Thunder Force IV Review on the Sega Megadrive

Thunder Force IV, or Lightening Force if you’re on the far side of the Atlantic, is a video game of the ‘shoot em up’ persuasion. ‘Shoot em ups’, also known as ‘Shooters’ or ‘shmups’ by the youth of today (As an aside I shall try to refrain from using the modern vernacular for the duration of the review and only refer to them by their full title; Shoot them Ups. As we’re on the subject, why aren’t Beat Em Ups given the same treatment and referred to as Bmups, or Beaters for that matter? And who was it who coined the term ‘shoot em up’ anyway? My mate Terry from down the pub reckons it was him but then he also reckons that he invented Chicken Nuggets) can be traced back to the dawn of time when video games were simple beasts that could be controlled with a button press or three. Thunder Force IV continues in that same simple vein albeit with sparkling 16bit graphics and a face melting rock soundtrack.

Developed by Technosoft and released for European consumption in December of ’92, Thunder Force IV is the fourth game in the series, as the name would suggest. In it you control the FIRE LEO-04 Rynex, or ‘Trevor’ as it is affectionately known, a fighter developed by the Galaxy Federation to combat the resurgent threat of the evil ORN Empire and their Vios army. As with most Shoot them Ups, plot is of secondary importance and only really there to motivate the player to commit mass Alien genocide in the name of freedom, and what can I say, it works!

A classic horizontally scrolling Shoot them Up, the game tweaks the formula slightly by creating a playing field that extends beyond the top and bottom of the screen, giving you a larger area in which to manoeuvre ‘Trevor’, allowing for more vertical movement. This lends Thunder Force IV a distinctive air in that it affords you options of how to tackle a level, enemies often vary depending on where you place yourself and there are sometimes multiple routes to take, especially on later levels. Indeed, the game is never shy of offering the player an option of how to play, the first being the order in which you tackle the first four levels. The weapon system is all about choice too, as you collect power-ups you’re free to switch between the weapon types (of which there are 5; Blade, Rail Gun, Snake, Free Way and Hunter) although it is usually necessity rather than taste that dictates which one you use. There are also ‘options’ to collect that the game refers to as ‘Claw’, these revolve around your ship giving you a greater rate of fire.

Your ship and ‘Claw’ are upgraded after the fifth level giving you the use of the most powerful weapon in the game, the ‘Thunder Sword’(!), the upgrade is revealed in one of the coolest cut scenes in video game history, all played out to a stunning rock guitar riff. I say it with pride that the resultant effect has me punching the air and whooping with excitement, indeed. You are also able to choose the speed of your ship which can be adjusted at any point during play, I like to have mine turned up to 11 at all times…..

Graphically, the game excels although at times it’s evident that the Mega Drive is being pushed to its limits with the odd piece of slowdown. These are rare occasions though and never game breakers and are more than made up for by the games overall aesthetically excellent standards. Deep textures and parallax scrolling are all evident and, minor slowdown aside, the game moves smoothly and at an admirable speed due to being one of the few PAL games to be properly optimised to suit the refresh rate on European televisions. This graphical excellence is most evident on the early ‘Strite’ level that culminates in a boss battle that is both epic and conducted at something approaching hyper speed. Each Boss battle is fought to its own high quality a rock soundtrack and similar audio standards can be found elsewhere; the game even tries its hand at some rudimentary voice synthesizing, which, while not wholly successful in itself, does add to the 16bit charm of the game.

As with the majority of Shoot them Ups, Thunder Force IV cannot strictly be said to be an easy game, and if anybody says that they beat it in an afternoon they’re probably lying. However, it does have a smooth difficulty curve to the point where I feel like I’ve failed rather than the game has beaten me when I’ve plowed through my final credit, ‘harsh but fair’ I think you call that, and I’m always left with a feeling that I could’ve done better.

On certain occasions it almost feels like the game takes pity on you when you’re performing particularly poorly though, bosses appear to take less damage when you’ve only got the default pea-shooter to your name, that’s not to say that I recommend a tactical withdrawal because weapon conservation will be key come the later levels, take a hit whilst using your favourite weapon and that’s it until another power-up comes along. For anybody with the constitution of a gnat there are multiple in-built cheats available to help you through trying times.

Thunder Force IV is one of the best Shoot them Up on the PAL Mega Drive, that is beyond all doubt, it demonstrates a level of sophistication that it’s genre brethren can only aspire to. Call them what you want, if shmups are your sort of game (or even if they’re not) and you have a Mega Drive, you owe it to all that is good in this world to have Thunder Force IV in your collection!

TRGN Rating 90% – Reviewed by Owen McCarthy

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