Thunder Blade

a game by Sega

Platform: Sega Master SystemSega Master System

Genre: Shooting Games

Thunder Blade
  • Manufacturer: Sega
  • Machine: Versions: Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, IBM PC

Thunder Blade is an arcade shoot-'em-up featuring multiple scenarios and alternating viewpoints. The user pilots a combat helicopter (the kind seen in films like Blue Thunder and the TV show Air Wolf) on a wild run through hostile territory, firing a machine gun and launching missiles while the ground and air fill with death-dealing enemies.

Thunder Blade is no combat simulator, however. It is to a helicopter simulator like Gunship (MicroProse), as Pole Position (Atari) is to Test Drive (Accolade). That is, Thunder Blade is not concerned with the detailed reproduction of helicopter flight; instead it focuses on the use of the Thunder Blade's offensive might.

As the game begins, the player's copter is parked on a helipad at the bottom of the playscreen. The enemy politely holds its fire until the chopper lifts off, at which point all hell breaks loose. This initial scenario employs an overhead viewpoint with smooth vertical scrolling on all versions. The player then battles an array of ground vehicles and a few helicopters as it makes its way north to a pre-determined location, which signals the end of the first round.

When Thunder Blade resumes, the perspective changes to pseudo-first-person, with the point of view established just behind the player's helicopter. In this scenario, the player must not only deal with enemy tanks but with the mazelike array of buildings, contact with which leaves the Thunder Blade flatter than the top of Grace Jones' hair. Thereafter, the perspectives switch back and forth, depending on the play level.

The game features excellent graphics and animation, even on the C-64 version. On the ST and, especially, the Amiga versions, the visuals are downright spectacular. The overhead scenarios offer a breathtaking illusion of altitude while the pseudo-first-person contests move at roller-coaster speed.

Thunder Blade's problems are all related to its joystick control system. The joystick dictates ascent, descent and left-right movement when the action button is not pressed. Pressing the button while pushing the joystick forward causes the craft to accelerate. Pulling back on the stick with the button pressed causes the aircraft to slow down. The problem with this system is that the user can't help but issue confusing commands, since pushing the action button while not moving the joystick causes the helicopter to either fire the machine gun or launch a missile. Since the user is forced to fire almost continuously, an attempt to steer the ship left or right is likely to initiate unwanted commands.

Alternately, the player can use a combination of joystick and keyboard commands. These are pretty unrealistic, however, since simultaneous joystick/keyboard manipulation is impractical for species with only two hands. Most players require two hands for the joystick alone, one of which acts as an anchor and controls the action button while the dominant hand guides the stick.

The coin-op version of Thunder Blade boasted dual joysticks, thereby eliminating the kind of infelicities that mar the home versions. Alas, this option was not available to the computer programmers. While they clearly struggled to overcome these weaknesses, there is no getting past the fact that Thunder Blade is an action game whose action is constantly being tangled in more commands than a single-button joystick can cleanly issue.

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Thunder Blade Downloads

Sega Master System Thunder Blade download
  • Manufacturer: Bill Kunkel and Anie Katz
  • Theme: Arcade

It all started down at the arcades. That's where the classic coin-ops like Pong, Space Invaders, Asteroids and Pac-Man created the public appetite for games, based on computer technology that paved the way for the home market of the 1980s. In the early '80s, there was a great overlap between home gamers and arcade denizens. That all changed after the Great Video-Game Crash of 1984.

The average age of today's computer-game audience is 32. The typical arcade-goer is about 12. As a result of this gap, coin-op creators stress different elements than computer-game designers. Arcade games are built around action, visual excitement and a hint of strategic challenge.

Computer games are more cerebral. Few depend exclusively on joystick manipulation, because most users no longer have a teenager's reflexes. Most computer games take longer to learn and have a long playlife.

Into this polarized situation came the reborn video game. Computer software publishers reacted to Nintendo and Sega's success by producing similar, arcade-style programs. When they sold well, it fueled a renaissance of computer-action games. The result is a tremendous increase in the number of video and computer games based on top coin-ops.

