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Thunder Force II (Genesis, 1989)

The Genesis picks up steam.

Pew pew!
Meanwhile on Tatooine…


PUBLISHER: TechnoSoft (Japan) / Sega (World)


GENRE: Shoot-em-up

RELEASE DATE: 06/15/89 – (JP), 08/14/89 – (US), 09/90 – (EU)

If a shoot-em-up isn’t challenging, fans of the genre aren’t interested. From space destroyers like R-Type and Life Force to cute curiosities like Parodius and TwinBee, shoot-em-ups are known for ridiculous powerups, screen-filling bosses and unrelenting difficulty. Thunder Force II has all of the aforementioned attributes, but it’s also an endurance run. How long can you survive free-scrolling overhead view stages with boundaries and regenerating enemies? And the bosses! Even as you think, “Surely I’ve fired enough rounds into that massive tank. Surely he’ll die soon,” he continues to shoot missiles like some unstoppable Abrams. Shoot-em-ups rarely make me give up and call it a game. Thunder Force II beat me into submission.

Humble beginnings.

The free-scrolling overhead stages are what distinguish Thunder Force II. Rather than pushing you forward horizontally or vertically like every other shoot-em-up, the game drops you into the middle of an expansive area and lets you roam where you will. Not too far, though. Each area has walls surrounding it and if you crash into them, you die. The walls are in the foreground to distinguish them from the rest of the environment, but they still blend in enough that you’ll probably crash into them a few times. The goal here is to find bases – robotic blue orbs with claws surrounding them – and destroy them. There’s four per stage, and once you defeat one, one section of the wall will be opened and you can move into another part of the stage.

I for one welcome our robotic shrimp overlords!

While these overhead stages are distinct, they also filled me with anxiety. Your ship never stops moving, so you’re constantly having to navigate around the walls and the creatures that suddenly appear in front of you. The ship isn’t the easiest to maneuver, despite having supposed 8-way movement with the controller’s D-pad. The sharp turns are disorienting and can easily kill you if you accidentally turn into a stray projectile or a wall.

You bases aren’t so tough without your zits.

Thankfully, Thunder Force II does not leave you defenseless. In addition to your twin shot which shoots two parallel streams in front of you, you’re also given Back Fire which shoots one stream in front and one in the back. The latter seemed worthless to me at first, but you will use it a surprising amount to counterattack enemies behind you; at least until you get better upgrades. There are six total upgrades you can acquire in the overhead stages, all of which vary in strength and range. My personal favorites were the Five Wave, an overwhelming five streams of crescent-shaped waves, and Clash, which generates circular beams that enclose your ship before shooting out. Unlike other shoot-em-ups, once you collect an upgrade, your previous weapons don’t disappear. Once you have an upgrade, it stays with you and you can select it anytime until you die.

Catch the wave, you jerks.

After you complete an overhead stage, you’re taken to a traditional side-view, or horizontally scrolling, stage; from this point on, Thunder Force II moves back and forth between the overhead and side-view stages. The side-view stages are more akin to Gradius – closed-in environments with enemies coming from the middle, the ceiling, and the bottom of the stage. They also have their own set of power-ups, from laser beams to three-way-shots to side blasters; my favorite was the Wave Shot, which adds missiles to your normal twin shot. Bosses appear at the end of the stage, as well. I wouldn’t call them hard, but you’ll need patience as they do take a lot of time to kill. While the side-view stages are still fast-paced and challenging, they are down right relaxing compared to the overhead stages. After the painful freedom provided to you in the latter, being pushed forward in a straight line while robots and missiles flank your ship never felt so comforting.

Sweet rest for the soul.

Up until the third top-down stage, Thunder Force II provided me everything I needed to survive its treacherous landscapes. Yes, the game was rock hard, but I never wanted for weapon upgrades. Even in areas where I died several times in a row, the Twin Shot and the Back Fire sustained me until an upgrade capsule floated by. The third top-down stage, however, is a series of claustrophobic caverns that require extreme precision to navigate through. No weapons can save you, only A++ grade steering. Because your ship doesn’t stop moving and the stiff D-pad only allows for quick, sharp turns, it’s nearly impossible to move without crashing into the cavern walls. After dozens of deaths, I couldn’t play anymore. Thunder Force II was no longer an enjoyable war: it was gruesome murder on continuous repeat.

They haunt me still…

Once the caverns bested me, I questioned whether I even enjoyed Thunder Force II at all. I certainly admire its ambition and the ability to switch between any weapon upgrades you collect, but the continuous movement in the overhead stages and the crushing third stage difficulty really dampened my enjoyment. There’s a difference between good pain that forces you to grow and masochism that’s detrimental to your psyche. Thunder Force II walks that line.


