Sunday, March 5, 2023

Thunder Force (1983)

Name:Thunder Force
Genre:Top-down shooter
Time:1 hour
Won:Lost (62W/58L)

As a general rule, I don't know which games ahead of time are the ones people actually know about. There are exceptions in obviously popular titles and in some periods, but otherwise I placed titles like Galactic Empire and Midwinter in the same mental pile ahead of time. I bring this up, because until writing this, I had placed in the generic category of Japanese computer game, even if it seemed intriguing. Not so, Thunder Force is a long running and at least somewhat important Japanese series that outlasted the company it was created by.

The story is that the ORN Empire has built a giant asteroid, from which they've launched their attacks into Galactic Federation space, and the player is going to destroy it with the advanced Fire LEO. The Federation is your obvious human faction, while the Empire is apparently a group of robots that look like demons. I don't know if that's a spoiler or not, because I don't have the manual and I doubt the story matters much in-game.

I'm torn on whether or not that crosshair actually helps with anything.

I could tell by the screenshots that this would be interesting. Its rare to see an over-head scrolling game like this in 1983. That's not a stationary game like so many others, or a game that scrolls in one direction. Every direction. And it runs fairly smoothly. There's some slowdown, but this only happens when you move diagonally, but isn't going to be the usual kind of slowdown where everything grinds to a halt. Its even convenient to the gameplay at times.

The game is controlled by the numpad, you constantly move in the direction you pressed. Note, you cannot stop, but this isn't a problem. Z & C drop a bomb, the same bomb I think, and X fires a shot. You take out ground targets with the bombs and flying enemies with the gun. It works rather well for a game released for computer systems which seem to regard pressing multiple keys at once to be witchcraft. Pressing directions rapidly sometimes didn't register. You die in one hit, and while the game starts you off with 10 lives, they don't give you any more.

The shield base, just above the ship.
Don't confuse that with generosity, this game is absolutely brutal. Ground targets shoot without warning and flying targets fly around like crazy. This is one of those games that's easy to continually lose lives in. The objective is to somehow survive long enough to destroy two targets which contain shields. That's the entire objective for the first half of every stage. However, this is randomized, either when the stage starts or after you destroy each ground target, it doesn't matter. Some times it happens quickly, other times its a slog.

So while this game is really hard, the game does play fair to some degree. Enemy patterns can generally be exploited. So long as you don't find yourself in a situation where you can't even get a shot off, you can win assuming you don't make any mistakes. Its no inevitability. Flying back and forth, that is, sideways of where an enemy is, generally allows you to survive. For flying enemies and some stationary enemies, this is obvious, the kinds that shoot at you generally don't rapidly fire at you, so after a shot they're vulnerable. However, other stationary objects actually shoot in the opposite direction you're going.

For flying enemies this isn't an instant win, since they move around, back and forth, on and off the screen. More of them appear as you take out ground targets, but at least these guys aren't consistent across games and lives. As you take out more and more ground targets they tend to overwhelm the game to the point that you're just taking these out to stay afloat. God help you if they're thick enough over some ground targets, because that makes it very difficult to actually take out anything below it.

Then we have the ones that chase after you and shoot at you. They're slower than you, but that's the only mercy you get. Because of how fast the game can be, you barely get enough time to react to these guys before you're already dead. While the game is fairer than most of its compatriots, it doesn't always feel like you have a chance. I know it isn't true, but it seems like shots have a way of homing in on me, even if I manage to dodge them initially.

The ground here looks a lot like there's some secret message.

Eventually, you'll get to the second half of the stage, where you have to destroy...something to get off this section. The same rules apply, except I think you're supposed to take out a specific target. I didn't quite figure out what that one was, but the entire section has a new selection of stationary and flying targets, of which you will have considerable troubles figuring out thanks to the undoubtedly drained supply of lives you have. One of the stationary targets in the first section shot them out in a shotgun pattern, which is a theme here.

Apparently I did make it here with a lot of lives once, not that it helped me.
It didn't take me too long to win that, leading me to stage 2. Yeah, that's right, that wasn't just the entire game. There's a lot more to it. Unfortuantely, at this point they crank up the speed, meaning I didn't make it very far against the hordes. Certainly not long enough to figure out their patterns. It seems like luck that I can even get past the first stage despite having some understanding of what makes it tick. Between the less than ideal controls and a game that doesn't even seem to have a pause button, my patience ran out.

The usual take out this kind of enemy weaponry. 1/10

A decent enough variety of enemies, but nothing special. 2/10


If it weren't for how utterly brutal the difficulty is, I'd think this was a pretty nice setup. 3/10

Player Agency:
As functional as computers from this era seem to be able to produce. I loathe how small the game screen is, but I can't say they didn't try to make up for that. 4/10

Basic building destruction. 1/10

There's something innately neat about flying through a green area gradually seeing the destruction you've caused. 2/10

Perhaps I'm just being generous from all the lackluster stuff I've seen this year, but this looked nice. No real animation though. 2/10


Outside of a cheesy THUNDA FORCE that echoes whenever the game first begins, solid 8-bit sounds. 2/10

That's 17. Were it just a little bit easier to manage, I think this would have had a shot at the 20s. In a sense, this is crueler than the usual fair, because it pretends it plays fair compared, like Lucy tearing away the football.

Curiously, while setting this up, I also tried out the PC-98 version, and dealing with speed issues there nearly screwed over one of my emulators. I made the mistake of playing it on the same emulator I was playing Shadowcaster on. The important thing is that the game seems to have different layouts. The Sharp X1 version I played was the easier version.

A programming note. There are 7 games left in 1983, meaning I should be done by this month or next month. Secondly, 1990 is down to 2 games. I was going to play Castle Master 2, but decided I had nothing new to say about the franchise. By the same token, I was going to play Midwinter again, but couldn't actually say anything new I hadn't said years ago. Funny.

No comments:

Post a Comment