One-man armies

One of the most popular coin-op formats over the past few years has been the one-man army game, typified by contests like Commando (computer versions by Data East, NES version by Capcom), Ikari Warriors and Ikari Warriors II: Victory Road (Data East for computers, NES versions by SNK) and Rambo (Acclaim on the NES).

In these games, the player controls a solitary on-screen figure, seen from a slightly angled overhead perspective, as he runs a vertically scrolling gauntlet of enemy men and machines. Along the way, the player/ character has the opportunity to pick up any weaponry left behind by vanquished foes.

In Commando, Rambo and Ikari Warriors, the enemies are human, but in Ikari Warriors II: Victory Road, the enemy is Stone-head and his distinctly inhuman minions, including Green Gremlins, Winged Man-Beasts and the always-nauseating Wormsnakes.

Sometimes, the enemy is neither man nor beast, but alien invaders. In Sega's Alien Syndrome (all computer and Sega Master System versions by Sega), the player must move through an alien spaceship that has kidnapped his friends and rescue them before the ship blows sky high. As the action moves from room to room within the great ship, the player must face and defeat a swarm of extraterrestrial nasties.

An interesting variation on this category is the dragon-slaying contest, best exemplified by Atari's Gauntlet (computer versions by Mindscape, NES version by Tengen). Gauntlet attempts to capture the flavor of fantasy role-playing games so popular on computers by allowing the user to compete as a warrior, magician or thief.

Speaking of one-man armies, Bally's Rampage (computer versions by Activision, NES version by Data East) allows users to experience life as a one-monster army.

Sports action

Coin-op makers once scorned sports simulations as inappropriate to the arcade format, but in the past half decade this has become one of the strongest categories in the pay-for-play industry.

Most coin-op sports games stress action over strategy, whereas most computerists prefer sports simulations with more depth. John Elway's Team Quarterback (Leland), however, which has been brought to home computers (Melbourne House) and the NES (Tradewest) as John Elway Quarterback, is an outstanding exception. The action in this vertically scrolling, overhead perspective pigskin simulation is first-rate, but its strategic elements are also strong with sophisticated play calling and variable formations.

In the video-game arena, Irem's 10-Yard-Fight (Nintendo), though not as sophisticated as John Elway Quarterback, offers an appealing blend of gridiron action and strategy. Ten-Yard-Fight employs the same overhead viewpoint and vertically scrolling graphics as Elway. Both offer one- or two-player versions.

Nintendo also offers several sports programs based on its famous "Vs." coin-op series, including Baseball, Golf, Tennis and Soccer. Like too many video-game sports contests, however, these are mostly pedestrian entries with the exception of the excellent NES Golf, which offers club selection, wind effect, a close-up of the golfer and an overview of the entire hole.

For ice hockey fans, the old Sente coin-op, Hat Trick, was recently transported to the NES by Capcom. Though the original, with only two skaters, was hardly a full-blooded simulation of the world's fastest team sport, it has remained surprisingly popular, and hockey-starved video gamers should welcome it onto the scene.

One of the decade's most successful sports coin-ops, Punch-Out (Nintendo) has become one of the year's most disappointing NES video games, Mike Tyson's Punch-Out (Nintendo). In the coin-op original, the player was represented by a transparent boxer in the foreground, his back facing the screen. The opponents faced both the player and player/character in the most unique and creative boxing game ever produced.

Unfortunately, the creators of the NES version were not able to reproduce the transparent player/boxer and so settled on making him a dwarf, who punches up at his opponents in a pathetic imitation of the original.

Fans of multiple-event track-and-field competition will want to check out Track & Field II (Konami). This NES cartridge offers 15 contests, including pole vaulting, arm wrestling, hang gliding and skeet shooting, all rendered in outstanding graphics with easy-to-learn play mechanics.

Gamers who enjoy less conventional sports, however, might gravitate toward Tag Team Wrestling (computer versions by Data East, Sega Master System version by Sega). While it doesn't capture the real ambiance of professional wrestling, it is an amusing and offbeat simulation with a wacky, cartoon quality.

