"When you first play Lords of Thunder, itís necessary that you increase the volume on your television considerably. Donít worry about what your mommy and daddy down the hall will think, turn it up LOUD!! Itís the only way that you can possibly appreciate the 21-guitar salute that assaults your ear drums the instance the game is booted up. And with all the grinding and mashing going on, you would think these axes were having sex; it's a beautiful thing. "
When you first play Lords of Thunder, itís necessary that you increase the volume on your television considerably. Donít worry about what your mommy and daddy down the hall will think, turn it up LOUD!! Itís the only way that you can possibly appreciate the 21-guitar salute that assaults your ear drums the instance the game is booted up. And with all the grinding and mashing going on, you would think these axes were having sex; it's a beautiful thing.
Lords contradicts the status quo of uninspiring music, and it's opening solely exists as an ear-tease of what's to come! The gameís soundtrack would most accurately be described as a blissful, metallic symphony of electric guitars. Accompanying the rousing, opening score, a richly colored, animated sequence introduces you to the gameís hero, Landis, and the antagonists, Zaggart and his six disciples, who have inhabited the seven continents of Drisal.
Lords is the follow-up to the exceptional Gate of Thunder. Both games could be considered unofficial gaidens to the Thunder Force Series that made Technosoft famous. Anyone that is familiar with this series will have a good inclination of what to expect from Lords. These people know that those games always bring the goods: good gameplay, good music and good visuals. Lords isnít an exception to this, but rather itís the rule, or I should say ruler by which classic shooter greatness is measured. Thunder Force 4 (aka Lightening Force) is the most critically acclaimed installment of the Thunder lineage and regarded as one of the best, if not the best, 16-bit shooter ever.
Lords goes as far as stealing the seriesís thunder by respectfully countering every strength of Lightening Force and even outdoing it in a number of areas: music, design, and atmosphere. Yet structurally, Lords of Thunder hardly resembles Lightening or any of the other aforementioned games, and is nothing like 95% of shooters that satiate the genre. It makes its presence felt in a different form. The most noticeable difference is that you have a life bar contrasting the ďone-hit killĒ style that established shootersí notoriety.
Making the game seem even more unorthodox is the fact that rather than a ship or some other sort or flying machine, in Lords your vessel is an aerial knight. Now a knight without a sword or armor would be pretty pathetic, thatís why you employ both in spades. Preceeding each level, the player is given the option to suit up in one of four kinds of armor: wind, water, earth, or fire. Each is equipped with a unique shot pattern and style that can be powered-up by collecting icons sparsely left by foes to do even more devastating damage. For instance, if the water armor whets your appetite, your shot can go from a dismal, two projectile blast, to huge waves simultaneously emitting from your character in four directions, washing back hordes of relentless foes.
To further feed your lust for destruction, you can unleash up to three bombs per stage if the party gets too crowded. And though your primary mode of attack will be heavy artillery, the sword Landis clenches isnít there for decoration. If an enemy rudely intrudes your comfort zone, your blade will automatically be unsheathed to inflict righteous damage upon those who refuse to respect your personal space. It would probably be an understatement to claim that Landis possesses enough destructive force to obliterate a village, or France, in a matter of seconds.
ďI hate games where you get Ďtoo powerfulí, thereís no challenge.ď
There's no denying that you can get powerful, but this doesnít mean the game is a pushover. Once kamikaze soldiers and gigantic beasts start protruding from every possible angle and crevice, you will quickly come to realize that every ounce of your offense will be essential if you hope to survive long enough to hear a complete bar of the score. If one of your adversaries succeeds in damaging you, not only will your life diminish, but your weapon power will as well. This serves to balance the game, and Lords is as balanced a game as you will find. As you progress from continent to continent, the game's difficulty increases (as it should), but there should never come a point where you're stricken with a sense of being overwhelmed. The experience that is bestowed upon the player is a challenging, yet enjoyable, one; something seemingly contradictory.
Nothing symbolizes this symmetry more so than the fluid movement of Landis. Most shooters are imbedded with some sort of speed-altering system. Not in Lords house. The speed you start with is permanent, yet Landis moves so effortlessly and perfectly that a desire to change it will never register in your mind. Further contributing to Lords' versatility is the ''shop'' that compensates for those not as seasoned in the genre. Prior to each level, you can buy life and weapon power-ups, amongst other things, from gems obtained from the carcasses of enemies. Vets, on the other hand, should skip right by this aspect and go straight to the carnage.
