As Dylan touched on in his Aero Blasters review, one thing the Mega Drive wasn’t short on was side-scrolling space-themed shoot ‘em ups, or ‘shooters’ if you prefer (But never, ever ‘SHMUPS’. The internet has a lot to answer for….). Luckily for us, a lot of them were also really, really good. But there’s one in particular that stands head and shoulders above the rest, and that’s Thunder Force 4 (IV).
The fourth instalment in a well-established and fairly popular series, Thunder Force IV (or ‘Lightening Force’ as it was bizarrely re-named in the U.S. – complete with incorrect spelling!) was released by TecnoSoft in 1992, and took all the traditional shoot ‘em up elements and cranked everything up to 11.
You’re the best pilot in the Galaxy Federation, and you have been tasked with stopping the Kha-Oss Legion from accessing vital information stored in the Lohun Empire’s computer mainframe. I guess the Federation forgot to clear their internet history or something….
Anyway, after a super loud, super cool looking intro we’re into the level select screen. Here you can choose which order you attack the first 4 levels in, which is pretty cool. From there, it’s straight into the action. Like most shoot ‘em ups of this kind, there are various weapon upgrades you can pick up, and you can select between all available weapons at any time with a stab of the C button. Be careful though, one hit and you’re dead, and along with a life you lose the weapon you were using at the time, so try and save the more powerful weapons for when you really need them….
You can also adjust the engine power (speed) of your ship by pressing A, although quite why you’d want anything less than 100% is beyond me. The action in this game is absolutely non-stop, and there are enemies and projectiles coming at you from all angles at all times, so you’d better be nimble with that D-Pad! This is a notoriously tough game, although by pressing A and Start on the title screen you can access the options screen and adjust the difficulty setting, which ranges from ‘Easy’ to ‘Maniac’.
Although tough, and at times ridiculously frantic, Thunder Force IV is pure, unadulterated, adrenalin-pumping, heart-pounding FUN!!! Dodging lasers, destroying everything that moves, taking out (or attempting to take out) HUGE bosses is just SO satisfying, especially when you’ve been struggling to beat a certain level and finally manage it.
The graphics here are absolutely stunning. I’d go as far as saying this is one of the best looking games in the entire Mega Drive library. The backgrounds are lush, filled with awesome looking parallax scrolling and are nicely varied from your typical space background to oceans and lava flows. Your ship is just the right size and looks cool, there’s a nice variation in the enemies from stage to stage and some of the bosses are not only massive but really interestingly designed. Everything moves as smoothly and as fast as it needs to, with only the occasional hint of slow down when things get REALLY cluttered on screen.
Very special mention also needs to go to the music, as along with the incredible graphics and addictive gameplay it’s one of the main reasons this is such a great game. It’s loud, It’s fast, its aggressive and it really keeps you pumped and enthusiastic, even when you keep dying and having to start the level over…..
Without wanting to sound like a gushing schoolgirl, in my opinion Thunder Force IV is not only one of the best shoot ‘em ups of the 16-bit era, it’s also one of the very best games on the system, and you owe it to yourself and your poor neglected Mega Drive to get a copy.