Running, jumping and shooting

The single-most popular video-game format, especially on the NES, is the running/jumping/shooting contest that Nintendo made famous with its Mario Bros, games. Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros., Mario Bros. 2 (all three by Nintendo), Karnov (computer and NES versions by Data East), Express Raider (computer versions by Data East), Trojan (computer and NES versions by Capcom) and Ghosts & Goblins (Capcom for the NES) are examples of coin-op translations that make use of this formula.

In these games, the player/character is seen from a side perspective, and moves left-to-right over a horizontally scrolling landscape. The player/character invariably can leap prodigious distances and has some sort of offensive weapon - whether a gun, fireball or magic spell - that he can launch at a cornucopia of nasties that stand between him and his objective. There are also bonus objects that the player can collect along the way, thus enhancing his power and/or his vitality.

The problem with these games is their single-minded construction. The format for these games is so ironclad that the only variable is the visual context in which the game is set. With this genre, one can truly say that if you've played one, you've played them all. Still, this remains one of the most overwhelmingly popular categories of arcade games, as younger players seem to crave the comfort of repetition and familiar ground rules.

Arcade classics

Arcade games have been part of the mass culture for over a decade now, and in that time several games have attained classic status. These are the titles that every new gamer will eventually want to add to his or her collection. They represent themes and ideas that have passed the test of time and have been the inspiration for most of today's big hits.

Burger Time (Data East for the NES); Donkey Kong Classics (Nintendo for the NES); Elevator Action (Taito for the NES); Williams' Defender II (HAL America); Namco's Pac-Man (NES version by Tengen); Atari's Millipede (computer version by Mindscape); Xevious (computer versions by Mindscape, NES version by Bandai) and Joust (HAL America for the NES); Speed Buggy (computer versions by Data East); Mylstar's Q-Bert (computer versions by Data East, NES version by Ultra); and Data East's Bump 'n' Jump (Vic Tokai for the NES) are among the treasure trove of arcade classics currently available to computer and/or video gamers.

Sega has also updated at least one arcade classic by making it part of its 3-D series for the Sega Master System. Zaxxon 3-D takes the game that made Sega a household word and reinvents it, sending the player down those deadly space gauntlets from a whole new point of view: directly behind the titular ship. Zaxxon 3-D represents the wedding of a classic theme with state-of-the-art technology. Another example of an update on an earlier arcade standard was Taito's Arkanoid (computer versions by Taito and Discovery, NES version by Taito), a contemporary revamping of the old wall-bashing theme first explored in Atari's Breakout. Arkanoid offers not only superb sound and graphics, but adds a strategic element to the game in the form of power icons that can be used to enhance the player's paddle.

All arcade classics aren't necessarily a decade old either. Atari's Marble Madness is less than five years old, but it has been regarded since its release as one of the most enduring and innovative coin-ops ever produced.

Electronics Arts has published several computer versions of this game and they vary greatly. The C-64 and Atari ST versions are disappointing, but the Amiga version is a spectacular recreation of a modern coin-op classic. In addition, Milton Bradley is scheduled to release an NES version.

Martial arts action

Data East's Karate Champ (computer and NES versions by Data East) created one of the hottest new coin-op categories of the '80s, the martial-arts contest. The common denominator of these games is a side view of the action and player control over a variety of kicks, spins, jumps and punches.

Data East's Bad Dudes (Data East for the NES) and Taito's Renegade (Taito for the NES) further explore this idea of realistic martial-arts combat set against a variety of backdrops.

Soon after Karate Champ was released, however, a mutation of the genre occurred and an even more popular subcategory was born: the kung fu adventure. In this type of game, players also battle a series of enemies, but the skirmishes are part of an ongoing, horizontally scrolling adventure.

Examples of this category include Taito's Double Dragon (computer version by Arcadia, NES version by Tradewest and Sega Master System version by Sega), Data East's Kung Fu (Nintendo for the NES) and Sega's Kung Fu Kid. Kung fu adventures do not generally offer the same level of martial-arts realism, however, because the moves are limited to punches and kicks.

Death from the skies!

One of the great, recurring themes in the coin-op universe is the piloting of an armed aircraft or spaceship on some dangerous mission. From the earliest days of computerized arcade games, players have enjoyed games where they navigate some great engine of destruction, blowing up the enemy and attempting to stay alive in the process.

