Here’s a game that shouldn’t exist.

I read the backstory of the developer’s inspiration before playing it, which seemed like a very conscientious thing to do. The original Yeah Yeah Beebiss I, a NES game known only from a listing on a US mail order leaflet, is shrouded in mystery, conjecture, and baseless theorising; almost like a lost media tale gone awry. Was it a copyright trap, or a mistranslation of another game, or did it even exist at all?

Perhaps it didn’t. But this isn’t why I think Yeah Yeah Beebiss II shouldn’t exist. As evidenced by Jeff Minter’s own urban-videogame-legend-made-real, Polybius, such mysterious stories are a great and valuable part of the deep well that is the inspiration for indie games.

Yeah Yeah Beebiss II is to all intents and purposes a sequel to a myth. It’s available on a litany of formats: Dreamcast, Switch and Steam (the version played), but its heart and soul is from a NES game. And within that context, it looks and sounds amazing. I love this sort of thing with all my heart and will happily fight for their right to exist, even if they shouldn’t per see.

Beebiss’ visuals make great use of the NES’ awkward colour palette, and everything is both clearly readable and charming. The player assumes control of one of two Jiangshi; essentially Chinese vampires, by the names of Kyonshi Hui and Jiangshi Bo. Or, if a friend is so inclined to join the action, both simultaneously. The game plays out similarly to something like Bubble Bobble or Snow Bros. as a single-screen monster-elimination platformer.

You’re given a time limit and a small stock of lives, and then tasked with killing all enemies on screen in the allotted time to progress. A classic formula from the ’80s.

It both looks and sounds amazingly authentic. There are three (well, four if we count a minor palette-swap with some tweaked behaviour) enemy variants including Hannya masks and floating eyeballs that are diverse enough that there’s little chance of confusing their behaviour, and the environments are beautiful indeed. Accompanying this is Parodius-esque NES renditions of Western classical music that, although a treat for the ear, are tonally very jarring. Their frenetic pace suits the action, but not the far-Eastern spooky of it all.

But any impressions garnered from its excellent presentation are quickly taken aside and beaten down with something blunt.

Gameplay is straightforward to say the least. Controls are as follows – there’s moving left and right; admittedly with a charming and jaunty hop akin to that other semi-famous Jiangshi, Lei Lei from the Darkstalkers fighting game series; plus jumping and attacking or zapping in the game’s own parlance.

This does not differ between characters, with their only difference being visual – so the preference is whether you want to zap with a tiny lightning bolt or a set of short-range energy rings. And that’s the thing, zapping is basically meleeing, which leads into the first shortcoming I noticed about the game – there’s no real range to experiment with. Something such as setting up combos, one of the more fun things about similar games, is basically non-existent. Popping multiple bubbled enemies in Bubble Bobble, setting up lines of enemies to bop in succession in Snow Bros. or even Parasol Stars was a great mechanic and felt good to do. And is sorely missing here. As is any room for any kind of strategy other than getting up-close to hold the zap button until the thing you’re zapping perishes.

There are other quirks, too. Items can be dropped from zapped enemies that award points or replenish spent health, but these are entirely at the whims of the RNG deities; expect droughts of extra time when you need it, or three +15 second pickups in a row, or whatever else lies in-between that. Ditto for the score powerups, but maybe not the health. And also, there’s the state of the ladders. Basically, they aren’t ladders. You’ll have to “climb” them by jumping, as they’re basically a set of stacked jump-thru platforms. Descent? Sorry pal, you’re making your own way down to lower ground – luckily there’s no fall damage, even if there are occasionally damaging, um, ribcage spikes?

And as per the NES’ limitations, there can only be a small number of enemies onscreen at any given time, and it can often take a while for new ones to spawn when you’ve cleared the current occupants. Expect time-overs, which are also game-overs, sticking a middle finger up at how many lives you may have remaining. Which is just rude.

Not that it isn’t all learnable, and it’s easy enough to adjust to the movement and other behaviours enough to beat nine levels and fight a boss on the tenth – a floating hunk of flesh with eyes that must be zapped before they set fire to the floor where your vampiric protagonist stands. After which, well, you do the ten levels again. Not harder, not faster, not with less time, you just do them again. Or so it seemed. If there’s a difficulty curve, it would probably fool a spirit level. The colours of the levels change, but that’s basically it.

I want to like Beebis II, I really do. I looked up the developer on Twitter and he seems like a nice guy. They’ve obviously worked hard to porting it to various formats, which I totally commend. But this is a game that shouldn’t exist. Because, despite looking and sounding amazing, it’s actually quite bad.

Yeah Yeah Beebiss II is out now on Switch, Steam and Dreamcast(!)