18 replies on “Thunder Force II (Genesis, 1989)”

Looking at Wikipedia and Tvtropes (which has a rather detailed page) this is quite an extensive series with a long history and a dedicated fan base. Better get used to playing these games!

They eliminate the overhead stages in the next one, and it’s generally considered one of the best (if not the best) shoot-em-ups for the system. So they do get better. I’ve never played this one, and I honestly don’t recall hearing much about it, and I think there’s probably a good reason for that.

I’ll counter this is one of my favorite launch games. And has an absolutely amazing soundtrack. And if your dpad is stiff, I feel like there is a good sexual metaphor joke I could make here, you need a better controller. That cave though. You have to pretty much memorize the layout, because it is hard. There is a method to tackling the cave that I’ve long since forgotten. Like most old games that part stymied me for weeks till I finally got good enough to get past it. Eventually I could beat this game pretty easily on a regular basis. Personally, I loved this game.

Now I do know a lot of people don’t like this because of the overhead stages. And it’s no coincidence you got frustrated because of one of them. Twitch skills are definetly required on those stages.

I gotta say though this game blew me away with the soundtrack at launch. The game had a kicking bass soundtrack with good use of reverb and great stereo effects. Here’s a vid I found with a mashup of a couple different stage’s music.

Also the last boss, is somewhat similar to the R-Tyle stage 3 boss, a giant ship. But in an overheard view. You spend a whole level circling this giant ship blasting lasers and torrents and engines going in and out of its structure until it’s destroyed. It’s pretty cool.

Ya I really really love this game. But TF3 is better.

Some times I feel like I’m doing these games a disservice by not spending a week or two with them, particularly since certain games take time to warm up to. But if I did that, I probably won’t ever finish this insane project.

I don’t think anyone expects you to beat every game. Eighter you liked what you played or you didn’t. While I Would have no problem recommending this game to anyone, over the years, the overhead stages have definetly been the point of contention with this game. Their difficulty has definetly turned some people off. But like any game, they can be mastered and beaten. Going to overhead from side view is kind of jarring as the skills required are quite different. For me, the variation is super cool. For others it’s super annoying.

Yeah the series definitely improves. The third and forth entries are highly regarded MegaDrive games. I believe there is a (Japanese only) Saturn release which is also supposed to be very good.

Personally I’ve only played Thunderforce IV and think it’s great. Regarding Thunderforce II your review sums it up perfectly, humble beginnings to what would become a strong series.

I imported the two Saturn games. But I’ve never played Thinder Force IV. Mostly because it was a late a Genesis release. And they changed the name to Litening Force, so I had no idea it was actually TF IV. The name change here is inexplicable to me because it was a pretty well know and received franchise to change the name was a super Wierd decicion. Like if they released A new SMB game here and titled it Italian Plumber World.

I don’t know the exact details, but Thunder Force IV became “Lightening Force” due to some kind of licensing issue, from what I understand. Sega brought TFII over and published it here, but Techno Soft actually published TFIII on their own, so when Sega stepped in to localize TFIV, I think they had to make the change due to Techno Soft having done the previous game. Whatever the story, I’m with you – inexplicable. Oh, and sean697 – to hear you say you’ve never played TFIV is surprising, so let me just say, “GET ON IT!” It’s a fabulous game, and should not be missed by even casual shmup enthusiasts.

I would agree with Dylan’s assessment. The overhead stages are the weakest portion of the game, and as both TFIII and TFIV demonstrate, the horizontal shoot-em-up formula was the way to go, because they just got better at designing the levels as the series went on. The TFIII vs. TFIV argument is almost the Sega Genesis equivalent of the Mega Man 2 vs. Mega Man 3 war, because either game could be seen as the top shmup, depending on what your criteria is. I personally think Lightening Force is the best in the series, with its amazing YM2612 synth metal soundtrack, graphics that push the limits of the Genesis hardware, and amazing levels with great locations, cool bosses, and great mechanics. Thunder Force II really serves as little more than a primer for the 3 games that followed, though there is a solid, respectable shooter contained within, and worth picking up for fans of the genre.

It sounds like it was a horrible experience Dylan. I’ve never played this game and I don’t think I ever want to. I am not a huge fan of the shoot-em-up genre normally because I find them to be far too difficult for me. If I can’t even see some of the later stages of a game then I have no interest. If there is an invincibility code then at least you can give up and see the whole game.
Coming up in 1990 you’ll get to review the hardest shoot-em-up I’ve ever played, Hellfire. I still have nightmares about this game. I’m pretty sure it’s the most difficult game in video game history. Make sure you have counseling and medication on hand before you play.

