Friday, January 2, 2009

Flying Knights and Wailing Guitars

Thunder Force VI continues to climb in my esteem each time I play it, though over the holidays I’ve reduced my efforts with it. I’ve unlocked all ships, seen all endings so now I’m playing it for score. I’m currently putting most of my play-time, and it isn’t a ton, into Lords of Thunder. Sounds like it’s be some kind of sequel or related-game to the aforementioned Thunder Force, but it isn’t. It’s an older shooter originally released for the PC-Engine (TurboGrafx-16) and was fairly well known for it’s colorful fantasy-themed graphics (an atypical theme for shooters then AND now) and its rocking soundtrack. At one point I had the Sega CD version of this game, but never took the time to get into, though I’d always meant to. With most of my old consoles packed away in storage, I needed to download the PC-Engine version from the Wii Virtual Console in order to try it again.

It’s pretty good stuff. I won’t say its at the top of the heap for its time or anything like that, but I definitely see the appeal it had… and still has. It has held up pretty well for being 15 years old. All hand-drawn 2D graphics, but with a lot of flair. It has proven more challenging to me than I expected. You have a life bar instead of getting killed on the first hit, but you seriously power-down as you get hit and parts of the game become a pain to negotiate with just your lowest-grade firepower. It is ‘gradius syndrome’ to be sure. So you get hit and without enough shootiness to defend yourself you get hit again, and again. The little invincibility window most shooters give when you get hit and respawn is almost nonexistent because you don’t respawn—you have the life bar and once its gone, your one ‘ship’ (warrior in armor really) is dead and its game over. So one hit frequently becomes multiple hits.

Players also get to choose in which order they tackle the various levels (except the last one) and their armor which determines the shot type used in each of the levels. I’m finding the juggling of all these choices really affects how well I do in the game rather than just being a sort of variety-gimmick as I first viewed them.

The soundtrack is one of the game's most well-known aspects. Its a 80s-90s era hard rock/metal, but without *quite* the cheese level that many associate with 'hard' music in those years. When you say 80s metal most people think 'hair bands', the glam metal sold by bands like Cinderella, Ratt, Motley Crue, and (yes people) Guns and Roses.

People kinda forget that Iron Maiden, and others were still putting music out and those years are the birth-time of Metallica, Megadeth and the other progenitors of thrash. The music in Lords of Thunder is not quite Poison-level cheese, the lack of vocals probably goes a long way towards helping this out.

Well worth the Wii points to get this game.

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