Blue Thunder

The Rarest of the Rare Video Game System – Exploring Action Max’s Blue Thunder VHS Game

When the Action Max system made its short-lived debut in 1987, it promised gaming fun and excitement with VHS tapes and light guns. What it delivered with no user interactivity, your actions having no bearing on what happens in the game, and, well, no playability whatsoever. What one essentially got when they bought (suckers) or received (again, the person who bought it for a lucky recipient was a sucker) an Action Max was the most unexciting gaming experience ever intended.

There were a total of five games created and marketed for Action Max. Well, there’s actually six if you count the unreleased game that there is no information/pictures for, but supposedly exists in some form. If that form is pure energy, I’d like to know all about it. And while four of the system’s “games,” The Rescue of Pops Ghostly, .38 Ambush Alley, Sonic Fury (the system’s pack-in game), and Hydrosub 2021 are all easy to find at flea markets, on eBay and Amazon, and in tape trades (seriously, the twenty people who owned this system all owned The Rescue of Pops Ghostly – myself included), there is one rather elusive game that has proven to be a much harder one to find than the rest, which has led me to believe it is the best of the bunch, and therefore, the rarest.

That game is based on a film of the same name. That “game” is Blue Thunder.

All images courtesy of Allison Venezio.

All images courtesy of Allison Venezio.

Yes, Blue Thunder. While all of the other games prove to be a silly haunted house game, a ridiculous simulation of a police academy shooting range, a rip-off of Top Gun, and a submarine adventure of the future, there was a game based on an actual movie. That people have actually heard of. And it was rare. So it either has to be incredible and mind-blowing…or just a terrible low-budget rip-off. Ok, fine, Action Max games don’t exactly bring quality, innovation, and creativity, but they created a game around a movie people actually saw…in 1983. So they were four years late to the party. But hey, they arrived.

And this was the result.

But before we start, and this is REALLY important (!), we need to check the brightness level of your TV. Don’t worry, you probably are doing it right, but Worlds of Wonder just wants to make sure. You know, CYA.

Action Max - Brightness Test Screen

The announcer (whom I hope they paid nicely for his time and effort) teaches “players” (can we really be considered players?) to adjust the screen. All games have this brightness adjustment/calibration screen, but this was the ultra-rare “star” version. Ultra rare for the ultra-rare game it was included on!

And then, the second most important test you will need to perform on your television in order to play this game…the TV adjustment test!

Action Max - TV Adjustment Test Screen - Suction Cup Placement

Mr. Announcer now teaches us how to adjust the television for optimal “game play.” First, you place the suction cup in the designated area (over the black circle in the lower right hand corner of the television screen). Then, “players” are to turn on the “on” switch on the base unit, and then adjust the “game switch” to normal, then to special. Ah yes, special. Just like this system and all the “games” it has. Very special.

Action Max - TV Adjustment Test Screen - Reflex Game

But we’re not done yet!!!

When the seizure-inducing white circle on the screen begins flashing, take aim at the screen, and check the “score” on the base unit. If you’ve haven’t collapsed from a seizure yet, you’re doing everything right. Actually, if the score isn’t changing, then you need to go back and calibrate the color on the television. Refer back to Lesson One: The Star Test.

So many complicated instructions for a game that doesn’t exactly work the way we (or the minds at Worlds of Wonder who made this a thing) envision it should. After you’ve done this (and assuming your eyes haven’t completely glazed over by this point, or you haven’t had a seizure from the flashing), adjust the base unit to standard game by sliding the switch to “Normal.” Which describes nothing about the process one must go through in order to “play” this “game.”

And now…get ready for ACTION!

If only the announcer sounded nearly as enthusiastic as he wants you to believe he is.

But wait, you can’t play the game yet! There’s more!!!

There’s this epic introduction, the stuff of low-budget 1980s goodness…

Oh Action Max logo music, you’re reminiscent of low-budget home video labels that the 1980s were silly with!

And just when you thought you were all ready to play an amazing “game” of Blue Thunder…you’re forced to endure one more test.


Action Max - Gun Test Screen


Action Max forces you to endure one more test/test of endurance to ensure that every aspect of your barely-working Action Max works perfectly. Because it assumes you are dumb and have no ability to actually play a video game. Or, “play” this “video game.”

Mr. Announcer, who is barely containing his boredom and “I’m just here for the paycheck” tone,reminds “players” that “a steady aim is critical.” Yes, yes it is. Mr. Announcer reminds you to adjust the distance control for the game pistol (toward minus if close to the screen, plus if further away from the screen). Hitting a “target” nets you “points,” and a “faster response” nets more points. If you hit a “Friend,” the base unit (or the shoddy Action Max headphones that you may have plugged into the unit”) will indicate it with a sound of disappointment, and points will be deducted. You must now turn off the base unit to reset the score (but don’t forget to turn it back on), and PREPARE FOR ACTION!!!!


2:57 seconds later, it’s finally time to play Blue Thunder!

