite how this should have helped your manoeuvrability, it can instead kill you due to screen crunching within tight spots and labyrinths where you are forced to use this idea. It especially becomes infuriating when you realise you cannot do a U-turn while flying vertically for some baffling reason.
Luckily, you can purchase power-ups at the end of the stages, such as speed boosts or different enhancements to your gun. However, they are insanely expensive and you will not have access to any of them before the late part of the game. You get a certain amount of money at the end of each area based on the number of collectables you gathered, but even they are a nuisance as you have to shoot at the floating crates to even collect what they contain. Alongside the unpleasant controls, it becomes agony to acquire anything.
It is a shame that these hindrances are here, since there are some bonus levels that are fun to search for due to being hidden well and can reward you with tons of cash. Within these portions, you steer Kit around to pop balloons before a timer runs out, which is a decent distraction. Nevertheless, they are quite obscure, making them only have a presence on the occasion or after multiple dreadful playthroughs of this adventure.
Yet, there are still more problems. Only a couple of bullets can be present on the screen which forces you to hold your fire, your ship is tediously slow early on, and the fierce opponents create an unbalanced challenge due to how incompetent you are. This is further showcased with the stages, as despite them being creative with lots of different shapes and forms, they are not designed with Baloo’s capabilities in mind. For example, some make you go vertically with plenty of obstacles above you that you cannot hit because you are not able to aim straight up. Even attacking diagonally will cause you to get blindsided since you will ascend upon doing this.
The only part Talespin has going for it is the bosses, as they are imaginative and make use of your skills within a stationary screen. Sadly, while they can be enjoyable, even they can also be overpowered bores and underdeveloped due to withstanding multiple projectiles. Without spoiling anything, the last battle is a terrible slog too. I commend the team for an innovative concept, but it feels like this title was more often than not flipping the bird at me.
Gameplay Score: 2/10
Capcom did know how to make some nice visuals with the NES’s powers, and this instalment is not too bad. There are some lovely uses of colours, with good designs for the enemies, obstacles, and our main characters. Unfortunately, some areas can be bleak and empty, with no personality to them. A great example of this mix is the second and third locations. The former has you going through a baseball field with pitchers as foes and a secretive tunnel at the end. Yet, the very next stage is up in the sky with black backgrounds, barely any variety, and no creativity.
Most sites are forgettable, but at least the bosses are splendid. Whether they are giant machinery or surreal creatures like the invisible man with plenty of attacks, they are imaginative and cartoony adversaries. Adding to this charm is the music. They are adequate and catchy, though do not convey any distinct styles. Since they go for mainly relaxing and upbeat tones, none fit the levels they are used in. Actually, this is a good summary of the presentation: it does not have a consistent idea if it wants to be more bizarre or traditional. This is tragic, as there is some talented work on display here, but it loses its punch due to this issue.
Presentation Score: 5/10
It is bizarre how intriguing mechanics can ruin everything. The concepts here are clever, but they do not work with the cramped stages or the agile foes. Perhaps this could have been a worthwhile product with some polish or rework, not to mention better creativity in the visuals and audio. Nevertheless, I cannot deny that this is just a poor game, which is odd to say when Capcom has made some fantastic licensed ones in the 80s and 90s, as well as shooters. Go check those instead.