ĒAnd carnage has never looked this beautiful.Ē
Anyone that would fancy the Duo to be an 8-bit system would have their beliefs dreadfully shattered after playing Lords. It showcases some of the most crisp and stunning animation to every grace any 16-bit console. Superb graphics would be worthless, however, if they were applied to uninspired level designs. Itís rare for any action game to have diversified stages that seamlessly flow together within themselves and into each other, all while keeping the player interested.
Itís even rarer for it to occur in a game during the 16-bit era or earlier where a philosophy of ''anything goes'' took precedence over realism for the sake of creativity. Hudson manages to perfectly incorporate both ideals, unassumingly revealing others' incompetence in their past failures. And if it wasnít clear enough by the fantastic opening theme that Lords doesnít wait to deliver excellence, any non-believers that there may still be will be converted once Stage 1 consummates.
Landis is sent soaring through an open desert with his long gray hair emanating out the back of his helmet. Behind Landis, the multiple scrolling backgrounds will instantly draw your attention. An illusion of three plains is created with each moving independently of the others, giving a beautiful parallax perception of depth. Off in the immediate distance you will see a boundless, majestic palace that follows you like the moon. Farther off into the horizon, the other two plains each contain a saturated stream of flowing clouds that reciprocate each otherís movement.
Your attention will quickly shift back to your impending situation as a swarm of mutant flies darts towards you from the air and a band of foot soldiers make haste on the surface. As you make waste, youíre interrupted by a huge-fanged, sand worm thrusting up at you through the ground and descending once again, leaving behind a circuitous chasm. Moments later youíll be forced down a similar abrasion on the desert floor until you reach an underground sector where the environment really showcases its buoyancy.
Centipede creatures leap from the background onto the forefront while spewing shots in sets of three. Precise maneuverability is essential if you hope to dissipate the small legion of enemies dilating both ends of the screen while not being crushed by the elongated insects or their venom; all this just to see the whole cave ceiling wither away. At this point, youíre diagonally jolted from the ravine to the surface while a storm of stalactites showers down on your cranium. Youíll then come to the realization that youíre entrenched in the same palace you witnessed at the inception of the level.
All the while, every riff and chord is poetically mimicking the detailed, on-screen action. Itís almost as if these beats are sub-consciously controlling your movement, and the entire game reflects a pre-determined dance. If you can keep up with the rhythm well enough, youíll survive. I wonít spoil any of the other levels in the game for you, but I will say every stage has this surreal flow from one area to the next giving the game an spontaneous and adventurous feel thatís void in its peers. Oh, and the levels only get better.
ďTry not to get drool on your controller.Ē
At the conclusion of the level youíre wisped away to the bossís lair. The music significantly changes as a set of electric and bass guitars continuously exchange heavy blows, mocking the inevitable confrontation. The master of the level, in his human form, ominously descends from the ceiling to the chamberís surface with his eyes fixated on the shaft of your sword. Seconds later, he morphs into a half-reptile, half-spider monstrosity that vertically extends the entire screen and half of the width. By this time a third guitar, that squeals louder than your dog after its tail gets stepped on, is introduced to the mayhem and reverberates through the confines at 10-second intervals.
The boss, like all the bosses in the game, is so ridiculously animated and detailed that its brilliance will force your jaw to drop and lock. Every fragment of golden armor on its scaly, green body glistens as it spear-headed appendages divot into the concrete. The demonís exterior is divided up into at least 20 segments, so when it conjures up a ball of energy from the claw that is rippling from its waist, every part of its being contorts in unison emulating life-like motions. And the presentation is so polished itís like the developers dumped a gallon of Armor-All over the final product.
ĒEvery rose has its thorn....Ē
The downside to Lords is that the game poisons the genre with perfection. It selfishly raises the bar to where most shooters canít reach stacked on top of each other, leaving the player with no desire to participate in these subordinates again. The bulk of the game, especially the boss battles, give off a very modernistic sensation found in games such as Castlevania. The player is pitted in a classic good vs. evil scenario, igniting more incentive to succeed. And when you conquer a game like this, youíre rewarded with a sense of accomplishment.
While other shooters attempt to advocate replay through the hope of achieving higher scores or some other trivial, self-imposed aspiration, Lords brings you back by nothing else than the unparalleled experience in itself. Uncharacteristic of a Duo game, though, is the fact that Lords doesnít contain a single word of spoken dialogue. Yet, transcending the limits of the oral tradition, Lords succeeds in fluently speaking to oneís soul on a number of levels. Harmony resonates in your veins long after the disc stops spinning.
Community review by nemo (November 01, 2005)
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