- Manufacturer: ACTIVISION
- Machine: Nintendo Entertainment System
Back in the '60s, when Nintendo was still known as a manufacturer of playing cards, kids would gather around the television set once a week to eaten the latest adventures of Jeff Tracy and his five sons, pilots of the coolest fleet of high-powered vehicles around: the Thunderbirds!
It's safe to assume that most NES owners are not familiar with the Tracy family's exploits, which haven't been seen much outside of the TV show's original run and a couple of feature films. In this sense, Activision's Thunderbirds is a refreshingly risky title. In a world of "hot" licensed properties, where video games are developed at the same time as the movies they're based on, who would dare to merchandise a TV show that was canceled nearly 25 years ago?
The game (and the show) features the International Rescue BS team, five brothers who are given dangerous missions and use the Thunderbirds to execute them. These five vehicles range from a sleek rocket (Thunderbird 1) to a sophisticated satellite space station (Thunderbird 5), not including a couple of smaller vehicles that are used for special assignments. Jeff Tracy, the father, sits back at headquarters and coordinates their battle against the Hood, a glowering, bald-headed villain who has threatened to bombard the Earth with meteors unless the Thunderbirds are turned over to him.
After a good introductory sequence and a briefing from his father, Alan Tracy takes Thunderbird 1 into a vertically scrolling shoot-'em-up scenario, where deadly enemies sometimes turn into special weapons and power-up items when shot. The game alternates between these action scenes and short intermissions where the pilots report news of the Hood's diabolical scheme.
Each Thunderbird has a different type of offensive weapon, as well as the ability to pick up a pair of auto-fire "satellite" guns that hover around the ship in different configurations. After the evil threat has been thwarted and the Earth is considered safe, the rarely seen Thunderbird 3 is sent into space for the final battle against the Hood's ultimate energy source.
The "actors" in the TV show were skillfully manipulated puppets with electronic sensors that caused their mouths to open and close in sync with prerecorded dialogue. It's amusing to see that same type of lip movement on the characters in the video game, as their hands bob up and down just like the puppets' did. The on-screen ships are small, but they are detailed enough to be recognizable by T-Birds fans. The show's theme music is also intact, a heroic fanfare that reappears several times in the course of the action. The only glaring inaccuracy concerns Brains, friend of the Tracys and the mechanical genius behind the Thunderbird fleet, who is inexplicably identified as "Doctor Brain" when he shows up to make repairs.
Thunderbirds is a fine game for shoot-'em-up fans. There are a few rough spots: some attackers are hard to see because they blend in with the detailed backgrounds, and the game's sudden ending caught me by surprise. But the overall theme is exciting enough to captivate most players, even if you've never heard of International Rescue. It's not an easy game to master, but there's a simple password system that allows you to work on the hard parts without starting from scratch each time you play.
The original series proudly boasted that it was "filmed in Supermarionation", a nonsensical term that was meant to describe the process of bringing puppets or "marionettes" to life. With the release of Thunderbirds for the NES, Activision has introduced "Supermarionation" to the "Super Mario Nation!"
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"Hood is back, Dad, and he's as evil as ever." As these words flash across the computer screen, you join the Thunderbirds, ready to fly into action against the sinister Hood. Based on the English marionette TV show of the 60's, Activision's newest title is a vertically scrolling action game full of battle sequences set in the air, under water, and even inside a live volcano.
You must defeat Hood in eight countries to save the world from impending doom. Fail and a deadly meteor shower will obliterate the Earth.
You pilot five different high-tech vehicles -- the Laser Car, the Mole, the Mach 20 Rocket, the Neptune Hydro-Turbojet, and the Firefly Atomic Plane. All the crafts operate the same, and they all have similar weapons. Just the same, Hood desperately desires this hardware and he'll stop at nothing to get it.
The Days of Your Lives
In fact, Hood gives the Thunderbirds 60 days to surrender their ships to him. Each time you get wasted and restart a level, you lose three days -- that's approximately 20 chances to complete the game.
ProTip: Initially, you start with three Life Points, hut each time you lose BO days, your life bar gains an extra point (don't push Reset). You can collect up to six Life Points.
As you soar through the levels, keep an eye peeled for glowing red enemies and obstacles. Destroy them and a floating letter appears. "L" is for Life Points. "E" is for Energy, to boost firepower. "O" is the Orbital Device, a small satellite that protects your ship.
Hood commands a fierce horde of murderous creatures, ranging from the Firebirds in the volcano to the deadly jellyfish monsters. It takes several shots to destroy some creatures, so snare a mess of E's (firepower).
Use a password to recover lost days! Alter you're detested find the password screen. Notice that the amount of days left is equal to the number in the left column of the password minus 40 For example: "56 days, 96 197 104". Replenish your days when you enter a password by increasing the number in the left column up to 99 for 59 days. The other numbers remain the same.
Earn Your Wings
The action here is lively, but straightforward -- shoot and move. It's familiar territory, but that doesn't mean you can breeze through the game. Gameplay and graphics don't break new ground, but fans of the fly and die genre will find Thunderbirds an interesting addition to the flock.