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Thunder Force II

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Reviewed by Michael LoCascio Video game systems are often defined by their first few titles. When gamers look back upon the glory days of the NES, titles such as Zelda, Metroid and Super Mario Bros. usually come to mind. All of these games were released early in the system's history, yet each of them represent the essence of what made the NES such a successful machine. One such title for the Genesis was Thunder Force II, a relentless shooter that showed, very early on, just what Sega's new machine was really made of. Much like the NES game Life Force, Thunder Force II features both horizontally and vertically scrolling stages. Each level begins with an overhead sequence which requires the gamer to destroy a certain number of enemy outposts (reminiscent of the classic shooter, Fantasy Zone). Once every outpost is destroyed, the game switches to a side-scrolling stage, which concludes with a showdown against a boss. The overhead portions of every level are somewhat unique in that you are allowed to fly your ship in any of eight different ways; the action doesn't simply proceed in one direction. It becomes your responsibility to find all of the enemy bases, wherever they may be scattered, and annihilate them. While these overhead levels can certainly hold their own, the real treat comes when you reach the side-scrolling stages. This is where the pace of Thunder Force II picks up to an unbelievable level. Enemies attack from every which way; the only hope for making it through a horizontally-scrolling stage is to memorize its layout and know exactly when (and from what direction) each enemy appears. There are loads of different weapons that you can pick up as you demolish the enemy forces. One element that separated Thunder Force II from most other shooting games available at the time was the fact that you weren't required to sacrifice a weapon that you already had in order to pick up another one. You can equip your ship with plenty of different arms and select from them whenever you wish - as long as you remain alive. The graphics in Thunder Force II are decent enough; Genesis games would eventually feature visuals that were far more impressive than those displayed here, but considering that this was one of the initial titles for the system, the producers of the game did an admirable job (particularly on some of the bosses). Music is fast-paced and suits the game well, although it is often overshadowed by the loud, annoying sound effects. If there's anything bad about Thunder Force II, it's that the search-and-destroy overhead levels become somewhat dull after a while. When it comes down to it, most of the game's appeal lies in the intensity of the side-scrolling missions. At least the overhead boards typically take no more than two or three minutes to complete once you're familiar with them. Thunder Force II may seem like a relatively short game, as it only contains five different levels. However, take each overhead and side-scrolling stage and you've got ten challenging missions to complete. Replay value is high; the sheer speed of some of the side-scrolling segments should keep shooter fans coming back for more. The Genesis was well represented by Thunder Force II in its early days, and the classic shooter has held up very well over time. Highly recommended. Overall: 9 / 10

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