These games vary mostly in the viewpoints they employ. Whereas games like Sega's After Burner, F-16 Fighting Falcon (computer and Sega Master System versions by Sega) and Konami's Top Gun (Konami for the NES) use a first-person cockpit perspective, Sega's Space Harrier (computer and Sega Master System versions by Sega) uses a modified first-person viewpoint, with the player/character in the immediate foreground.

Data East's Cobra Command (Data East for the NES), Konami's Gradius and its sequel, Lifeforce (NES versions by Konami) all use the horizontally scrolling playfield pioneered in Williams' Defender while Sega's Thunder-blade (Sega), Taito's Tiger-Heli (Acclaim for the NES) and Sidewinder and Xenon from Arcadia's Awesome Arcade Action Pack (computer versions by Arcadia) all use an overhead perspective.

Whatever the viewpoint, the vitality of this category is amazing and it continues to dominate the coin-op scene as it has since the late 70s.

Driving cars and riding bikes

Auto-racing games have been an arcade staple since the days when players doted on coin-ops with the illusion of driving that consisted of steering a toy car on a metal bar back and forth against an unfolding roll of background scenery.

Games like Sega's Enduro Racer and Atari's Pole Position helped rekindle interest in this category in the early '80s. Today, armchair Mario Andretti's can get the feel of the road on such coin-op translations as Nintendo's Rad Racer and Sega's Outrun (computer and Sega Master System versions by Sega). Coin-op racing games succeed or fail based on the quality of their graphics and their ability to simulate movement at high speeds and both of these titles do a super job.

Another kind of auto-based coin-op is represented by Bally's Spy Hunter (computer version by Sega, NES version by Sunsoft), an overhead perspective contest in which the player's vehicle is armed with all the gadgets and gizmos that made James Bond's Aston Martin famous. This car has a front-mounted machine gun, torpedoes, oil slicks, smoke screens and no end of enemies looking to drive it right off the road.

For those who quail at the thought of driving a car, even in simulation form, a somewhat tamer experience is offered by Atari's Paperboy (computer versions and NES by Mindscape). There are still plenty of dangers, however, as everything from local punks to a mischievous kitten do everything within their power to screw up your delivery route.

Computer to coin-op and back again

An interesting phenomenon tangential to this subject are those games which have made the transition from home game to coin-op and then back to home-game format. The coin-op folks were looking to upgrade the strategic content of their product several years ago, and though neither of the games discussed here made a major impact on the coin-op scene, both enjoyed moderate success in the arcades.

The first major home-to-arcade-to-home title was Broderbund's Lode Runner (computer and NES versions by Broderbund), the action-strategy classic in which players control a tiny figure who must run, jump and climb over 50 playfields in an attempt to steal gold barrels from the evil Bungelings, whose very touch means death. Continuing this trend was First Star's Boulder Dash that Mastertronic marketed in revamped form for the arcades as Rockford. In this series of kinetic puzzles, players manipulate little Rockford through scrolling macro-playfields full of boulders, deadly butterflies and jewels.

Boulders can be pushed, or Rockford can tunnel beneath them, but each time a boulder is moved, it reconfigures the entire playfield. Rockford has since returned to home computers courtesy of First Star in Rockford and The Boulder Dash Construction Kit.

New and exciting

New coin-ops are what keep the quarters rolling in, but the computer-software publishers still have a lot of catching up to do. Broderbund, for example, will finally provide computer gamers with a version of Atari's classic Star Wars. Based on the "Trench" sequence from the original George Lucas film, the player must pilot a Jedi Fighter down a gauntlet of death in order to breach the Death Star's single weak point.

Arcadia, meanwhile, is much more current, introducing a computer version of the Taito hit, Double Dragon, while Capcom will be publishing both NES and computer versions of its own Bionic Commando and Street Fighter.

Bionic Commando is a one-man army-type game in which a cyborg warrior is sent into the fortress headquarters of invading aliens, while Street Fighter is a straight martial-arts game in the Karate Champ tradition. Data East will also keep the martial arts booming with the long-awaited NES version of Shinobi.

So keep those tokens in your pocket. The home arcade is a lot cheaper, and the library of available software is getting stronger each and every day.

reggie posted a review
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