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Thunder Force II (Genesis) artwork

Thunder Force II (Genesis) review

"The ideal world is a pipedream. The majority of Thunder Force II is rotten."

In an ideal world, I would start this Thunder Force II review by telling you about the industrial stage where you fly through the guts of a manufacturing plant, bypassing half constructed tanks and fighter craft stored on endless metallic shelves in the background. Here, blue steel girders lined with bullet-spitting turrets impede your progress while crab-like mecha surge on-screen to blast you with twin plasma cannons. Youíre a weak little thing at this point, but by surviving the initial onslaught, series-relevant power ups dial up your arsenal. Timid straight lines of weak missiles or plasma blast shooting from your front and rear can be coupled with wave cannons that cover a larger area, or hunter beams that track targets down like heat-seekers. CLAW satellites can be obtained to orbit your ship, offering up slight laser barrages but, more importantly, deflecting blows for your flimsy craft that only needs a single hit to be destroyed.

Even in this early stage, what should be the training section of the title isnít shy about flooding the screen with bullets and bullying you into a corner. Get far enough in to feel like you have things on a even playing field, and the odds are reshuffled. Javelin-like missiles are periodically launched from off-screen with frightening pace, often paired up with slim blue laser discharges and quickly followed by pale yellow spacecraft that dwarf your own fighter. The architecture gets more and more claustrophobic, giving you less and less room to evade while sirens blare out in the background, bringing with them sticky blue orbs that fall from gaps in the ceiling and roll after you determinedly. Before you meet the end of level boss, the station makes one last desperate gambit to see you off, ushering you into an open room before filling the screen with missiles and lasers.

Then the boss hits. Itís a large diamond shaped fighter with what starts out to be a simple attack pattern. On either wing sits two obvious cannons and, by staying in between these as they spit out serpentine blasts, you might think yourself pretty safe to chip away at its shields. Then a further two cannons slide out of its sides, nearer the nose. Then the nose itself regresses to make way for a huge fire-flinging cannon and then youíve nowhere else to hide.

So you leave your once safe spot to weave about the screen, which is countered by a never-ending cascade of homing missiles. With the guns cooling, you might feel safe to sneak in front for a few attacks, and that when the boss decides to ram you, surging across the screen in an almost undodgeable burst of speed.

In an ideal word, it would be the start of a flowing review where edge-of-the-seat stages are the norm. I could tell you about the second stage that has you bombing through a ruined metropolis, razed buildings and crumbling cities as your backdrop and metallic tunnels rigged with booby-trapped shutters as your obstacles. Technically, I still can; these levels exist and can have nothing taken away from them. Should you escape the steel tunnels of the second stage, you fly through an area free of obstacles but filled with all manner of things that want you dead. Because thereís little to crash into, you do this section at twice the speed as youíd previously travelled, making reflex piloting your biggest concern and blowing stuff up a distant second.


Oh, Tenchosoft, why is there a But.

This is not an ideal world. Carried over from the previous game on the Sharp X1 are the overhead stages. These free-roaming sections drop you into an open-plan map then ask you to destroy a number of bases hidden out there somewhere. These pre-empt all the side scrolling levels, miring further progress in a quagmire of frustration and boredom. They are the equivalent of those anti-piracy adverts that appear at the start of most DVDs; just as unskipable, but equalling the length of the feature presentation.

The overhead stages arenít hard, but they are clumsy and poorly implemented. The ship is always moving in one direction and one direction only -- forward. Thereís no strafing to the side to avoid a bullet; you either have to turn to the side and fly off, or turn right around in a ridiculous attempt to run away from the projectile. Though there are flying targets to contend with, the bases you need destroy are stationary and, because you have no means of stopping, this puts you in a ludicrous dance of firing off a volley of bullets into it, turning round and retreating a few feet, then turning back again to attack a good dozen times before you can see it off. There are five bases per overhead stage. There are four overhead stages.

You donít even know where these stages are. The X68000 version came with a little map to help you, but the Mega Drive version dropped both that and two of the levels. One of them was another overhead stage, so itís a sacrifice Iím willing to take.

Ideally, I could end things on an high. The last scrolling section Thunder Force II showcases would make an ideal advert for the genre. The very start throws you headfirst into a early adaptation of bullet hell, as numerous turrets try to gun you down early before the stage has you reversing through sections of its maze-like interior (much like Xenon 2, but executed without the mind-numbing unfairness and without staying long enough to wear out its welcome). Other sections have you speeding recklessly through a rocky cave interior, dodging clumps of unforgiving rock or blowing through sections of destructible wall in a panicked attempt not to crash into any of the cluttered green walls that constantly surround you. The stage has multiple paths, laser barriers, angry jet-packed robots and not a single stretch of level where a rocket launcher, gun turret or hydraulic crusher hasnít been strategically placed to make your life hell.

