The game was first released to arcades in 1987, by Taito Corporation in Japan and by Romstar internationally, and subsequently ported to various consoles and Japanese computers.
In terms of gameplay (there is really no story), Twin Cobra is a typical Vertical Scrolling Shooter. Players' helicopters take off from carriers to wreak destruction on enemy helicopters, tanks, cannons, airplanes, gunboats, and so forth. Players have a choice of four primary weapons plus bombs that inflict massive damage within their wide blast radius. The primary weapon can be changed by collecting orbs that change color as they float around the screen. These weapons, and their colors, are:
- Red: Missiles (default).
- Green: Machine gun.
- Blue: Spread cannon.
- Brown: Multi-directional homing weapon.
In 1995, one year after Toaplan closed, Twin Cobra II (Kyūkyoku Tiger II) was released. It was developed by ex-Toaplan employees now working for Takumi (who later produced Giga Wing and Mars Matrix). This game was ported to the Sega Saturn in 1997 as Kyūkyoku Tiger II Plus, with a storyline and a few new things added in.
Twin Cobra was rereleased alongside Tiger Heli as part of Toaplan Arcade Garage: Kyūkyoku Tiger Heli, a Compilation Re Release for Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4 as part of the M2 ShotTriggers series. It also includes the NES port of Tiger Heli, the PC Engine, Sega Genesis, and NES versions of Twin Cobra, a co-op 2-player version of Kyūkyoku Tigernote , Guardian available as add-on DLC for the digital version and included with the physical version, and a download code for Teki Paki. Kyūkyoku Tiger Heli was released on October 28, 2021.
Twin Cobra provides examples of:
- Anti-Grinding: The Kyūkoku Tiger Heli version's scroll-stop areas (mainly, the boss fights) have time limits to prevent players from just sitting in one spot to milk points infinitely with no further effort beyond continuously tapping the fire button (or holding it down with an autofire function).
- Color-Coded Multiplayer: The cooperative 2-player mode of Twin Cobra gives the first player a red helicopter and the second player a Palette Swapped blue helicopter.
- Co-Op Multiplayer: Twin Cobra features co-op 2-player mode, as opposed to the Japanese version which features taking-turns multiplayer.
- Cores-and-Turrets Boss: The Stage 5 and 10 bosses.
- Difficulty by Region: The Japanese version forces the player back to a Checkpoint upon dying and gives the player's chopper slightly reduced movement speed, however you can have four shots on-screen at once instead of three. However the console versions are based on the Japanese arcade version, even the ones released overseas.
- Endless Game: The arcade version loops after level 10. Averted in the Super Easy Mode found on Kyūkoku Tiger Heli, where the game does end after the 10th stage.
- Every N Thousand Points: The exact number of points required for an extend depends on the difficulty setting.
- Hard Mode Filler: Stages 6 through 10 are the same as 1 through 5 with different, much harder enemies and bosses and the level tiles shifted over to the left.
- Nintendo Hard:
- The game is very, very unforgiving, with plenty of enemies that love to snipe you with fast, precisely-aimed bullets. The original Japanese version is especially brutal, as getting killed sends you back to a checkpoint, and you can get stuck at the same checkpoint for many continues in a row if you can't learn quickly.
- The Sega Genesis version is infamous for not only retaining the Japanese arcade version's brutal difficulty and checkpoint system (even in the North American version; non-Japanese builds of the arcade version don't have the checkpoints), but cropping the playing field so that you have less room to dodge, making it one of the hardest shmups on the system.
- Spread Shot: The blue weapon shoots in a 3-way spread when upgraded, and later 5-way.
- Tank Goodness: Tanks are one of the most common enemy types you will face. They have a nasty tendency of sniping you while you're busy with other threats.
- Time-Limit Boss: The Kyūkoku Tiger Heli revision of the arcade version introduces time limits to boss fights to prevent players from milking their flunkies infinitely.
