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Rolling Thunder (NES) artwork

Rolling Thunder (NES) review


"By the time I'd gotten to about the third or fourth of the game's 10 levels, I was tempted to check my Nintendo to see if a slot for me to dump quarters into had magically appeared. By the time I'd gotten through a bit more than half the game, I was so frustrated and emotionally spent that for a minute I thought I still was married. And I wasn't even earning the admiration of other gamers like I would have been by putting myself through this anguish in an arcade — I was alone, sitting at home and feeling about as opposite from however awesome "platinum awesome" might be as humanly possible."



While I've never played the arcade version of Rolling Thunder, I'd imagine the NES port (released in America by Tengen, GODS of ignoring Nintendo's licensing rules) probably is pretty accurate as far as gameplay goes -- which isn't necessarily a good thing.

You see, arcade games are inherently designed to take your money; therefore, they tend to be obscenely difficult. After all, if the average player can exist indefinitely on one credit, that machine's an unprofitable failure. It takes time, practice and (most importantly) a fat wad of cash to "master" an arcade game, but the rewards can be great. Just imagine finally stepping away from that machine with a triumphant smirk after pounding out an amazing score while some young neophyte looks at you with awe-filled eyes, declaring, "Dude, you're awesome.....no, you're PLATINUM AWESOME!!!!" That sort of thing makes the fact you've put so much cash into the damn game that you've only eaten generic canned pasta (complete with tapeworm eggs) for the last two weeks worth it.....almost.

The reason I think the NES' Rolling Thunder must be pretty accurate to the arcade version is because it has that "brutally difficult to the point of being maliciously unfair" coin-op vibe about it. By the time I'd gotten to about the third or fourth of the game's 10 levels, I was tempted to check my Nintendo to see if a slot for me to dump quarters into had magically appeared. By the time I'd gotten through a bit more than half the game, I was so frustrated and emotionally spent that for a minute I thought I still was married. And I wasn't even earning the admiration of other gamers like I would have been by putting myself through this anguish in an arcade -- I was alone, sitting at home and feeling about as opposite from however awesome "platinum awesome" might be as humanly possible.

It's kind of a shame, because Rolling Thunder has this sort of likable feel to it that winds up being blunted and then shattered by its difficulty. You're playing a secret agent who goes through this game to both rescue a captured female agent and take out the evil group that kidnapped her in the first place. It takes two physical hits for enemies to kill Albatross (your character), but only one bullet (or other projectile). To help you come out on top in the many lethal games of "quick-draw" you'll be playing against foes, there are tons of doors in each level that you can duck into for a few moments of safely. To even the odds, you have a gun and can temporarily upgrade it to a faster-firing machine gun. If you run out of bullets, you can still shoot -- but only may have one shot on the screen at any given time, which can be a brutal disadvantage.

And you won't want that, as the simple act of starting this game already has given you far more disadvantages than you'll want to count. Albatross can't shoot while jumping, meaning that if an enemy is on a different level than you, you'll have to make your way up (or down) to him to exterminate the fool. He also can't control his jumps in mid-air. The fourth level of Rolling Thunder has a short section where you have to make precise jumps on platforms over lava. Words can't do justice to how annoying it was to need to take the time to figure out just where I had to stand in order to make the jump instead of helplessly sailing over the platform that was my objective.

Especially since you're not supposed to take the time to do much of anything. This game has some pretty strict time limits on many of its levels. I hadn't felt that I'd dilly-dallied much in Rolling Thunder's earlier levels, but found myself very low on time upon completing them. Then, on the sixth level, the game got me. I ran out of time and lost a life. I'd survived the seemingly-psychic enemies triggered to fire as I was jumping down from ledges -- ensuring my momentum would carry me directly into a bullet. I overcame making awkward jumps past a number of laser cannons that emitted a near-constant stream of fire. But the 200-second time limit to get through the entire stage was just too much for me to overcome, making me a sad panda.

All of which worked to make Rolling Thunder a less-than-pleasant experience for me. Maybe if the game didn't seem determined to completely replicate the brutal quarter-stealing difficulty I would have expected from the arcade title, I'd have found it more accessible, but instead I was stuck with a game that was difficult in the worst ways possible. Aggressive enemies that seem programmed to instantly react to whatever you do, oftentimes giving you no chance to evade; awkward jumping and strict time limits don't work together to make a game one of those tough, but rewarding, tests of character that you'll have fond memories of finally beating for an eternity. This one's just hard -- in the same sense that breaking the news to a close friend that you found out his or her parents just died in a car crash is hard. The sort of "hard" that makes you feel queasy and uncomfortable when confronting it.

Rating: 3/10

overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (May 27, 2009)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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