Friday, 1 October 2010

Thunder Force Series - Part 5

Thunder Force 3 (1990)
By: Techno Soft Genre: Shooting Players: 1 Difficulty: Easy-Medium
Featured Version: Sega MegaDrive / Genesis  First Day Score: 1,269,320
Also Available For: Arcade, SNES (variations)

The first two Thunder Force games were pretty innovative but no one could really say they were smash hits. For all their original ideas and addictive gameplay, the series was still only really known outside of Japan for the second game on the MD, and even then it was hardly viewed as a masterpiece. Then, however, Techno Soft quietly unleashed the monstrous sequel we have before us here, and the rest, as they say, is history! I'm rather keen on TF2 (for the MD - the X68k version is too hard!) but even I have to admit it pales in comparison to this game which is actually a less complicated outing than before. So, is there anything in particular that Techno Soft did to raise the series to such heights, or did it just take some flashy graphical effects to get everyone's attention?

Sunflowers of Doom attack on Hydra...
A century has apparently passed since the devastation of the first Thunder Force and the huge war between the Galaxy Federation and the ORN Empire still rages. For their latest strategy, the forces of ORN have installed cloaking device technology on five planets in their territory to conceal their bases. Making use of the latest state-of-the-art generation of Fire Leo attack fighter, it's your job to destroy the five cloaking devices, then penetrate the many defences around their main base and destroy the bio-computer within. This is done over six stages this time, and unlike previous games in the series, they're all horizontally scrolling, though some also feature diagonal or vertical movement whilst retaining their side view. The first five each take place on one of the cloaked planets and you can tackle them in any order you like. The sixth and final stage takes place in ORN's main base and is split into several sections.

The mid-level boss on Gorgon...
As you might expect, each of the planets is themed, in this case much like a stereotypical platform game! The first planet (Hydra) is a forested one in which terrible sun-flowers of death dwell, not to mention hordes of evil aliens. The second (Gorgon), and perhaps most visually impressive one, takes place through flame-filled caverns complete with sudden lava flows and fragmenting volcanic rocks. The third (Seiren) is set on a nice underwater planet where the current affects the course of your ship and where various evil aquatic beasts lie in wait. The fourth (Haides) is set in collapsing caves and is notably tougher than the three preceding ones, predominantly due to the moving scenery which can trap you or at best give you gaps mere pixels wider than your ship to get through. The fifth stage (Ellis) takes place through a snow-covered, icy world replete with icicles and many beasts that hide beneath the ice, emerging only when you get near them!

The beautiful underwater world of Seiren...
The sixth and last level is divided into three sections. First of all you must destroy a large battleship, R-Type stylee, by shooting all the alien fighter-launchers and gun turrets with which it is festooned (including two of the biggest guns ever seen in a game!) before entering it to blast the crap out of its interior. After this you'll enter ORN's final base where the enemy is frantically trying to block your advance by throwing up barriers! If you can breach them and the base's other defences, the artificial intelligence 'brain' of the ORN awaits! As with the side-viewed stages in Thunder Force 2, each stage here features a mid-level and end-level boss, as well as many other enemies, both large and small, solitary and in formations. The latest model of Fire Leo attack fighter has some improvements over the previous version to help you combat them including a variable speed setting which you can change any time you like. The stockpile of armaments you have on hand is largely different to TF2's arsenal too.

Cutting through mysterious bubbles on Haides...
The basic weapons are the same - twin forward shot or single forward and rear shot - the only returning weapon is good old Hunter. Others include Sever (immense power but poor range) which replaces the normal twin shot, Lancer (nearly as powerful as Sever) which replaces the rear shot, Wave (great range and fires through scenery, but only average power), and Fire (which fires a constant barrage of missiles directly up and down from your ship, which then travel along the landscape until they hit something or fall off the edge). Another welcome return, however, are the drones which have now been redesigned and are called Claws. They still absorb most of the weaker enemy fire but instead of firing their weedy little guns they now duplicate the firepower of the ship that they loyally circle! This can make some weapons, notably Wave, cover the entire screen!

It's hard to tell background and foreground apart...
The shields also return, although they now last for a limited number of hits rather than time. Extra life icons are now available too which, as I'm sure you can imagine, are extremely handy. Indeed, the first two Thunder Force games, good as they were, were also known for being rather hard. Then the Mega Drive conversion of the second appeared and it was substantially easier, and that trend appears to be continuing here as Thunder Force 3 is even easier still! At least part of the reason for this is the slight change Techno Soft made to the weapon system. Like TF2, each weapon you collect is added to your arsenal rather than replacing your existing weapon, but unlike that game, on the default difficulty setting you'll only lose the weapon you were using when you lose a life. Therefore, if you possess a reasonable level of skill at this kind of game, it's a good idea to ramp up that difficulty setting a bit before you start. If you can finish the game on 'Mania', you should pilot space fighters for real!

Yep, they are enemy bullets!
The possibly-too-easy difficulty is the only thing even resembling a blight on this game's otherwise flawless record, however. But regardless of all this, it's still surely most well known for its frankly jaw-dropping graphics and it's a reputation well deserved. Despite being quite an early release for the console, TF3 remained one of the console's showpiece titles until the very end. The sprites and both well-drawn and plentiful and the weapon effects are spectacular, never leaving you in any doubt that your little Fire Leo fighter can kick it with the best of them, but it's probably the backgrounds that impress the most. Unlike many games that insist on merely having a basic starfield or some boring and repetitive pattern, TF3 is set to some of the nicest-looking, multi parallax backdrops I've seen in a shmup on any system. The lush forest of Hydra, the coral-encrusted beauty of Seiren's underwater world, the distant ice-sheets of Ellis, and no gamer of the day ever forgot the first time they saw the amazing fiery world of Gorgon!

Slicing through the final stage...
It wasn't just the visuals that got you pumped up for this fight either - the sound effects are mostly new and all are great, and the rocking soundtrack is absolutely superb, still ranking as my favourite shmup soundtrack of all-time! I never get tired of this cracking music and it would be worth playing the game just to hear it even if the game itself wasn't much cop, but as I'm sure you now realise even if you didn't before - this is a pretty special shmup! Everything about it is of the highest quality and amongst the best examples on the system. The levels are always interesting, with the game never failing to throw some sort of surprise at you, like a sudden barrage of missiles or some laser-firing ships sneaking up on you from behind. Thunder Force 2 was something of an anonymous game in some respects, despite its quality. Thunder Force 3, on the other hand, was far from anonymous. It arrived on the MegaDrive scene with a bang and was met with much fanfare and was swiftly awarded huge scores in most of the magazines of the time, and who could argue? It's true that it's a more conventional game than its predecessors, but who cares when it's this damn good?

RKS Score: 9/10


  1. cool! one day i will pick up all of these

  2. TF3's low difficulty works in its favour as far as I'm concerned. There are a squillion and two shooters you can play if you want to be kicked in the plums repeatedly, so TF3 feels more relaxing - and hence more enjoyable - to play.

    And those wibbly fire effects on the lava level sex me up.

  3. Yep, they sure were pretty amazing, and still look good! :P You're right regarding the difficulty, I guess. There's not too many shmups I can complete on one life... ;)

  4. A technical marvel and an astonishing, engrossing achievement. Every part of this game stands out.

  5. Yeah, it's definitely a standout title for the MD and an iconic game of the whole 16-bit era for me, too :)