Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!

#118 – Thundercade

Where there’s lightning, there’s Thundercade.

Featuring a slow rise and shiny gleam!

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 3/10/19 – 3/16/19
Difficulty: 7/10
My Difficulty: 7/10
My Video: Thundercade Longplay

Thundercade appears to be an unassuming game. It’s a scrolling shoot-em-up and an arcade port. These are things we’ve seen come up time and time again, and there will be plenty more like this. There’s just one thing that sets Thundercade apart from the rest. This game is hiding a deep, dark secret. Not a malicious one this time, but it’s something quite extreme that I haven’t seen before on the NES. But before we get there, let’s take a look at this game.

Thundercade was released in arcades in 1987. It was developed by SETA and published by Romstar. The game is also known as Twin Formation in some regions. The only other platform the game appeared on was the NES in July 1989. The NES port was developed by Micronics, published by American Sammy, and released only in North America. This is the first American Sammy published game I have played for this project.

Unlike the arcade version, the NES version included a brief story in the manual. The AATOM, Atomic Age Terrorist Organization of Miracali, has built a nuclear power plant and are threatening to destroy the world with it. You play the role of a combat motorcycle driver under Operation Thundercade with the goal of stopping the terrorist threat. The mission takes place over four areas, culminating in a final battle at the nuclear plant. Destroy the power plant to complete your mission and beat the game.

This tiny motorcycle just blew up a huge building.

This is a relatively simple game with simple controls. Use the D-pad to move your motorcycle in all directions. Press B to fire your cannons. You have unlimited shots but no autofire. Press the A button to deploy bombs via your air support. Bombs typically remove all enemy shots from the screen while dealing heavy damage to parts of the screen. If you deploy another bomb right after the first, then the bomb pattern for the second bomb covers more of the screen. You start the game with three bombs as indicated by the B in the lower left of the screen. You also see the number of lives remaining at the bottom and your score on top. This game has two player simultaneous play with the second player’s information on the right side.

Your normal cannon fires single bullets straight ahead, which are weak in the thick of the fight. Supplement your firepower by attaching side cars. This setup is reminiscent of Tiger-Heli (another Micronics-developed NES port) and its support helicopters. You can find side cars out in the open or within destructible objects like buildings. Simply drive into them to attach them to your motorcycle. They attach to whichever side of the motorcycle you touch and you can have one on both sides at the same time. Collecting a new side car replaces the old one on that side. Some side cars fire shots horizontally while others supplement your vertical shots. You can mix and match to your heart’s desire. Side cars are destroyed when shot, acting as defensive tools since they shield you from taking damage. Your motorcycle is otherwise destroyed in a single hit. There are several different kinds of side cars and you can find more powerful ones later in the game.

One car can shoot ahead and the other shoots sideways.

There are other pickups to find besides side cars. Red bomb icons add a bomb to your reserves. You can also find 1up icons for those precious extra motorcycles. The V-shaped icon is a Vulcan cannon which is a very powerful weapon. You automatically get two side cars with cannons that fire large bullets in a V-formation. This is hands down my favorite weapon in the game. You get to keep it until you die, lose a side car, or collect a different side car. These items are all hidden in the environment and you need to blow up various objects to reveal them.

There’s one more item that sends you off to a bonus game. At the end of the first two stages is a boss battle with a huge gunship. It has multiple turrets that you must destroy. If you take too long to defeat it, enemy support helicopters start appearing and the fight is much more difficult. If you can manage to defeat the gunship before that happens, then the bonus stage item appears behind it. The bonus game is an opportunity to grab a bunch of items. The view changes to side scrolling and a plane will fly overhead, dropping the goods. Steer left and right to collect them as they fall. Most of the items are parachutes that contain four missiles each. At the start of the next stage, you will automatically fire these powerful missiles when you shoot your normal cannons. Too bad they only last at the start of the following stage because they are quite powerful. You can also collect bombs, 1ups, and Vulcan cannons from the bonus stage. You also enter the bonus stage for free just for completing the third stage.

