#63: Thunder Blade (1988 Sega)


Sega once again dips into their arcade stable for today’s game, but once again tries to squeeze one of their ‘Super Scaler’ cabinets into a Master System cartridge, not necessarily learning their lessons from Space Harrier and After Burner. This time it’s Thunder Blade, a helicopter shooter that was probably inspired by the helicopter television shows that were on the air at the time (most notably Airwolf and Blue Thunder). Like other Super Scaler games the arcade version was packed with cool 3D graphics and special effects as you shoot at a lot of stuff, and some may have even played the deluxe sit-down cabinet made up like a chopper cockpit. Even though their 8-bit console had no chance of coming remotely close to the arcade experience, Sega ported Thunder Blade to the SMS anyway and as expected the home version falls flat on its face.

Don't be fooled, people, Blue Thunder this ain't.

Don’t be fooled, people, Blue Thunder this ain’t.

There’s not much story to this, you’re a chopper pilot who’s tasked with eliminating the forces of some sort of enemy¬†army through four stages of shooting action, which include a city, a wilderness and cave, a river and finally an oil refinery. You begin each stage with an overhead segment where you’re blasting the enemy forces that zoom on by, using a machine gun for air targets and air-to-surface missiles to take out the ground-based tanks. However most of the air foes do nothing more than mindlessly fly by in the same handful of formations that you can easily dodge, and the tanks don’t do much than shoot at you either. That’s not necessarily a bad thing since your helicopter moves sluggishly across the screen and doesn’t have any rapid fire to speak of. Plus the ability to change your altitude and your speed has been removed for this port, making this segment come off as a bare bones 2D shooter that’s missing any power-ups or frills. Also without any of the coin-op’s 3D effects present the scenery looks drab and lifeless, and the only sense of depth is a lazily programmed shadow that follows your chopper around. All the overhead segments use the same facsimile of the main arcade theme that quickly becomes as repetitive as the gameplay.

There's nothing grand about this canyon.

There’s nothing grand about this canyon.

Eventually the stage changes over to a 3D behind-the-chopper view a’la After Burner as you blast more aircraft that fly your way in waves and more ground vehicles firing at you while avoiding the return fire. That’s all you do with very little to break it up other than having to dodge scenery in certain spots, such as the pillars in the second level’s caves and the giant horizontal pipes in the fourth stage. Your chopper moves a bit better in this part of the stage, though you’ll need an arcade-style joystick to really replicate the feel of the coin-op. While the game tries its hardest to mimic the 3D visuals, the choppy scaling causes the stage to chug along slowly, making it hard to tell what’s going on. Plus the enemy bullets fly much too fast at you to be able to dodge them which increases the difficulty to frustrating levels. Not to mention these segments seem to drag on for an eternity which will test your resolve to keep going.

So the enemy is forced to call in the Aztec marines for backup.

So the enemy is forced to call in the Aztec marines for backup.

Assuming you’re still alive when you reach the end of the stage the game switches back to the overhead view for the ‘boss battle’ which pits you against a giant war vehicle or fortress that you fly over and shoot certain targets to somehow destroy it (or not, since the ‘boss’ in question blows up once you reach the end of the segment regardless of any damage you did to it) and wrap up the level before moving on to do it all again in the next level. The final boss battle at the end of the fourth stage, which uses the 3D view, is a maddening endurance match against the enemy fortress and its many firing turrets. Should you somehow succeed in blowing it up, your reward for finishing the game is a simple picture of a sunset and the words THE END, before getting booted back to the title screen.

Yeah, do some property damage, that's the way to bring down a flying fortress.

Yeah, do some property damage, that’s the way to bring down a flying fortress.

So once again Sega bites off more that it could chew and Thunder blade comes off as another botched arcade port on the Master System, perhaps the worst of the super scaler translations. Too much was sacrificed to bring the coin-op to the home console and what’s left is a shell of the cool game that it used to be. Even if you ignore comparing it to the original, the dull visuals and the frustrating repetitive gameplay ground Thunder Blade before it really takes off. Sadly Thunder Blade would never even get the home port it deserved; a year later Sega would try again with a 16-bit remake on the Genesis, Super Thunder Blade, which isn’t much better, and it wouldn’t even get a proper port on the 32-bit systems like its more fortunate brethren.

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