Side scrolling shooters are ten a penny in retro gaming terms. In order to stand out from the crowd games need to have that (oh dear god am I really going use this term?) X factor (dammit). Poor neologisms aside lets see how Technosoft competed against the elite ranks of the likes of: Parodius, R-Type, Raiden, Gradius etc.
The Thunder Force series started out on 8-bit micros, namely the Sharp X1 (not a mainstream reference but the X1 TurboZ is a sexy piece of kit that I would love to get my hands on) and was an overhead shooter akin to the game ‘1944’ only when the 3rd in the series came out would it be side scrolling action. There have been versions ported to many platforms and the majority featured on Sega’s 16-bit machine, although for some reason The NSTC version was called Lightening Force: Quest for the Darkstar yet every other game in the series retained the original name (is this making sense to you?). The basics of this game are the usual fare. Power ups, weapon upgrades and shields are the norm and you wont find major originality here but to those familiar with the Horizontal shooter wouldn’t want anything else. Lets see if this game is equal to the sum of its parts.
Graphics: anybody who knows the Megadrive/genesis well, will know that because the system came out during the tail end of 8-bit land, comparing the visuals to the other 16-bit systems can make Sega’s black beast look limited, Fact. Put this game in the console and forget all that you know. This game looks gorgeous, it is eye candy central. The whole time playing this to its inevitable completion I only noticed slowdown on 3 separate occasions (believe me, screens can get incredibly busy). This is all to do with the Megadrive’s/Genesis’ (Genesis’s… Genisi…?) fast CPU (which is much faster than the likes of the SNES). Enemy ships look great, weapon fire is cool and bosses are of such good design that I feel they rival R-types insane looking bosses. A point worth mentioning is that your craft is not limited to a static screen, moving up and down will scroll more of the playing field which is a nice touch and makes the game feel pretty big.
Sound: Again talking of the limitations of the platform, sound is usually the first thing to suffer when Sega ramps up the graphics but here there is not an issue sound is not only resolute but brilliantly written and some tracks were released as part of the CD release ‘Thunder Force VI Soundtrack – Broken Thunder published by Factory Noise & AG’.
Gameplay: Although challenging it’s fair and hit detection is spot on, because of this you wont feel too frustrated to push on. Boss battles will tax your dodging skill if you lose some weapon upgrades by dying. Saying that, the only upgrade you will lose when you die is the one you had selected when you bite the big one. A good touch in this game is, you can adjust your engine power which will increase your speed and manoeuvrability around the playing field (that maybe original, I can’t say I’ve seen that in many places before, let me know in the comments!). Playing is a total joy whether you are a casual gamer or a seasoned veteran due to different difficulty settings. Also a nice load of continues will great you when all lives are lost.
In closing I would like to make this statement to the internets: Thunder force IV is not only the best shooter on the Megadrive/Genesis but in my humble opinion the greatest ever game on said platform. It is a must have for your collection and (because its not one of the bigger horizontal shooter titles) fairly easy to get your hands on. If you have never played/heard of this game I urge you to try it today (no need to thank me, its my duty) and because the game is not the longest (9 or so levels) it is possible to complete in one sitting (but boy do you need to knuckle down!). I’m sure you have already guessed that this title has become my firm favourite and it will come as no surprise that a give this game 5 out of 5 stars.