Pros: Dual gameplay, incredible soundtrack, a variety of weapons, challenging
Cons: Uninteresting final battle, not much replay value
Seeking revenge for their earlier defeat, the ORN Empire attacks the Galaxy Federation using their newest battleship called Plealos and causes them serious damage. The ORN even captures one of their planets called Nebula during the onslaught. The Galaxy Federation fight back by sending in their well equipped, small ship called the Excelizer to find and destroy Plealos. -summary
If someone was to ask an old school Sega Genesis fan what they thought was the greatest, or among the greatest space shooters ever. I'm sure the Thunder Force series would more than likely come up. I owned the Sega Genesis when it first hit the market, so I was able to enjoy it during its heyday, and the very first shooter I played for it was Thunder Force II. Now, I don't hail the game as one of the greatest shooters of all time due to nostalgia, that really has nothing to do with it. I hail it as among the greatest shooters because it's great to me in just about every category imaginable, and I think it still holds up well today. The game possesses the right amount of style to go with the challenge creating a riveting experience that many later shooters could only wish they had.
Thunder Force II is a single player game with a dual stage set up across 5 stages. The stages are made up of two levels with the first level being played from a free-roaming, over head top view of the Excelizer ship. Here, the players objective is to locate four bases and destroy them by blowing up the cores. While searching for these bases, there is constant retaliation from airborne craft trying to get rid of you. These stages vary in set up, as some contain a force gate that must be opened by shooting a switch to activate them. While others will have no obstacles at all, or another stage will be very similar to a maze where the player will have to guide the ship through a rocky cavern, and blast a path through rocks. Some players I know found these stages to be tedious for some reason, but I never had an issue with them.
The second level features a horizontal set up that isn't as free roaming as the former. However, there is still a great amount of space to navigate when fighting the enemies and trying to maneuver through their relentless fire. These stages are very fun and can be challenging. Some of them will feature traps such as shutting gates, gun mounts appearing out of nowhere, or the stage will pick up speed and become really quick pace. This is also where the player will encounter tough boss battles in the form of larger ships, a tank, and even an over-sized mechanical maggot.
Some of these battles get easier due to memorizing the bosses pattern of attack, while one heavily relies on eye coordination. Here's an example, the fourth boss uses a few weapons and it's beginning attacks are small gun mounts. Once they're destroyed it will begin to fire missiles using a twin gun format, by the time all of its weapons are finally at the ready, you will be dodging multiple double missile attacks along with a spread of smaller bullets, with your target being it's once force-field protected core located in the middle. You will be dodging all of these attacks with no margin for error.
The ship commands many weapons that are activated by obtaining power ups. The weapons are very interesting and they heavily enhance the game play. In addition, the ship handles two sets of weapons list for the two different stage types. This way, the player can enjoy different weapons. The ship begins with a twin and a back shot that can be swapped at any time, the other weapons consist of beams that fire in a wave like pattern, a side blaster that fires from the top and bottom sections of the ship, and heat seeking bullets called the Hunter, which lives up to its name sake, and you can swap through these weapons at will. Adding to the weapons list, the ship can pick up a force field that lasts for a limited time, along with objects that float around the ship firing small laser blasts known as the CLAW. The ship can carry up to two of these, and they also block small arm weapon fire.
Also keeping the game interesting, when the player is killed, the ship will reappear right then and you will not have to do the stage over unless your game completely ends. However, when the player is killed, every last weapon is taken away and you must begin from scratch. Like most games, the difficulty increases as you progress. Although some of the enemies, bosses in this case who follow a certain pattern, the challenge is still pretty high. The only issue I have with the game is the final boss. Even though the stage takes a bit of time to complete, I just found the final boss to be completely unappealing when compared to the earlier ones.
Thunder Force II doesn't really have a learning curve to it at all. It's basically a pick up and play with a button to shoot and two to swap weapons. Everything performs smoothly from directional pad to button presses.
The visuals were very good for its time, and I remember thinking there was no space shooter like it. I feel they hold up well today with some nice and creative vehicle designs. The bosses are very big and most of them look awesome. I think the movements for the robotic maggot are the best, you can see the ripples in the metallic skin as it squirms into battle. The sound effects are very good, with the ship sounding off the name of the weapons as they are picked up. There are also different sound effects for the weapon fire. In what would become a staple in the franchise, the soundtrack is no doubt incredible, and it would only get better from here. The BGM is made up of synthesized techno beats that capture the intensity of the stages.
This is quite possibly the only area where the game is dealt a blow. The game lacks a two player feature and once you memorized the mazes along with bosses patterns there really isn't much to come back to.
Thunder Force II is a fine shooter with a great soundtrack. Many fans are quick to claim it to be criminally under-rated. I remember it being pretty well received back then by those who played it. If anything, forgotten or unknown is what I would claim it to be. In any case, if you consider yourself a die-hard fan of this genre. Then this is something that should be looked into.
Overall Rating: 8/10