Genre: Shmup Developer: Sun Green Publisher: Gametec Players: 1 Released: 1995
From the depths of the Mega Drive realm of unlicensed games comes Thunderbolt II, an underground oddity that given its original Chinese name might give the impression of a close relation with the Raiden series. The association is pointless and only justified by an attempt by Gamtec at cheaply promoting the game. Although it’s not stated anywhere in the package, Gamtec is the real company behind Sun Green/Super Chip. Makers of other unlicensed stuff such as Magic Girl and Adventurous Boy, they also delivered a Famicom version of Thunderbolt II that’s a tad different from the Mega Drive counterpart.
Presentation in this game is standard fare, with three selectable difficulties to choose from. Every stage starts with a glimpse of the upcoming boss and a one-line cryptic message about it. Default speed is very slow, but the first couple of enemies you kill will immediately drop speed-up items (S). You can’t tell from where the remainder of the items will appear, but once they do they will all come down the screen in short staggering movements. The power-up (P) provides three different weapons according to its cycling colors: green (default) is the straightforward shot, blue results in a Star Soldier-like pattern and gray gives you a wave weapon. After the third consecutive color collected the weapon reaches its maximum power, and the best thing about it is that all weapons are equally useful. I did have a preference for the wave shot nonetheless.
Additional weapons are acquired by taking the extra icons M and H. M activates two blue energy balls that chase enemies around the screen; they start out pretty slow, but become quite effective when maxed out. H activates a pair of rotating orbs that absorb enemy bullets, whose speed increases the more you power it up. Lastly, the yellow item provides extra bombs. These bombs have a mildly delayed screen-clearing ability, meaning you’ve got to be careful with nearby bullets once a bomb is used or you might get hit and lose some energy.
Thunderbolt II doesn’t offer too much in the way of challenge thanks to the health bar. You only die if this health bar is depleted, and the constant supply of energy recovery items (heart-shaped icons) certainly help the player even more. There’s no limit to the amount of bombs you can stock, and on top of that you get an extra life for every 60.000 points. The game only starts to offer some real resistance in the last couple of stages, with a few bigger enemies with erratic behavior and bosses that require a bit more focus to be killed. Every surplus power-up collected is worth 1.000 points, so keeping the same weapons without getting hit throughout the whole game will certainly lead to a higher score. On the other hand, when you’re hit twice in a row weapons start powering down.
The weapon system is well thought out and effective, but unfortunately the game lacks in graphical design and enemy variety. Scrolling is smooth and there are a couple of parallax-heavy stages, but the bulk of the backgrounds is undoubtedly uninspired. A good thing is that slowdown is minimum and negligible. In the 5th level the music starts repeating itself, and even though it’s not grating in any way it’s just not capable of providing any extra motivation for those who crave good pumping music while blasting everything.
Besides all the shortcomings and its considerable meh flavor, Thunderbolt II manages to be the most balanced of all unlicensed Mega Drive shoot’em ups. It covers the basics of the genre and other than the dull design it isn’t really flawed in any aspect. In some areas it’s visually close to Dangerous Seed and Verytex, but even though it’s influenced by licensed material it avoids ripping them off blatantly (with the glaring exception of the DNA lizards from Darwin 4081). Its extreme rarity is what makes Thunderbolt II so desirable for the most dedicated collectors, because the game itself is not that exciting by any stretch of the imagination.
One last note about this one is that it won’t work properly on a Sega Genesis + 32X setup due to gameplay glitches and minor graphical issues. It does work perfectly on stand-alone consoles (it was tested on the North American Genesis and the Japanese Mega Drive).