Rolling Thunder has had many labels attached to it. “Run and Gun”, “Side Scrolling Shooter”, “Platform Shooter”, “Action Side Scrolling Pre-Shinobi Horizontal Stage based Game”. Whatever. It is an action game, period. Released by Namco on the new System 86 arcade board, this game had style, playability and enjoyment to the extreme. The colours are vibrant, sound is sharp and the main character, Albatross, is one cool looking mo fo. His mission, should you choose to accept, is to save a kidnapped spy Leila and bring down the freakshows under the command of green baddie Geldra. The game plays left to right while Albatross is forced into confronting and shooting (or avoiding) various goons with hoods and/or true freaks that scratch, bite and generally attack. Items are sporadically placed behind closed doors that you can enter by pushing up. Remaining in these “closets” is useful for cover but your enemies will swarm the area the longer you remain behind the closed door. There is a timer so be aware you can’t lollygag for too long. Keep moving, shooting and ducking into doors to get treats and bullets. Death comes quickly and constantly in this game as it is pattern based and guess what…it takes repetition and time to learn patterns. If you are familiar with later, and sadly, more popular games like SHINOBI and METAL SLUG, you get the idea. Your mission is to make it to the end of the stage only to be thrown into more memorization madness for the next level. The game play is very fluid and clean while sticking to basics like up, down, left, right, shoot and jump. The animations are all great from Albatross’s jump to the higher platforms to the hooded goons creeping about. The enemies themselves are quite varied from the ever present hooded henchmen to fire demons, mutant owls and indescribable perversions of Geldra science. There is definitely a 60’s James Bond, Man from U.N.C.L.E. vibe to it all. Even the simple but effective music lends to this stylistic choice. Inbetween levels there are some very strange scenes that show the kidnapped agent Leila on a large screen while hoods or Geldra himself (herself?) do weird dances. Leila is gradually violated by baddies as shown in the static image…and I do mean violated. There is no doubt that she is being tortured and possibly sexually abused in these manga-esque displays. Strange yes…but Japanese. I guess they thought that would motivate players to plunk the quarters in so they could see just how far Geldra will go in their dealings with Leila. Really, its weird stuff. The enemies themselves are all quite strange while brilliantly designed. The hooded freaks are colour coded so you know what attack is coming. E.g. white ones throw grenades, orange shoot bullets and so on. The variety of enemies is quite good, from mutant monkey’s to snakes to rage filled panthers and the said assortment of hooded jerks. Always something new to learn the pattern of. When Albatross does these fuckers in, they melt away in a weird animation that gives them a real viscous nature. When Albatross dies, he falls to the ground, clutching his belly in what is another great motion. The end goal is to give the boots to Geldra and bring down the troublesome organization and save sweet Leila, torn clothes and all. While I could put all the little pieces of greatness here in words, you are better off playing it. The look…the feel…the music…the great stages…everything about this game is rewarding and skillfully accomplished.
Rolling Thunder did not completely blow up in arcades. It would seem the audience had more of a taste for cartoonish type adventures, as in the amazing Bubble Bobble. Regardless, the demand was there to release this game on multiple home formats and systems. Commodore, Amiga, Nin and others had ports and I have extensively played the NES version. While not as all encompassing in greatness as the arcade it is a very serviceable version. A sequel was released in arcades and the Genesis but it tended towards a more generic run and gun feel. The original was truly that, an original. It holds its ground even today and is an amazing retro great that every gamer should try and inevitable, love.
Joystick 'n' Hand