Genre: Action Developer: Namco Publisher: Namco Players: 1 Released: 1991
Namco has its fair share of arcade franchises and many of them have made the successful transition onto home consoles. One such series is Rolling Thunder, which was first ported (pretty well, I might add) to the NES in 1989. Fans eagerly gobbled it up and awaited the next installment. They would get it on the Genesis.
Rolling Thunder 2 takes just about everything the original did well and does it better. Sharper and more detailed graphics, a greater variety of weapons, smarter and more plentiful enemies; all make for a great sequel. Namco adopted an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality here, leaving the game play intact. Fans of the original will dive right in, while newcomers will settle in quickly. I would say that not enough attention was paid to some key areas but more on that later.
The crime syndicate Geldra has resurfaced and destroyed the planet’s network of communications satellites. Agent Albatross and his new partner Leila must take out Geldra and restore order to a planet wracked by chaos. The storyline may not be spy novel material but it seems to be about as deep as any James Bond movie ever made, and we all know how intricate and involved those are…
The game looks better than the original but not by much. It now has an expanded color palate and some parallax but never really seems to get the 16-bit treatment it deserves. I was looking for some radical graphical upgrades but never found them. None of the stages look bad but none of them stand out either and alas, it seems the series’ transition from NES to Genesis was done without any of the bells and whistles you’d expect from a sequel on more powerful hardware. Franchises such as Wonder Boy and Batman got major facelifts when they jumped platforms, while Rolling Thunder 2 basically put on a thin layer of make up. The graphics do the job well enough but left me wanting more.
The music and sound effects are thoroughly middle-of-the-road as well. There are some catchy themes but again, nothing worth noting. Effects are sparse and low and I actually went three stages before I first heard Albatross’ grunt when he got hit.
One thing that was wisely retained from the first game is the length. While there are fewer stages in this sequel, the fact that you have to play through the game twice ensures you won’t plow through it in a half hour. Through eleven stages, you will literally have to gun your way to Geldra’s secret base and the final confrontation with their evil leader. While the individual stages aren’t particularly long, they can be quite tricky and they now scroll in all direction, as opposed to just from left to right. Geldra’s minions are everywhere and will employ every method at their disposal to eliminate the agents of the World Criminal Police Organization. Some will shoot (at both chest and knee levels), others will throw bombs, some will even appear right out of the wall on top of you. If that weren’t bad enough, they appear to have trained the local wildlife to hate you as well. Black panthers and bats litter the landscape, awaiting their next victim. They’re nothing a few well placed shots can’t handle and seem to be there just to make you use up what precious ammo you have.
Geldra’s henchmen also seem to have taken some classes since you last saw them. They still shoot and toss bombs (straight down at you), but now they also throw bombs towards you while you’re walking, hide in shadows and pop out to blast you, and brazenly walk right up to you to belt you one. They range in power, from your basic one-hit-and-he’s-dead crony to a stubborn bastard who takes at least five shots to go down. Moreover, in certain stages you’ll find foes new to the series, such as the armadillo-like baddie in stage eight.
What’s also new are the boss battles. Several stages culminate in encounters such as a free for all, where you must eliminate wave after waves of soldiers, a crazy computer that has to be taken out piece by piece, or a robot that takes a ton of punishment before going down. Not all levels have boss battles and in some, merely getting to the end is a challenge. Namco thankfully did away with the one-hit deaths, adding a health meter that permits two hits! Better than nothing, I suppose.
Complimenting their standard side arm, Albatross and Leila can use a machine gun, cluster gun, or flame thrower, which can be had by entering doors with the “Arms” logo next them. You have a specific amount of bullets for each gun (standard included) so going gung-ho with the your weapons is just stupid and wasteful. There are no power ups, like a shield or even items to restore your health, which makes strategy and quick reflexes a must. Nothing spells “game over” faster than an empty gun.
While the bullet count and lack of healing items are partly responsible for the game’s high difficulty level, the biggest culprit has to be the way the game jacks up the AI in the later levels, making them frustratingly hard. For instance, a bomb-thrower is standing on a ledge too high for you to shoot, tossing his bombs precisely where you need to jump to be able to shoot him. Another example is stage nine, where bats appear out of thin air right when you’re jumping to the next ledge. WCPC agents apparently suffer from the dreaded “fly back syndrome,” made famous by Mega Man and Simon Belmont. One hit means you get knocked back about three feet, usually into a pit or oncoming bullet.
As I mentioned earlier, you need to pass the game twice in order to get the true ending. Not surprisingly, the difficulty is ramped up even more the second time through, with the weakest enemies taking two shots to kill at least. Getting this far wouldn’t be such a chore if it weren’t that the last few levels have no weapon power ups! You have to finish the game, last boss included, with your standard pistol. Ouch indeed.
Without a doubt, however, the one thing that makes both of the first two games in the Rolling Thunder trilogy so darn hard is the fact that our illustrious secret agents can’t shoot when they jump! This makes about as much sense as the mafia kingpin you play in GTA 3 not being able to swim. There were many occasions where I was nailed in the air and thought “darn, if I had been able to shoot in mid-jump, i could have nailed that sucker before he shot me.” It’s a stupid oversight for which someone at Namco should have received fifty lashes with a wet noodle, a very wet noodle.
Does the high challenge take away from the game overall? No, not in the least. The original Rolling Thunder had a brutal difficulty setting but was still a blast to play. Part two is no different. With the option to play as either agent (the difference is mostly aesthetic), tight game play, and long length, Rolling Thunder 2 is one game that offers hours of fun; just be sure to check your blood pressure every so often while playing.