TG16 fans thought they’d died and gone to heaven when Gate of Thunder was published for the system. A shooter of truly epic magnitude, it rocketed the underrated machine to the top of the pile when it came to mesmerizing blaster action. The question was: could such a game be topped?
When Lords of Thunder was released soon afterwards, the answer was an emphatic “yes”.
Although it has nothing to do with Gate of Thunder in terms of plot, Lords of Thunder is nevertheless considered by fans to be a sequel of sorts. The storyline eschews the traditional space combat shooter fans are used to and instead sees you controlling the mythical warrior Landis, who happens to have the power of flight and comes encased in some seriously bitchin’ magical armour. This protective covering is upgradeable and you have four different types that are tied to a particular element – Earth, Wind, Fire or Water. Each grants a slightly different method of dishing out divine retribution on the hordes of marauding baddies that populate the game world.
As well as the traditional projectile attacks you would associate with a 2D shooter of this type, Landis also has a rather large sword that he can use to hack and slash at enemies that get too close for comfort. The sword is much more powerful than his standard attack, but there’s a catch – he has to stop completely in order to swing it. Therefore a little bit of tactical thought is required before you start happily stabbing anything and everything in sight.
You have the option to select the order in which you tackle the levels (as seen in games like Thunderforce IV and Mega Man) so rather than having stages that become progressively more difficult, the developer has opted for an assortment of worlds that offer a pretty stern challenge from the outset. If you thought Gate of Thunder was a tough cookie then you’re going to have similar feelings about this game; true shooter fans know that challenge is one of the key elements of the genre, of course.
Graphically Lords of Thunder is arguably superior to its spiritual predecessor. Whereas Gate of Thunder was restricted by the cliché space plot, Lords of Thunder’s fantasy setting liberated the designers who have consequently created a wide and varied range of enemies and stages. A special mention must go to the unbelievable amount of parallax scrolling and, this being a CD game, you can obviously expect plenty of high-quality anime cut scenes to keep things rolling along nicely.
Last (but certainly not least) we have the music. Lords of Thunder has a soundtrack that is discussed in hushed, almost reverent tones by those that have had the pleasure of experiencing it. It’s rip-roaring guitar rock – the kind of music that you might turn your nose up at if you were to hear it on the radio – but in this context, it fits like a chain mail glove. Shooter titles should be required by law to have decent soundtrack in order to get the blood pumping, and Lords of Thunder is arguably unequalled in this regard. It almost feels like you should have a massive '80s poodle-perm and be wearing tight leather trousers when you listen to it!
This is undoubtedly a classic game, but there are some annoying niggles. The water armour is insanely powerful and when fully upgraded makes the game much easier; it would have been nice to see a bit more thought put into the balancing of the armour powers. Also, while the levels look gorgeous, they’re not quite as inventive as those seen in Gate of Thunder. However, these are relatively minor quibbles when you consider the astonishingly high standard of this title.
For many people Lords of Thunder is the game that heralded the dawn of the CD era. As a Virtual Console purchase it is quite frankly essential, even if you don’t consider yourself a fan of the shooter genre.