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Thunder Spirits Review Rewind

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On 08/23/2022 at 09:00 AM by Jamie Alston

A thunder redux on the Super Nintendo.

While not quite as engaging as the original, it’s still a good time for nostalgic shoot-’em-up fans.

Technosoft’s Thunder Force series is rich with 2D shoot-'em-up goodness. After starting with the fifth game in the series on the PlayStation and then working my way back to Thunder Force II on the Genesis some years later, I have become obsessed with everything related to the Thunder Force series since then. One fateful day at a local game store, I stumbled upon Thunder Spirits on the Super NES. "Nah, no way it's related to the Thunder Force series. Probably just a coincidence of naming", I thought to myself. But after doing some additional research, I soon returned to that store and purchased the game. For, you see, this was no coinkydink.

Thunder Force III was successful enough that Sega and Technosoft decided to port it to the arcade not long after it was released on the Genesis- a rare occurrence as, typically, it was the other way around. The game was released only in Japan as Thunder Force AC in 1990 and the chances of it seeing the light of day in the US seemed unlikely until Seika gained the rights to publish the game on the Super NES in 1991. Toshiba-EMI handled the conversion of the audio over to the SNES hardware. The game underwent a slight name change, but the familiar gameplay elements remained intact. So Thunder Spirits is essentially a port of a port.

As with the original Thunder Force III storyline, the ORN system is causing all sorts of havoc in your neck of the solar system. But, as all helpless humans do in futuristic space shooter games, they rest their hope on the nearly impossible odds of flying an advanced fighter ship into enemy territory and blowing the evil ORN base to kingdom come in a spectacular Star Wars-esque explosion. And wouldn't you know it-- the Galactic Federation indeed creates the latest iteration of spacecraft to break through ORN's defenses and bring down the oppressor for good (hopefully).

Thunder Spirits is an interesting case study for gamers who want to find out what we could look forward to if a shoot-'em-up series that was otherwise exclusive to the Genesis came out on the rival Super NES console for a change. While keeping most of the gameplay elements such as the weapons, minor enemies, and plot of the original iteration, a few shortcomings keep it from being as enjoyable as its source material. That isn’t to say that this iteration is terrible by any means. But for anyone that played and enjoyed Thunder Force III, the issues affecting Thunder Spirits are too big to miss.

The ability to select the stage is gone. While it wasn’t wholly necessary, it would have been nice to have the option. Also, the rapid-fire function for your ship is hidden behind an options menu that most people wouldn’t think to open on the title screen before starting the game. While the Genesis original was known for having a hidden menu, the rapid-fire function was built into the game by default without a need to access an extra menu. It seems strange to hide that functionality on such a similar port.

The underground Haides and arctic Ellis stages are replaced with new environments not present in Thunder Force III. What used to be the Haides stage is in space, where you must fly through an abandoned space station. Replacing Ellis is a stage that previously appeared in Thunder Force II, but with a touched-up color palette and a different boss. While it isn't the most original, it was nice to play through the rehashed stage.

If there's one place where the game suffers, it's the graphics, thanks to the slow processor of the Super NES. However, everything else visually is on point- the backgrounds, the enemy and boss ships, and the excellent level designs. While Thunder Spirits looks like the original game, the lower speed detracts from the engagement factor that made Thunder Force III so compelling to play. The audio quality takes a hit as well. Unlike the crisp soundtrack of Thunder Force III and its arcade port, the music here is somewhat downgraded.

While the main thrust of the original soundtrack is there, the instruments were changed. As a result, the tunes are missing that extra "oomph" that gave life to the other two iterations. While the music to the superheated environment of the Gorgon stage is my favorite, it simply doesn't compare to how good it sounds on the Genesis. Also, the audibility of sound effects like explosions and weapons has diminished. The same goes for the voice that announces the weapon or item you pick up. It sounds even less audible than before in the original game- something I thought was impossible to get wrong on the SNES.

Thunder Force is a series known for its power-ups, solid level designs, and a particular cool factor unique to its genre. All of this is present in Thunder Spirits in terms of gameplay elements. But fans of the original game may want to think twice if they expect the same silky-smooth experience. You just might come away disappointed. However, if you are a Thunder Force fan that must have every game in the series, then there is no way you can pass this up.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:

All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.

These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.

This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.

Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.

Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.

A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.




08/24/2022 at 07:17 PM
Thunder Force 3 has forever been a shmup great. People were saying so back when it came out, and it's reputation has held over the years. Probably only a handful of console shmups hang with the arcade greats, and TF3 is one of them. Never played this port though. It makes me nostalgic for a simpler time in action games, before upgrade paths, unlockables, etc.

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

08/26/2022 at 12:02 PM

Agreed on all points you mentioned. It wasn't until sometime in the mid-2000s when I discovered Thunder Force III, but it held up so nicely over the years. It's one of the few SHMUPs I can finish without using cheats if I try hard enough. It's a well-balanced game.

And yes, I definitely miss the days when unlockables were built into the game and accessible vs. piecemealed DLC. I shudder to think what NBA Jam or NFL Bltiz would be like if they were released for the first time nowadays.

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