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Thunder Force II (Genesis) artwork

Thunder Force II (Genesis) review


"This early Genesis release is not graphically or sonically stunning, as can be expected (old games still impress in these categories, but we needn't expect them to), but the lackluster presentation is not wholly or even largely the reason why the game fails to impress. "



For all intents and purposes (Technosoft’s included), this is the game that started the Force. And no, this has nothing to do with tossing microwaves and other appliances about with a nod of your head. Thunder Force is one of the longest running and most respected 2D shooter franchises going, up there with the Gradiuses and R-Types. There was a Thunder Force I, but it's old and grey and bears no resemblance to the countenance of the rest of the series. Technosoft does not seem eager to admit its existence, and its irrelevance in the context of the series is as clear as it is singular.

The Force’s dark side

Shooter fans in general, and Thunder Force fans in particular, will likely consider this highly vaunted 'classic' a must-own without much forethought involved or perceived necessary. Maybe your initiation into the world of Thunder Force began with the most recent release, the sterling TFV, available for both the Sega Saturn and Sony PlayStation. Perhaps you took a few steps backward in time to seek out the Sega Genesis games TFIII and IV, both superb shooters in their own right. And now you’ve stumbled upon TFII on Ebay for a steal, and in near mint condition to boot! Lucky you! Then upon receiving it and playing it, you decide that you made a mistake in your quest for Thunder Force completeness.

Wait, that’s me.

This early Genesis release is not graphically or sonically stunning, as can be expected (old games still impress in these categories, but we needn't expect them to), but the lackluster presentation is not wholly or even largely the reason why the game fails to impress. Technosoft created a hybrid blastathon in TFII, a brave effort that should be applauded in this genre where innovation is the next new weapon. The game features alternating vertically and horizontally scrolling levels, which help to create welcome variety in what is inherently a repetitive sort of game. But unlike later, more successful hybrids (such as the Konami-produced, SNES-hosted Axelay) the transition from top-down to side-to-side is jarring and ineffective.

The problem lies in what are essentially bonus rounds where you die. TFII's overhead levels feel like they might be part of some Windows 3.1 pack-in desktop game. Amazingly, your ship completely controls the direction the screen scrolls in, and its movement cannot be stopped. Example: if you are moving upward on the screen, toward the top of the television as it were, and an enemy bullet comes at you head on, you cannot simply dodge by strafing left or right. The game actually necessitates your turning tail abruptly, harrier-like, before flying off on a tangent. In a hybrid where the innovative seems to be at the forefront, this control/gameplay function seems to be contradictory in its backwardness.

Wander about on your mission to destroy four simple outposts to escape each of these bland levels which have earned descriptions from detractors such as 'tedious' and 'pointless' to name a few. When you start the first level, it hits you like a bad role-playing game - where to? What to do? Don’t be daft! Go in circles until you figure something out.

The few gamers that I have heard describe the levels glowingly have had the game for years and have memorized the maze-like layouts to the point where beating the stages is simply shooter calisthenics and nothing more.

Grin and bear it?

The only thing that kept me going was the knowledge that the horizontal missions are entirely entertaining campaigns with a well-implemented weapons array, decent bosses, and individual personality in enemies and layout for each.

When the first side-scrolling level begins, you will be taken aback at how good the music can be and how relieved you are to be finished with the top down format (this is of course, temporary, tragically). These horizontal stages are where boss encounters occur; you will tangle with generic looking spaceships, as well as a giant tank and a giant white snail that makes farting noises. Things pick up in level four where the music and difficulty level reach dizzying heights. Though Thunder Force games are known as consummate twitch shooters, R-Type-ish memorization bits creep into each installment, usually in heaping tablespoons at a time. TFII is no different; in level four, prior knowledge is necessary to navigate narrow spaces, break through walls and fly backwards. All of this culminates with an end boss from hell that fires laser beams that you must slip through, Gradius style.

Unfortunately, while this should have been the ending, it’s not. Instead we are treated to another crummy overhead level, this time featuring admittedly vibrant, decent graphics and a nice drifting effect on your ship. Despite the cosmetic anomalies, it is still a disappointing and anticlimactic conclusion, and it leads to a poor ending sequence that features horrible, warped music and some dodgy scaling effects. All things considered, this is not at all surprising and is perhaps the most fitting finish to an experience where we are forced to take the bitter with the sweet.

Having played Thunder Force II through to the end only for the undeniably quality side-scrolling levels, I can say as a Thunder Force fan and shooter collector that I am quite comfortable with the very probable prospect of never playing the game again.

Rating: 4/10

Masters's avatar
Staff review by Marc Golding (December 21, 2003)

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