Following in the footsteps of their previously successful 3D arcade ports such as 3D Space Harrier and 3D Galaxy Force II , Sega and M2 grace us with the presence of yet another old friend from the arcades of the 1980’s, Thunder Blade. As of August 20th, 3D Thunder Blade is now available on Nintendo’s Japanese eShop.
The original classic was released in 1987, right next other recognizable Sega hits such as Super Hang-On and After Burner. Much like the latter, Thunder Blade is a shoot ‘em up game where players take control of a helicopter flying through forest, between buildings, and shooting down enemy tanks and planes. To add a twist to gameplay, levels consist of several different changing perspectives, switching between a third person over-the-shoulder angle and an overhead view where the player can control the helicopter from descending and ascending.
At the time of its release Thunder Blade was an extraordinary game that utilized a sprite scaling technique to create a pseudo 3D effect and the illusion of depth. On top of this, the arcade machine for Thunder Blade had a cockpit which the player sat in and would move back and forth along with the motion of the helicopter on the screen. This created a very realistic, exhilarating, and perhaps sometimes nauseating experience like no other. The helicopter itself could controlled with a small lever to slow down or speed up, and a large flight-stick to directly control the helicopter’s ascension, movement, and firepower.
Sadly, unlike its older brother Space Harrier, which has had an excellent arcade port for the 32X and a full 3D remake for the Playstation 2 as part of the Sega Ages series, Thunder Blade has not had a particularly good port of it ever released. Most gamers have more than likely played the Genesis port, Super Thunder Blade. While it may have been a worthy attempt by the 16-bit console at the time, it most certainly has not aged well. There is nothing “super” about it. For whatever reason, this version of the game has consistently been re-released as part of Genesis collections for the PS2, PSP, PS3, and Xbox 360, while a true arcade port has not…until now!
Playing 3D Thunder Blade is truly comparable to having the arcade version with you on the go. Sega and M2 give us the options to switch between full-screen, wide-screen, and an arcade mode that seems to simulate really sitting in the classic arcade cockpit, tilting screen and all. The game runs at a solid 60 FPS with very little noticeable slowdown and the 3D effect adds a great deal to the graphical experience. While the visuals are quite stylish, the controls are a bit awkward at first. The 3DS’s analog stick is used to control your helicopter’s left and and right movement, as well as flight level, while tapping the touch pad controls your speed by different increments. This is troublesome because if you wish to slowdown at some point you will need to tap the screen repeatedly. B is used to shoot missiles and Y is used to fire your machine gun but, since your chopper is angled downward during overhead section, you will need to time your shots carefully as well as mind the angle of your enemies’ incoming fire. Of course, controls can be changed in the game’s options, along with the difficulty settings, your number of lives, and even an option for an arranged soundtrack.
While I have spoken quite highly of Thunder Blade, its most notable flaw is that it is simply too short. Spanning only four levels, the game can be beaten by most shoot ‘em up veterans in a period of half an hour or less. M2 has attempted to extend the game’s life span by tacking on a special mode that can accessed once the game is beaten. This arranged mode gives players slightly modified gameplay and a bit more leeway in the game’s difficulty but, well, it’s still…the same game.
As shoot ‘em up, 3D Thunder Blade doesn’t require much, if any, Japanese knowledge to play when it comes to the actual game. On the other hand the extended menu system with the aforementioned features is completely in Japanese and will require a bit of trial and error to navigate for players that are not familiar with the moon language.
As previously stated, it is available now on Nintendo’s Japanese eShop for 1000 yen. That’s a hefty price for a short game, but again this is the only true arcade port of an unfairly forgotten game. It’s worth the price of admission and comes highly recommended for Sega diehards. It has been some time since Sega has released a 3D remake of one its classics in the USA, with the most recent being Streets of Rage back in December 2013. Hopefully Thunder Blade will change that.