As the film…er, game begins, you are thrust into a debriefing about the meeting of the World Peace Coalition, meeting in Los Angeles in two days. And what get next is stock footage of the 1983 movie Blue Thunder. We’ve got pilots grabbing helmets, we’ve got helicopters revving up…we’ve got an announcer telling us our mission: provide surveillance and air support in the attempt of any hostile attempt to disrupt this critical meeting of world leaders. Or people who come up with ways to royally rip off footage of good movies. How Worlds of Wonder pulls this off is an elusive mystery, but my mission, by the end of the video is to prove that it can happen.

Pray for me and my “helicopter.”

And hence, “Day 1: Special Training and Tactics,” has begun.

Screenshot (2)

You, “The Player” are a new recruit, in a training mission on the heels of, as mentioned, the World Peace Coalition. You are taken to a practice facility and given your instructions – red silhouettes and black cars are terrorists, and white silhouettes are civilians. The aim – don’t “take aim” at the civilians. It is implied by the video that you are successful (though there is really no accountability for it), and you’re then thrust headlong into the action.

And then “Day 2: World Peace Coalition Los Angeles” happens.

Barely three minutes into the actual feature, and you’re on your way to the streets of Los Angeles, where you go on a stock footage-laden adventure, taking out enemy craft, while maneuvering your prototype copter (which costs fifteen million dollars…each!) under bridges and avoiding the temptation to shoot a media helicopter.

So tempting…

Your Fearless Leader/Trainer’s chopper is hit during the action, so you’re left on your own, with the help of the police chopper that has made its way into the area, along with that elusive media helicopter. Because we all know how much they like action!

Screenshot (29)

KBLA High in the sky, with another police calamity! (No lie, that’s the actual dialogue!)

Enemy jets place their heat-seeking missiles on your chopper, but you’re undaunted. The missile takes out a building, in a terrifying show of foreshadowing…

Screenshot (33)

And stock footage. Terrifying stock footage!

Screenshot (36)

The attempt to blow up the peace conference is thwarted, but you and your Fearless Trainer/Leader (now back in action), is ready to take out the enemy, once and for all.

Screenshot (37)

And the stock footage shows success!

Ground control informs you that all enemies are finished off, and there are now clear skies over Los Angeles. There sure is, I mean, no smog in sight! It’s at this time that Fearless Trainer/Leader congratulates you on the success of the “mission,” and both of you head off into the sunset.

And if your base unit was keeping score the whole time, you can rank abilities as a newbie Blue Thunder pilot:

Screenshot (38)

Do you have what it takes to be Squadron Leader…or are you better suited for Ground Crew?

And before Blue Thunder is even over, we’re getting Mr. Announcer, informing us to stay tuned for more exciting previews of other Action Max titles. Don’t cut in until it’s the right time, Mr. Announcer. I know you’re not exactly enjoying your job at this exact moment, but this is the best Action Max title – don’t ruin it!!!

We’re treated to the final round of stock footage from the actual film, the fact that two someones wrote this:

Screenshot (39)

The reminder of where the source material came from…

Screenshot (43)

And the fact that Coca-Cola Telecommunications was a thing in 1987.

Screenshot (44)

As was Worlds of Wonder…but not for much longer.

Screenshot (45)

And how about those “exciting” previews?

And by exciting, Mr. Announcer means The Rescue of Pops Ghostly, which was not exciting at all.

Screenshot (46)

Seriously, everyone owned this game. Everyone! And by everyone, I mean the twenty people who owned an Action Max.

Screenshot (47)

And more excitement lurks around every corner, in the shadows, and in places you don’t expect in .38 Ambush Alley!

Screenshot (48)

And, because they wanted to make the previews a three-part harmony of excitement, we’re taken beneath the seas of the 21st century, battling lasers from enemy subs. Come aboard Hydrosub 2021!

And that’s the Action Max game Blue Thunder! In all, this is clearly the most quality game of the Action Max games…and that’s saying a lot about a game that offers no interactivity, and no viable outcome for your actions. In other words, it’s like watching a video, with seizure-inducing targets at every turn, swoop, and flyby. While much of the footage (especially the action) is stock footage from the feature film, there are some obvious moments of new footage, particularly with Team Leader, And Central Control. In terms of its quality, I refer to the footage used, not the actual gameplay. There is no gameplay. You take aim, fire your Action Max Pistol, and hope to hit a target. What you get is…nothing.

You may hit your target, but nothing happens.


The music in this video is by composer Sylvester Levay, responsible for the music on another high-tech helicopter venture, the 1984-1987 television series Airwolf.

After all of the tutorials on how to adjust your television’s brightness and getting an optimal shot on the targets, as well as testing the television you are using, as well as the previews at the end of the video, Blue Thunder barely runs fifteen minutes. It is on par with the other Action Max games of the time, with tape running times averaging just under twenty minutes. However, this one tends to be the more exciting of the lot, and the least cheesy.

And considering that there is something else that hijacked the Blue Thunder name, the Action Max video couldn’t possibly be the worst adventure for the high-tech helicopter.