The boss for this stage is a huge weaponís platform. Smaller turrets can be destroyed, but its huge cache of cannons spit out streams of plasma that require pixel-perfect dodging to survive. Even then, the mythical weak spot is protected by a flickering electronic barrier. As soon as that goes down, it decides to add a crescendo of glowing red bullets to its attack then soaks up your offence like a sponge. It can go down -- it will go down -- and youíre left with a huge sense of accomplishment. Youíve just seen off one of the most intense stages youíll ever find on any platform.

Then you do another overhead stage. Because ending this game on a high would be wrong.

Thunder Force II deserves to be neutered at the end. It deserves its awful conclusion and it deserves what it does fantastically right to be hidden away behind numerous bungles and dead wood. I canít think of anything more damning than to point out how it has, hidden in its depths, something so wonderful, but, in the same breath, advise you not to bother.

The ideal world is a pipedream. The majority of Thunder Force II is rotten.

EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (March 15, 2011)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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Masters posted March 15, 2011:

Nicely done. AWESOME editing job by whoever your proofreader was, as well.
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overdrive posted March 15, 2011:

One of my fondest memories of TF 2 was one of those overhead stages that, I recall, was loaded with these webs or dots or something that you had to shoot to make a path through (contact was fatal, of course). However, because of your ship's speed and handling, you had to (as you mention) constantly turn around for a second before going back. Adding to the fun was how things seemed to respawn quickly in these levels, so the simple act of shooting through those barriers (of whatever they were) turned into this painful ordeal. Made worse by all the actual enemies buzzing around.
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Masters posted March 15, 2011:

I thought you were being sincere when I started reading...
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overdrive posted March 15, 2011:

Oh no. If there is a sincere favorite part, it'd be the final two REAL stages. It's been like 6-7 years since I've played the game and I still remember how awesome they were.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted March 15, 2011:

I love how this review sounds like this game is going to rock something fierce, then introduces the "but". Good read, EmP!
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EmP posted March 17, 2011:

Reviewing this was hard going. I'd only ever played TF3 and 4 before which I enjoyed greatly, so 2 hit me like a mammoth kick in the teeth.

Thanks for reading, guys!
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broen posted April 08, 2011:

Seeing such a low score was surprising, especially when Zero Wing scored higher. I feel that this score is overly critical for what was, for me, an early title for the Sega Genesis along with Forgotten Worlds and Altered Beast. Playing this was amazing, for its time, and it was rivaled in Nostalgia only by Herzog Zwei.

I have fond memories of beating this and it stands at the heights with Guardian Legend, Blaster Master, Grandia, Granada, R-Type, and Gradius, in my shooter library. These games were not all great, but the effect they made upon my being will be remembered fondly.

Just wanted to give an opinion, because the review is so well written that most would read it and instantly agree with all points, even if they had played the game in question.
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EmP posted April 08, 2011:

The Zero Wing wasnít written by me. Iíll happily admit Iíve not played that any further than the first stage, so Iíll refrain from commenting on the score.

Frankly, I would love do nothing more than delete the second half of the review and more than double the score, but those overhead sections make the bulk of the game and are truly awful. Perhaps Iím spoilt by playing the titles in reverse order and by seeing the positive evolution the series took once it dropped those clumsy stages, but itís silly to ignore that this game is effectively sabotaged by them.

Of those shooters you named, I reviewed R-Type a few years back and gave it a 9 that I still stand firmly behind. Iím not a believer that games should be reviewed as if we were stuck in some weird time vortex where theyíre still cutting edge day-one releases; the difference for me is that while R-Type still remains a great (if not frustrating) play, Thunder Force 2 is torture.

Still, I donít blame you for not agreeing with the evaluation or the score -- people on this siteís staff are in disagreement with my review, too. Nor do I blame your reaction. Not long ago, I would have baulked at the thought of anyone low-reviewing one of my most nostalgically treasured shooter titles, Xenon 2. Then I replayed it and found that now matter how good it was back in the day, itís an aged, obsolete title now that I wish Iíd not revisited.

Props on the Herzog Zwei love, too. I still love that game. Thanks for reading my review of the game, and for taking the time to comment.

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