Thunder Blade is an arcade game that was released in 1987. For some of you out there that means this game was conceived of, developed, and released before you were even born. It’s before I was born too. The enormity of that isn’t lost on me. The opportunity to write about the SEGA 3D Classics Collection is a treat because it provides a very real opportunity to experience and learn about a world that I never existed in. Thanks to M2 now anyone who wants to can take a trip through memory lane… or an archeological expedition.
Thunder Blade is a scrolling shooter where you control an attack helicopter armed with machine guns and infinite missiles. Each level alternates between a top down bombing run and a forward facing gauntlet through heavy enemy resistance. The goal is not to defeat enemies so much as it is to reach the end of the level, but this is the sort of shooter where a best defense is a good offense. You have zero hope of avoiding every attack the game throws at you without eliminating a fair number of the enemies before they become a problem. The game isn’t a SHMUP in the traditional sense but it’s undeniably similar in scope and difficulty.
Yeah, difficulty. This game is rough. All the games in the SEGA 3D Classics Collection are, that’s just how games were back in day. Especially arcade games designed to gobble up quarters. Bullets are everywhere and any contact with a bullet or an enemy means instant death. The difference between this game and many others in the collection is that the game saves your progress level by level. As long as you clear level one completely then if you run out of lives in level two you can choose to continue and restart from level two. This is a god send for someone like me who realistically has no chance of reaching the end of the game on a single set of lives. The 3D Classics Collection allowed me to brute force my way through this game and actually experience all the content.
And this is a game where I actually wanted to get through the game and see all the content. Thunder Blade is a lot of fun! The 3D conversion makes great sense for a game featuring both high altitude bombing and perilous high speed trench runs and the obstacles are challenging but never actually unfair. I always felt like I could have survived the sections that killed me which is doubtless why this game was such a hit in the eighties. I can definitely see myself as a child putting in quarter after quarter absolutely convinced that this was the run where I could make it.
This sort of design was finely tuned to empty piggy banks back in the day, but in this collection with free continues it’s just harmless compulsive fun. The game controls really well, the 3D conversion is excellent, and there’s a great risk reward mechanic in how fast you play. The slower you move the more time you’ll have to react to threats up ahead but the faster you move the fewer shots an enemy can get off before you’re safely past. I generally played pretty slow just because I’m terrible, but when all else failed sometimes just maxing my speed and praying to make it through worked also.
I kept a tally of how many times I had to use the free continue to make it through Thunder Blade. I totaled 36 over several days of playing. On one hand that’s just a testament to my personal failings, but there’s another way to look at it. Once upon a time playing through Thunder Blade would have cost me $9.50 (50 cents for starting, 25 cents per continue). In 2016 it’s one game out of nine included in a $30 dollar package and I can play again whenever I want. What a bargain!