Playing very much like the highly regarded Thunderforce IV, Gate of Thunder represented a turning point for the PC Engine/TG-16 CD-ROM format. So long the recipient of sub-par ports and lackluster titles, the system was given a much-needed shot in the arm with this stunning shooter. Hudson and NEC promoted the game heavily when it was published in the US, bundling it with the hardware and famously declaring that Sega was ‘running scared’ because such quality games were starting to appear on a rival CD-based machine.
After sitting through the fantastic animated introduction sequence you’re thrust into one of the most intense and enjoyable blasters ever produced for NEC’s console, or any other machine for that matter. The graphics are nothing short of breathtaking; at times they even eclipse those found in Thunderforce IV (arguably the benchmark for visual splendor on the Megadrive/Genesis) and often surpassing the best the SNES has to offer (this is from what is essentially an 8-bit console, remember!)
The gameplay is fairly standard stuff – there’s nothing here that will shock or surprise veterans of the genre – but it’s the way everything to put together that truly impresses. Not a second of screen time is wasted – every encounter is challenging and demanding whilst retaining an element of fairness. You never blame the game for your mess-ups. The weapon system is balanced perfectly, too.
Add to this a fantastic hard rock soundtrack, some brilliant boss designs and loads of top-quality cut scenes and you have a shooter that is quite simply essential. Lords of Thunder (AKA: Winds of Thunder) was released soon after and is seen as the semi-sequel to GoT, even though it has a completely different setting. Debate still rages as to which is the best out of the two, but for the time being at least you can discover why people make so much fuss about this superlative title. Highly recommended.