There’s an interesting game mechanic that comes up from time to time. There are sometimes inclines or other hazards such as pools of water that you can jump over. Simply drive into the obstacle to fly high. While airborne, your movement is slowed considerably, but you fly over all enemies’ shots and so you can’t be hurt during this time. Just make sure to steer to a safe landing spot.

Look ma, no hands!

While you don’t have too many lives to spare in Thundercade, there’s only a few ways you can be killed. You can touch most solid objects freely without being damaged. You will die however if you get squished against the bottom of the screen due to scrolling. Enemy bullets and the enemies themselves will beat you when you touch them. You are able to defeat basic enemy soldiers by driving into them. Given your advantage over them it makes sense, but not too many games implement a feature like that.

You start the game with three lives. You don’t earn lives from points in this game, only from 1up items. There are several of them in the game if you know where to look. Dying gives you a new motorcycle as play continues, as well as a fresh set of three bombs. Lose all of your motorcycles and it is Game Over. You then see a screen showing a map of your overall progress, the total number of shots fired, number of enemy hits, and your hit rate as a percentage. It’s curious to see your hit rate in a game that encourages you to shoot everything, thereby decreasing your rate. You get the same screen after completing each stage too. You can continue your game twice and the game will place you at a nearby checkpoint within the current stage. If you can clear the third stage, you earn a third continue.

This was my first time playing Thundercade. This is a game I know I’ve seen before in old gaming magazines that I never got a chance to play until now. It looked interesting but not interesting enough to rent or find cheaply. It turns out it is a cheap, common game that can be had for about $5.

Of course you go up against a gigantic tank.

Playing this game can be a bit slow going at first, but most of the game isn’t really that difficult. Bombs and side cars are plentiful and they helped me make rapid progress. After a few tries, I reached the final stage. I found that the last half of the final stage was a steep upturn in difficulty. There’s a big section with these huge turrets that emerge from the ground. Not long after they pop up they fire a string of missiles in your direction. Having good side cars is crucial here, otherwise your normal shot can’t really keep up and there’s not a lot of wiggle room to get around. The final showdown at the nuclear plant is also really difficult. There are ten snipers that briefly appear at each of ten windows. All of them aim at you but at different intervals, so you have to weave around all the bullets carefully over just the lower part of the screen. Worst of all is that your bombs here don’t remove enemy bullets. It can be a long, grueling fight. Each sniper takes several hits to defeat, but eventually you’ll defeat a few making the fight easier the longer it goes on. My run for my longplay video was just okay. I used a continue in Level 2 and another in the last stage. I’ve made it to the last part on the first credit before.

Now it’s time for the big reveal of this game’s deep, dark secret. This isn’t exactly a spoiler since it’s easy to miss. Thundercade has a special ending. If you beat the game, you might notice that this game doesn’t loop again like many shooters do. You have to let the game sit on the ending screen for roughly one hour of real time before the special ending appears. There will be a procession of tanks and soldiers, followed by a developer message written in Japanese. I suppose the localizers missed this entirely, but can you blame them? Thanks to The Cutting Room Floor, you can read the translation of the special message. After all that wait, it doesn’t stay on the screen very long before going back to the title screen. I left my recording running so I captured the special ending. I left the room with the game running but managed to walk back in the room in time to watch most of this ending live.

Even though Micronics has a poor reputation as far as their game output on NES, Thundercade is a pretty decent shooter that I enjoyed. The whole package is not incredibly special. The graphics are okay. They did a good job with all the destructible buildings and things. The music is repetitive – there’s only one main song throughout most of the game – but I found it catchy enough and didn’t get tired of it. The controls were responsive. The game mechanics have mostly been found elsewhere, which is a little disappointing. Overall, I consider it an average, run-of-the-mill type game. There are plenty of better NES shooters, but Thundercade isn’t all that bad and it is worth trying out if you like shoot-em-ups.

#118 – Thundercade

Posted In: Finished

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