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Lords of Thunder (Sega CD) artwork

Lords of Thunder (Sega CD) review

"There are two reasons gamers play scrolling shooters. The first is intensity. Yes, intensity, that nebulous, ubiquitous descriptor which encompasses hurtling projectiles, swarms of enemies, huge bosses, and fancy-looking weapon effects. If a shooter has all of these things, it's basically a can't-miss proposition. "

There are two reasons gamers play scrolling shooters. The first is intensity. Yes, intensity, that nebulous, ubiquitous descriptor which encompasses hurtling projectiles, swarms of enemies, huge bosses, and fancy-looking weapon effects. If a shooter has all of these things, it's basically a can't-miss proposition.

However, the icing on the cake for any shooter is the music. So much more than mere window dressing, a riveting score can enhance the intensity of a shooter far beyond its normal level. A shooter played muted is a shooter not worth playing.

Lords of Thunder exemplifies this. Despite the name similarity to Hudson's Turbo CD shooter Gate of Thunder ("It has the arcade feel!"), the two games have little in common, save for one remixed music track...which, like every other song in the game, is terrific. The soundtrack to Lords of Thunder is the very heart and soul of the game; it's a non-stop, head-banging rock guitar-fest that simply does not let up throughout the whole 45 minutes or so it takes to beat the game. The guitar tone is superb; since Lords of Thunder is a Sega CD game, live samples were used, and their texture is absolutely delicious. Crazy solos abound, combined with crunchy bass, wailing riffs, and no shortage in length (every stage theme is over 4 minutes long.) Likewise, the composition is excellent; you will be humming these tunes in the shower. Every tune here is meticulously constructed; there is not a single blemish on this soundtrack. Anywhere.

This is a bold statement, but I feel it must be said: Lords of Thunder has the best soundtrack in a shooter, ever. Not just on the Sega CD. Not just among 16-bit shooters. EVER. I don't care who you are; you need to hear this game's music. The developers were even kind enough to include a sound test right from the get-go.

Given how awesome the soundtrack is, it's hard to believe that there's still an entire game lying underneath, waiting to be played. The rest of the game, of course, can't live up to the pedigree of its soundtrack, but there's no denying that it's still a totally solid shooter.

In Lords of Thunder, you control a knight (the name of whom I can't remember) who has the inexplicable ability to fly. Your mission: to lay the smackdown on the six evil guardians plaguing the land, and after that, defeat an evil monk who wishes to revive the dark god Deoric. Will he succeed? Or better yet, is the pope atheist?

Lords of Thunder is a horizontally-scrolling shooter. From that sentence alone, you should know what to expect; projectiles will fly, lasers will fire, and bosses will scowl at you menacingly. At the game's outset, you're given a choice of six stages, to complete in whatever order you'd like. These stages boil down to the same shooter archetypes you've seen a hundred times before: desert stage, water stage, fire stage, forest stage, ice stage, and another stage so forgettable I can't even remember its theme. I won't pretend that the game's level design is groundbreaking, because it's not. There are no real surprises here: spikes fall, lava columns blaze, etc., etc.

However, Lords of Thunder makes some smart design choices that elevate it above the typical shooter. Before any given level, you're given the choice of four different suits of armor. Each suit can charge up its magic by collecting magic capsules (the game only collectible powerup) strewn throughout the levels to make its attacks more powerful. When charged fully, your suit is extremely powerful, regardless of the one you choose...but, without a doubt, the strongest of these is by far the Water Armor, whose two-way water jet essentially makes you impervious to all enemy attack.

The magic system is easy to exploit; at the game's pre-level shops (run by a sultry robed blonde chick), you're able to buy numerous upgrades for your armor using gems which can be picked up in droves throughout the game's levels. Among the items available for purchase are magic capsules, which are cheap, and therefore it's a very easy task to get yourself to full power before the level's even begun. Then, it's simply a matter of choosing the Water Armor and holding down the fire button as you effortlessly mow your way through every area in the game.

There is, luckily, a downside to using the Water Armor's max-level attack: it's loud. So loud, in fact, that it completely drowns out the game's awesome music. On the other hand, the Earth Armor's top weapon is considerably weaker, but also allows you to hear the game's tunes loud and clear. Ingenious solution to the balance problem by Hudson! Now there's an excellent incentive not to ham-fistedly yawn your way through Lords of Thunder with the most unbalanced weapon in the game. With the Earth Armor, Lords of Thunder is at its best, not only because you're frantically dodging oceans of enemies left and right, but because you're also simultaneously rocking out to whatever ass-kicking number is playing at the time.

Apart from the magic system, Lords of Thunder makes only one other real innovation: melee combat. Simply put, whenever you get up close and personal with an enemy, your knight will pull out his sword and slash the baddie to oblivion, dealing damage much more rapidly than from afar. However, it's also much more dangerous to attack an enemy right beside you, since you don't have any time to react to their actions. Since there's no clear advantage to using one type of attack over the other, this is an intriguing twist on the usual shooter formula, and probably the most standout gameplay aspect of Lords of Thunder.

My complaints about Lords of Thunder are few. One could have hoped for more balance in its weapons. One could argue that its level design isn't anything original. However, the most significant flaw in Lords of Thunder is its difficulty: that is, it's noticeably lower than in most other shooters. There are no one-hit kills in Lords of Thunder; you have up to 14 hits on your health meter, and they're easily replenished at a low cost within the game's shops. Bosses are mostly pushovers, so long as you subject them to a couple of the game's super-duper bomb attacks, which can also be picked up at a bargain-bin price in the shop. Lords of Thunder isn't a game to play if you're looking for a lot of challenge.

But Lords of Thunder isn't about the challenge. It's about the music. The music is what makes this game worth playing. The music is what gives it intensity. The music makes you forget that the shooter you're playing isn't stimulating your twitch nerves much, since you're so busy blowing up bad guys and air-guitaring on the pause screen. Not to say that Lords of Thunder is a bad shooter at all. It's just that the music is exceptional. You need to hear this game.

phediuk's avatar
Community review by phediuk (May 06, 2006)

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