Technosoft’s Thunder Force II on the Genesis was the first exposure that many in the West would get of the shooter series. The first one was only available on Japanese PCs, but the second one was like a super-updated version of it on Sega’s 16-bit box in 1989.
TF2 was a tough, top-down shooter that also used 2D side scrolling segments for boss fights. I remember it being pretty rough around the edges control-wise and the frenetic difficulty of the top-down sequences could be brutally frustrating. Still, I kept coming back to it hoping to push further ahead. Whatever its faults, it had its fun moments.
Thunder Force III addressed the issues of the second game and disposed of the overhead shooting while pumping up the side-scrolling action to near perfection. TF3 not only brought out some great visuals to match the story setup from the manual to make it feel like a mission to bring down the Empire of Lone with your special Styx starfighter, but the music was also amped with many memorable pieces like the one for the water drenched world of Stage 1: Hydra.
The story was just there for flavor but it would still figure into the background mythology surrounding the series. The Empire’s secret base was hidden using the “HEXA-CLOAKING SYSTEM” and defended by the “KILLPAROS” which kept decimating the Galaxy Union’s fleets. Only a lone starfighter has any chance of getting through the KILLPAROS undetected and destroying the cloaking system by hitting the five planets of the Lone System.
Players could pick which of three stages they wanted to start from and depending on your power-up strategy, it could mean the difference in how tough the next stage and its boss could be. The next two stages opened up after clearing the first three worlds and once those are defeated, it’s time to take on the Lone Empire’s secret fortress.
Power ups equipped your ship with a variety of special weapons and you could also adjust your ship’s speed at will. As you collected weapons, you could also switch between them though you would lose the weapon you were armed with if you died apart from the two default ones you started with.
One neat thing that the menu options had was not only in setting the difficulty level, but also set the default starting speed of your ship. You could even sample the sound effects, voice samples, and the soundtrack – options that are something of a rarity among today’s current crop of games.
This was a lot of fun. The action exploded onscreen along with the visuals with a large variety of baddies and titanic bosses to battle through. This was a game that showed off what the Genesis was able to do with fantastic effects, incredible sound, and the kind of arcade action that would become one of the system’s hallmarks. TF3 was easily one of Technosoft’s best improving on the first two games in every way.
Sadly, Technosoft didn’t have the kind of staying power that its peers did despite the impressive work it brought out from Herzog Zwei to the Thunder Force series and had a rough history of staying afloat, eventually being bought out by a company in Japan called Twenty One in 2001. Sega did license the Thunder Force name and assembled a team whose head, Tez Okano, hoped to “revive the 2D shoot-em-up genre”. That game became Thunder Force VI, a Japan-only release for the PS2…and that has been it for the TF series since then.
Looking back on an ad like this, however, easily reminded me of when they were one of those names that you just knew about from the reputation of a shooter like TF3. Even the ad bled awesome all over the page with the artist’s rendering of the fiery colors from Stage 2: Gorgon blistering the backdrop. Along with screenshots to show off a few stills of the visuals, the ad captured the kind of fast paced fun that TF3 brought the series’ fans as well as marking a turning point. TF3 would set the standard for the series which would never return to the kind of top down action from the first two titles.
The kind of space-based heroics enjoyed by games like Irem’s R-Type would go on to define the Thunder Force series heading forward and even now I’m still thinking of hooking up the old Genesis and digging TF3 back out. It’s not only one of Technosoft’s best titles from yesteryear, but TF3’s fast paced action easily holds up today.