Harking back to the early nineties and I had a rap on the door from the kid over the road, he had a complete copy of TT2 in his hand and asked if I wanted to borrow it and what I had in exchange, I could have been cruel and sent him on his way with the ‘excellent’ Super Thunder Blade or Italia 90 but he was a good lad and as I somehow had two copies of Sonic, I gave him the one without instructions and off he ran as happy as Larry with his trade – as a trade is what it turned out to be as he moved away shortly after and we never swapped back.

Shooters aren’t my favourite genre as platformers are my thing but this one really engrossed me, I found the game as hard as nails and kept trying and trying till I finally beat it – I know that most people feel that the top down stages spoil this one but I find that they break up the style of the play and the future entries into the TT series are actually missing these stages in my eyes, once you get used to them they become rather fun.

The first Thunder Force was arcade only, I beat this on MAME but as you can throw as many virtual coins at it then beating it just feels a bit hollow.

I don’t know how I actually managed to beat Thunder Force 2 actually as it was my final life on my final continue and that massive battleship had eaten all of my lives but one and the last firing point to blow up on it just wouldn’t go so as bullets were coming at me from all directions in those narrow tunnels I just went in firing like mad on a kamikaze final onslaught and I sighed as I thought I had died but he had gone first and I had beaten it 🙂

If you haven’t played Herzog Zwei yet, I highly recommend it. More top-down Technosoft action with significant strategy involved. Only problem is it commands quite the high price these days.

Hi Dylan, I am ashamed to say I bought this about seventeen years ago in a batch of games from Hong Kong of all places and still have to give it a decent play, although all that may change if I can wrestle the tv away from my youngest two and their obsession with Fortnite and Mine Craft just like every other kid out there currently – I do ‘get’ modern gaming but it is just not for me although I see its appeal.

This one is on the list but I have wasted time trying out other less deserving titles out of curiosity recently and I have to be in the right frame of mind for shooters as they can be so relentless.

I love me some shoot-em-ups, but TFII is particularly brutal. Don’t feel bad if you don’t end up liking it.

Sorry, I was referring to Herzog Zwei that I got in the batch that I hadn’t tried.

There are stickers on the bottom of each game I got from Hong Kong so I was looking through them and it is an interesting bunch of games (Wani Wani World, Herzog Zwei, Evander Holyfield’s Boxing, Jewel Master, Strider and Outrun) and as ever the artwork is superior in every way over it’s western counterparts but also noticeable is how they tend to look after their games over that side of the world as a rule and each one is in collectors condition including all those extras that they stick in the games like the registration cards and the creaseless manuals are a joy to receive, so much so that you are afraid to get them out of the box to avoid spoiling them.

One thing I appreciate about the Megadrive is that the game’s cases are so damned big they allow for a larger area to appreciate the box artwork, allowing for the back of the box to show you the then state of the art 16 bit graphics only previously seen in an arcade – the earlier Japanese games made the front artwork wrap-around to the back of the box with a sprinkling of amazing screen shots to lure you further in, picture back in the day when the artwork for a music artists vinyl album cover was massively important and sometimes talked about more than the music content itself, it sort of came as a package and like the games scene this was cruelly killed off by the miniscule offerings that a cd gives you, it doesn’t draw you in at all and more often than not it is lazy because they know that you are probably not looking at it – and then the front cover of the music cd or game is often covered in a massive sticker displaying the price or on the music cover a sticker saying ‘containing the hits……’ an album/Megadrive cover could handle this and still display the product whereas a cd cannot.

Then when you open the Megadrive case you have the glossy manual, a few pamphlets and perhaps some freebies and more importantly a massive slab of plastic containing a circuit boards and microchips – it really felt like you had made a purchase where in comparison you are aware that a cd itself is a practically worthless product in value and is so delicate that it can be brought down by a mere scratch whereas a Megadrive cart is like a battle worn commando covered in scratches and imperfections yet is still ready for action whenever called upon.

Erm sorry for going on a bit I sort of got carried away with my Sega obsession….

I played this recently. It’s a savagely hard game, basically unplayed almost from the start. I used Game Genie codes to play through the stages and got enjoyment out of it, but when using the codes the game would produce a huge amount of enimies that attacked constantly so even that a drag. Thunder Forces series reputation wasn’t made on part II. Only the most curious need apply.

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