1987 was a great year for Sega in the arcades – After Burner II was wowing gamers and the previous year’s big hit, Out Run, was still going strong. But there was another Sega game doing the rounds at the same time with equally impressive sprite scaling techniques, and that game was Thunder Blade.
Broadly speaking the game’s a shoot ‘em up in the same vein as Space Harrier and After Burner II, although Thunder Blade breaks up the over-the-shoulder action by starting and ending each level with an overhead section, affording players the opportunity to be wowed by some impressive canyons and towering skyscrapers along the way. It’s important to not get too distracted by the view though as there are plenty of enemy tanks, choppers, jets and even giant flying fortresses looking to take your helicopter out of the sky.
When playing for the first time the only mode available is the arcade original, and as with M2’s other Sega 3D Classics this is just like having the arcade game in the palm of your hand. As we have come to expect from this talented team the game has a wealth of options available to tweak the game to your liking, including true widescreen and a simulation of the deluxe moving cabinet complete with authentic arcade sounds. This mode also offers you the ability to start the game from any previously reached stage – perfect for nostalgia-hungry but time-poor gamers that just want a quick go on their favourite level.
Unfortunately this option coupled with Thunder Blade’s meagre four stages mean that unless you have the strength of character to limit your credit use you’ll more than likely have the game finished within about fifteen minutes of your first go.
Thankfully the special mode that’s unlocked as soon as you complete the original makes a few fundamental changes to the flashy Super Scaler formula: the stage select has gone out the window meaning that if you want to see this mode’s new last boss you’ll have to sit down and do it the old fashioned way. The arcade version’s money-guzzling difficulty has been rebalanced to feel much fairer and your missiles have been improved so as to actually be worth using, and as such this new version feels far more like an enjoyable home conversion of the game than the frenetic but occasionally frustrating arcade original.
As ever M2 have included what we inadequately refer to as “the usual” options – multiple difficulty levels (with the easiest making landscape collisions non-fatal), an alternative soundtrack and a feature-rich sound test as well as a variety of control schemes to suit just about anyone, whether they prefer playing with digital controls, the slide pad or even using the 3DS’ gyro sensor.
While Thunder Blade was always more about style over substance this 3DS port, with its eye catching sense of depth (that is only enhanced by the handheld’s 3D screen), is the first time gamers have really been given the opportunity to experience the game as intended without searching for an obscure retro Japanese computer port. 3D Thunder Blade can’t claim to be a timeless classic or a technological pioneer in the way earlier Sega stablemates Space Harrier or Out Run can, but it’s still a fun little slice of arcade nostalgia that’s been carefully polished and optionally enhanced by M2’s consistently excellent touch.