Sunday, 23 August 2015

Bat 'n' Ball Games #11

Thunder and Lightning (1990)
By: Visco / Romstar Genre: Bat 'n' Ball Players: 1 Difficulty: Hard
Featured Version: Nintendo NES First Day Score: Missed It (not displayed while playing)
Also Available For: Arcade

You would think after the immense success of Arkanoid that many of the clones that followed would also meet with some degree of fame and fortune too, especially if they were any good, but this release by Visco went largely unnoticed. This is even stranger when you realise it first appeared in arcades - the birthplace of most popular games of the day, and was also ported to the NES - the most popular console of the time. Perhaps it stank of poop? Many clones were tremendously generic and highly uninspiring to play after all. After just a few minutes playing Thunder and Lightning, though, that definitely didn't seem to be the case here. Impressions of Romstar's NES conversion were initially very positive - it's bright and colourful, the presentation is nice, and my time spent with it was enjoyable, but I couldn't shake the feeling that it was going to suddenly start sucking hard and I would then come to understand the reason for its apparent anonymity.

The star of the game is a Mr. Chin who had appeared the same year (thought slightly earlier) in a Game Boy platformer. Here our hero is apparently 'back to his zany antics' and finds himself trapped within the realm of the Thunder Warrior. Somewhat displeased with this intrusion, the Thunder Warrior has placed before Mr. Chin the 'Thirty Walls of Regret' which are in fact all single-screen stages featuring various patterns of colourful bricks. Mr. Chin must destroy all bricks on each stage using his 'demoe ball' in order to 'make it home for dinner'. Amusing back-story aside though, the premise is exactly the same as that of Arkanoid, and indeed most other 'brick-breaker' games - keep the ball in play as long as possible, take out or avoid the alien creatures, and collect the (mostly) helpful power-ups to speed up your progress. Like most decent clones, however, Thunder & Lightning does include at least a few original little touches to to keep players interested.

Perhaps the finest of these is the two-player mode which offers either turn-based or simultaneous play (which employs two smaller paddles). In either case, you are actually playing as Mr. Chin here rather than some paddle-shaped representative - if you look at the screenshots you'll see him at the bottom of the screen holding the paddle and he humorously runs left and right at your command! being a joypad-controlled game though, he's not always fast enough, so luckily one of the buttons will make him run even faster. The power-ups available to him are rather less imaginative. They appear after destroying one of three types of vehicle that pootle regularly through the play-area - a submarine, plane, or spaceship - and include all the usuals: larger paddle, ball-catch, slow ball, missiles, multi-ball (both three and six-ball varieties), extra lives, and one that increases the size of the ball as well as making it more powerful, capable of smashing through multiple bricks in one go.

The latter is even among the most useful power-ups actually, and not just because of the added power. One of the first problems I noticed with this game, you see, is the size of the ball. It's pretty small to start with, and not at all brightly coloured either, so it can be hard to even spot it when it's pinging around at high speed, but one of the evil aliens in the game (the green sea anemones) actually makes it even smaller, and that can make the going really tough, at least until you've managed to enlarge it again by collecting a power-up (most of them will do the trick, luckily). The other terrible creatures that roam the play-field aren't much more helpful either - the octopus grabs your paddle, slowing you down, and the stupid bloody turtles walk down the screen and turn into more bricks, usually in a really inconvenient place as well, obviously. Curiously, there are also birds who genuinely are helpful - if you hit one it goes crazy and destroys all the remaining bricks!

There is also occasionally a cretin called the 'Thunder Warrior' who also destroys bricks for you but, somewhat less helpfully, he also zaps Mr. Chin with lightning which freezes him. Fortunately, each of the stages only feature one kind of enemy meaning the turtle stages usually take ages, bird stages are usually very quick, and the others? Well, that depends on your skill as well as your good fortune! Aside from the tiny balls (giggity), that's the only real problem with Thunder & Lightning too - the somewhat unbalanced difficulty which results in easy stages sometimes following some really tough examples (usually goddamn sonofabitch turtle ones). Some stages even require a particular power-up to be collected and these seem to be randomly distributed so you might need to be hanging around for quite a while to find the one you want which can grow mighty tiresome. Assuming you last that long of course, and many stages have bricks down really low near the paddle which doesn't help.

These are about the only problems with the game but they are ones that affect enjoyment of it, and that's a shame as it's otherwise a very pleasant example of its genre. The graphics are tidy and colourful (although there's a lot of blue), and the sprites are cute and very appealing, and it's the same with the audio too, which features a few nice, catchy tunes and jingles and reasonable effects. It's the kind of game that you really want to love, even expect to, and sometimes you will love playing it if you have a good run of luck/skill, but progress in the game really does depend on both of these things - one or the other alone will not be enough. If that's something you can get on board with, and you also find the bright, happy audio/visuals appealing, then this may soon become a favourite, especially when you have a friend handy. If not, it will probably enrage you and make you smash stuff up quite often. Personally, I think I both love and hate it!

RKS Score: 7/10