- Violation of Common Sense: In the Super Easy variant on Kyūkoku Tiger Heli, the game ends after stage 10 instead of looping infinitely. Score-minded players thus have to intentionally die, go back to checkpoints, and repeat sections in order to get the best scores as a result.
Twin Cobra II provides examples of:
- Arrange Mode: The Saturn port has an arrange which features a new soundtrack, new enemy color palettes, an added final level with new enemies and boss, and cutscenes between levels.
- Bottomless Magazines: Your regular weapon.
- Button Mashing: All of the weapons have automatic fire when the fire button is held down, but mashing the fire button while using the Red Fang or Blue Masher will increase their power.
- Chain Lightning: Player 2's green weapon, the Binchou Laser. Any enemy that got close to the laser would be fried by a lightning bolt emitted from it.
- Cognizant Limbs: Most bosses have many different parts for the player to target and destroy.
- Continuing is Painful: Dying resets your bomb stock to three normal bombs, and powers your weapon down to the minimum level.
- Cool Airship: The first boss. Once you destroy its connecting sections, it splits apart into a Dual Boss.
- Cores-and-Turrets Boss: You fight two of them as Mini Bosses in the final level. The Final Boss is also one.
- Divergent Character Evolution: Player 1 and Player 2 actually look different (not just being a Palette Swap). Their green weapon also differs- the blue heli (player 1) gets the Thunder Claw, the red heli (Player 2) gets the Binchou Laser.
- Do Not Touch the Funnel Cloud: The stage 4 Mini Boss (two wind-generating machines) will spawn tornadoes, which do not suck in the players. If the player touches the tornadoes, they will spin around wildly and cannot attack.
- Dual Boss: The first boss. Once you destroy its connectors, they will separate and attack individually.
- The Goomba: Enemy helicopters fit this role. They shots get very fast later on though, so take them out quickly!
- Law of Chromatic Superiority: Most Mini Bosses and some bosses are pinkish-red in colour. There are also red versions of the regular helicopters- these have more health. fire out spreadshots, and drop stars when defeated.
- Macross Missile Massacre: Thunder Claw, the green weapon for Player 1. Normally, it would fire out a Spread Shot of missiles with a lock-on missile in the middle. If the lock-on missile hit an enemy, the missiles would all home in on that one.
- The first, second and fourth boss love doing this to you.
- More Dakka: The Red Fang weapon that you have. Some enemies also use a rapid spray of shots on the character.
- No Plot? No Problem!
- Outrun the Fireball: How you escape the enemy's base when it blows up. You fly upwards, out of a volcano vent that "erupts".
- Pink Girl, Blue Boy: Player 1's helicopter is blue and is piloted by a male, Player 2's helicopter is red and is piloted by a female.
- Rewarding Vandalism: Destroying crates and stuff get you stars which you can pick up for points.
- Roboteching: Stage 4's Mini Bosses are two tornado-generating machines.
- Shock and Awe: Player 2's green weapon shoots out an electrified laser that shocks all nearby enemies.
- Smart Bomb: Two kinds, a regular one, and a "powerful" one. If you have five Smart Bombs and obtain an extra one, it makes one of your regular bombs into a "powerful" one that hits for a bigger radius, lasts longer and does a lot more damage.
- Spread Shot: Lots abound. The blue weapon (Blue Smasher) used by the players, Player 1's Thunder Claw combines this with Macross Missile Massacre. The enemies have too many to count.
- Too Dumb to Live: The rapid-fire tanks in Stage 5. They will happily attempt to move onto a bridge between two cliffs... even when that bridge is destroyed. Heck, you'll even see one move off the cliff!
- Wave-Motion Gun: Used by the fifth boss when he's on his last legs.
- Wolfpack Boss: Stage 3's boss, four moving turrets on train tracks. They spew out 8-way bullets (and a spray burst on low health), which can make it painful to avoid all four of them at one go.