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Thunder Force AC (Arcade) artwork

Thunder Force AC (Arcade) review

"Thunder Force AC got things backwards. It is a book based on a movie. It went straight to DVD, only to be released in theaters the next year. "

Thunder Force AC got things backwards. It is a book based on a movie. It went straight to DVD, only to be released in theaters the next year. At a time when most games were moving from the arcade to home consoles, Thunder Force 3 went from the Genesis to the arcade. While most games were making changes to accommodate their conversion to limited hardware, Thunder Force AC goes to questionable lengths to preserve the continuity of its namesakes.

Those questionable lengths define Thunder Force AC as the tangled jungles of Hydra, the swirling flames of Gorgon and the Darius-flavored seas of Seiren provide a very familiar opening, foregoing the Genesis's level select with your most likely route anyway. There is little to separate these stages from Three; they look just as good and play just as well. If you enjoyed your Genesis eye candy and swooned over mesmerizing flares and brain-like twists of brine-yellow vine, you'll enjoy them exactly the same here. If you were underwhelmed by the competition the initial levels presented, fiddle with those dip switches or expect to be unimpressed as well.

To me, Thunder Force 3 is a great concept shooter that fails in its execution; its challenges feel too contrived, its developers not letting the flow of the action define it but instead constantly forcing their influence upon the player. This is the point where air bubbles swell from the underground to suddenly push your vehicle into harm's way. This is where going after a power-up allows oncoming laser-spewers an upper hand. This is one of the too numerous instances where you'll switch to your back shot and clear enemies on your tail. Every obstacle presented feels deliberately designed; no challenge in Thunder Force 3 seems to happen spontaneously.

It'll throw every punch it can find at you, but after it misses it never returns to the repertoire. The laser spouting robots of Gorgon and the cataclysmic urchins in Seiren, whose explosions disrupt the path ahead, deserve return appearances. You'll never see them again. As this episode wears on, the enemies grow smaller and more and more mounted turrets come into play. Instead of mixing it up, the game hits you with more premeditated challenges, and while those attacks become adequate opposition they're lacking the ingenuity already squandered because it refuses to recycle. It keeps thinking it can come up with fresh novelties even after it becomes obvious it can't.

The hitch with AC is that the middle of Three, and some of its most beautiful moments, have been left on the cutting room floor. Haides is a cerulean cavern and one of the better stages, memorable for its underground waterfalls and cramped corridors. Ellis is the enchanting ice stage highlighted by a beautiful contrast of fiery explosions against a serene frozen tundra. Both won't be seen. AC's biggest mistake is its stage four, a generic starry backdrop and a methodical plunge through a sea of lifeless space wreckage. Its boss is a neat hopping robot fool, and he'd be a fun foe to tussle with if he wasn't the easiest in the game, typically brought down before he can finish his first wave of the attack. It feels like it belongs in a bad Super Nintendo shooter, and when AC was migrated to that console as Thunder Spirits it was only fitting.

But the fifth stage deserves special mention, an homage to the valiant Thunder Force 2. The gold pipes and pillars contrast against rich dark red walls in a familiar way. Blue missiles streak onto the screen from both directions. There are green chain link fences to burst through, cascading platforms to circumvent and a high speed burst through a narrow earthen sub-terrain. It feels intimately familiar and is the best reason to play AC for fans of the series, where it cleverly combines inspirations from Two rather than duplicating the contrived act of Three. These are the only moments where AC manages to rival its Genesis source.

From there we return to Thunder Force 3, back in all its glory. Maybe you're a big fan, but sandwiched between the hits, the hectic Two and the sublime Four, Three was always a forgettable middle child to me, a good shooter on a console with a lot of good shooters. Give me Wings of Wor, or Bio-Hazard Battle, or even Gaiares over it and I'd be happy to trade. Its jump to the arcade shows no noticeable upgrades, merely making the solid swap of one good stage for another, and the Frank Robinson for Milt Pappas caliber exchange that resulted in its mindlessly boring fourth stage. As much as I think Two is a game worthy of tribute, even fans of the series shouldn't worry about passing over Thunder Force AC.

Leroux's avatar
Staff review by Winston Wolf (March 17, 2011)

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EmP posted March 19, 2011:

You and your vailed praise of TF2. I used to think I knew you.

Thanks for coming through on this and for writing a great review to boot. I knew exactly which of the TF2 levels you meant after you described it so well -- and in half the words I used. Excellent review.
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Masters posted March 19, 2011:

Great review, buddy.

Though of course, your liking Thunder Force II is just... wrong. =D

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