[Via] Miguel Ferreira

This. Eleven episodes.

As I said, of the lot of Action Max videos, this is the rarest of an already-rare video gaming console, which lived and died within the span of one magical year – 1987.

On eBay, Action Max’s Blue Thunder isn’t even a thing…it’s not even listed. On Amazon, it has a listing, but is currently unavailable. When I wrote my original Action Max two-part article in November 2013, this was the same availability. Which leads me to believe that Blue Thunder is magic of the bad video game gods…or the pitfall of bargain bin gaming, so bad that it is impossible to ever find physical proof it existed. However, it is available courtesy of several You Tube users.

And if you’re very much inclined to see the whole thing, in glorious seizure-inducing quality, look no further than Captain Devereaux and his inclusion, or Retro Reality and their inclusion.

[Via] Captain Devereaux

Thanks to You Tube users Captain Devereaux and Retro Reality for their amazing contributions to YouTube! Their videos are incredible, be sure to check them out! And to read my original articles about the Action Max system, click on either of the related links. Because everyone likes to feel educated!

Related Links

Action Max: The Rise and (Quick) Fall of a Video Game System
Part 1 – November 26, 2013
Part 2 – December 27, 2013

About Allison Venezio

This is hardly Allison’s first go-around with the short-lived Action Max system. She not only owned one of these “consoles” in 1987 (and managed to hang on to it until the mid-1990s), she is one of those twenty proud owners of The Rescue of Pops Ghostly, as well as Sonic Fury (but only because it came with the Action Max), and .38 Ambush Alley. Allison and her twin brother received a Nintendo for Christmas in 1988, effectively ending the reign of Action Max being their first/only game console. They did play it until the early 1990s, when it went into the entertainment center cabinet and never re-emerged. She also lived to write about the console in a two-part article in 2013. She can be found lurking around her blog, Allison’s Written Words (with archives on Blogger), can be contacted via Twitter @DancerChick1982, and (if you dare) you can also follow her blog on Facebook. She is an amateur writer/blogger and nostalgia geek, with a day job as a Secretary for a non-profit. She resides in southern New Jersey. Her mom thinks she’s a talented writer, and would like you to know this too. You really don’t want to disappoint her mom, do you?

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7 thoughts on “The Rarest of the Rare Video Game System – Exploring Action Max’s Blue Thunder VHS Game

  1. Max Power, I used to date a guy whose brother had a “Captain Power” video cassette. I got to watch it one time, and wow, it was just as bad as the Action Max tapes. The story would have been fine without the whole “game” concept thrown in. I guess the whole idea was to stand out, and not be just another children’s cartoon that marketed toys. In a way, it did market toys…just not ones that worked very well.

  2. Absolutely an amazing article, Allison! I wonder where that announcer is today? Is he checking the internet for mentions of Action Max? :D

  3. Thank you, Vic! :-)

    I’d love to know where he is, or for that matter, who Mr. Bored Announcer is. He just seemed so…unenlightened about the existence of this system and these games. And the fact that he cut in on “Blue Thunder” before it was even over made him even more aggravating. It was the best game they had, but he wanted to make sure you know there were other Action Max games that were potentially exciting.

    Mr. Bored Announcer, reveal yourself!

  4. Atari Adventure Square says:

    Great article, Allison!
    This system seems to have existed in a state between ‘Actual purchasable home gaming product’ and ‘Dream-concept of the Future of Gaming’ (although a half-baked concept at that).

    I say this cuz it’s the kind of idea that popped up with us in excited chats about the next-step for video games – somewhere in the realm of laser-disc realism and interactive playfield.

    I also say this cuz, although the Action Max pokes a yawning synapse in my gamer memory, I woulda swore this never happened as a thing you could see and touch.

    Good to read a good breakdown of the actual experience of plugging it in.
    It’s a shame they never went all out with it and produced ‘Fright Night’.

    One could wish it was indeed a port of the great vampire flick.
    Although vampires are hardly affected by gunplay
    (although ‘sunlight’ gunplay perhaps?)


    or tossing garlic at the screen?

    Mebbe I’ll just go back to sleep and dream up the video gameplay for this one.

  5. Awesome article Allison, the Action Max is deserving of a little more recognition than its received over the years. Although it ultimately failed to catch on, it was an interesting idea that was probably a little too ahead of its time. With more interaction and actual gameplay, Worlds of Wonder could have been on to something.

    Action Max, like many other false-starts, underscore the idea of gameplay trumping graphics.

  6. Thank you, Atari Adventure Square and Atari I/O. :-)

    I actually had his system, and am still convinced that I dreamt up the very existence of it in my home. I guess because I was five years old at the time, my parents didn’t want to spend the money on a Nintendo (yet) and wanted to see how my brother and I responded to this. It just never worked that well!!! I’ve heard they are available on eBay. I’d love to find one someday and try it again, lol. :-)

    I’m painfully detailed so yeah, I really went full-force in breaking this down. But I’m glad you enjoyed it!

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