Lords of Thunder (Sega CD) review
"With stylish (if less-than-stellar) graphics, solid and smooth gameplay, variety within each level, and throngs of demonic enemies, Lords of Thunder stands tall as one of The Great Shooters. Definitely worth owning."
From out of nowhere, Hudson Soft ported two of their best-selling TurboDuo titles to the Sega CD: Dungeon Explorer and Lords of Thunder. While by this time (1995) the Sega CD had already stepped foot in the proverbial grave, Lords had the benefit of a hard-rocking soundtrack, gargantuan bosses, and two years' worth of strong sales on the Duo, to help it find a home on store shelves.
So when I saw this stunning shooter -- I had previously played it on a friend's Turbo -- sitting on the EB shelf one day, my first reaction......
"What the hell? Where did THIS come from??"
My second reaction:
The game was exactly what I expected: an energetic (if easier) port of the sidescrolling TurboDuo mecha-medieval-fantasy shoot-em-up, replete with screenfuls of elaborate enemies, fast loading, fantastic music, and all the cinematics and bosses that made the original rev scream, "I ROCK!!" And lord knows, the Sega CD didn't have nearly enough screamers.
The first thing you'll see when you pop this baby into the drive is the typical, blue Sega logo -- which will fade from the screen, ushering in a MASSIVE METAL GUITAR RIFF! Soon after, the narrator hits...
"The once peaceful land of Mistral was about to be plunged into a time of death and turmoil."
As the instruction manual (or the first of two cinematic intros) explains, the evil wizard Sornbul has built a Dark Tower from which he will summon the malicious god Deoric. To assist him in crafting the seal necessary to control the god, Sornbul has sent forth the Six Dark Generals to the farthest continents of Mistral. Each land is now over-run with armored soldiers, fleshy monsters, and mechanical beasts that must be DESTROYED! Your hero Duran will fly into each continent, in whatever order you choose, invade the Generals' Temples of Darkness, and BLOW IT ALL TO HELL! ...the storyline says you're liberating the oppressed citizenry or somesuch. But to me, it just looks like you're slaughtering everything in sight.
There aren't a lot of cinematics in the game (only four) but the second introductory cutscene still stands as one of the most stylish to grace either console (SegaCD or Duo), with strong rhythmic beats -- listen to that bass intro! -- as the Six Dark Generals' faces each pan across the screen, one at a time. Their wicked smiles and sneers definitely let you know "We are not afraid of the likes of YOU!" Interestingly enough, although brief, seeing their faces beforehand makes the boss battles more meaningful and less 'random'.
"Not since the battle of the gods during the time of the sword had the beautiful countries of Mistral seen such savage destruction."
Destruction can take many faces, and your ancestor Drac has provided you with four armoured suits of death. Each is based around one of the four elements (earth, fire, et cetera -- you know the routine) and each has its own unique attack pattern: Water gushes in torrents both ahead and behind you, Fire spits out a short-range frontal inferno, Earth launches exploding bombs upwards and downwards, and Lightning spews blasts of electric pain across the screen. Of course, each power can be expanded by three degrees -- just be warned, as the flying sharks and dragon pups smack you down, you will lose not only health but weapon power as well! Fortunately, you can carry up to three elemental bombs that summon the gods to assist in your quest. My personal favorite is the Fire Dragon, lashing out and circling an unfortunate foe, squeezing it to a messy death.
Once you've primed your trigger finger, it's time to pick a country to plunge into turmoil (or to rescue from turmoil, if you prefer). Among others, there's an aquatic world, a voyage through the skies, and a desert continent. Nothing better to warm up the ol' blasters and sword (for close-range attacks) than HUGE ant lions popping up from the sand, dragon-riding soldiers, and dune wizards! Each level progresses in three parts: an overworld, an underworld cavern, and a General's Temple.
After you've confronted and destroyed one of the Six Dark Generals, you take all the money crystals you've earned (which magically appear whenever you kill something) and enter The Shop, where you purchase powerups, bombs, and continues from a busty babe with a sexy voice. "May I help you?" Oh yeah... help me baby! The Shop adds a nice element of strategy to the game -- not only must you wipe out crazed goons, but you also need to collect their crystals while avoiding oncoming bullets. And you'll need those powerups -- once your lifebar hits zero, the game ends... there are no "extra lives", though you can purchase an Elixir that will (upon death) instantly refill your entire lifebar, so that you won't need to restart the level from scratch.
"Sornbul plans to plunge the lands of Mistral into utter darkness."
Burying this world in shadow would be a crying shame -- the inhabitants of Mistral, even in such dismal times, shine with beauty. The enemies you will face radiate with a glow that is uncommon for the Genesis -- the GIGANTIC sea dragons (only the head and neck fits on the screen!) glisten in the sun, and the fiery Cerberus Hounds glow from the embers of their burning souls. The battle against the Serpent General is absolutely breathtaking, with line-scrolling rivers flowing both above and below. I know I know, rivers flowing over your head makes no sense -- but it looks really, really cool.
Sadly, most of the backgrounds, while detailed, lack the same saturation of color. The forests of Bosque are quite mundane, rivaling The Wood from Thunderforce 5 for "most drab shade of green in a great game". Thankfully parallax was not ignored. While the volcanic mountains in the background might not be the most colorful ever, they are quite detailed (lines of ridges are individually visible), and multiple layers add a sense of depth.
There is another graphical weakness of the game, best summed up with a quote from the "Strategy" section of the instruction manual:
Learn to sort out the attacks from the [money] crystals. Sometimes it's pretty tricky!
Hordes of enemies and dozens of bullets is a great thing to have in a shooter. Unfortunately, when every enemy explodes into crystals that you need to collect, life can get a wee bit confusing as missiles and money jumble together onscreen.
Despite the graphical weaknesses, Lords has an incredible sense of style. At one point, clouds appear and rain begins to pour halfway through the level. At another, the screen darkens as you delve into the caverns. Even on the continue screen, Hudson didn't settle for a simple countdown timer. Rather, candles line the bottom of the screen and slowly extinguish, one by one. And the final boss sequence? Two words: Worth Seeing. It's hardly the most spectacular battle in videogame history, but (as with the rest of the game) it's very artistically done, and sets an example that more developers should follow to deliver an exciting climax.
"The caverns are shaken by the forces released in your epic battle..."
...and the speakers are shaken by the awesome rock metal soundtrack provided by the musical gods, "T's Music"! (Lame name, awesome melodies) The game is filled with raging guitars, high-speed snares, and frenetic glissandos. Stereo is used to full effect here, providing serene background chords to balance out the insane electric edge. Simply beautiful. Even when you're done with the game, this is one of those discs that's worth popping into the CD player just for the mega-cool tunes... just be sure to skip track one unless you enjoy the scratchy sounds of program data feedback!
This amazing soundtrack caps an incredibly fun and adrenaline-laced experience. With stylish (if less-than-stellar) graphics, solid and smooth gameplay, variety within each level, and throngs of demonic enemies, Lords of Thunder stands tall as one of The Great Shooters. Definitely worth owning.
Staff review by Zigfried (January 16, 2004)
Zigfried likes writing about whales and angry seamen, and often does so at the local pub.
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