FOLLOWING the hugely successful Afterburner, Sega produced their own version of helicopter mayhem - Thunder blade. The object of the game is simple - shoot everything in sight. In fact the two games are similar in many respects, both using very expensive hardware to produce multi-coloured sprites which give the impression of explosions jumping out of the screen at you.
Whichever you play, the seat-of-the-pants feeling you get is remarkable, with or without the hydraulic rams supplied on some versions. This poses a problem. How do you simulate an arcade game which uses custom-designed sprite hardware and stereo sound on a meagre home computer? Simple, you find a machine capable of such mindboggling feats, an Amiga for instance, and program it in machine code. This is precisely what the team at Tiertex has done. It is astounding.
As per the original, the game is split into four stages of three waves each, the finale of each being the dreadnought - an emplacement of such vast capacity it seems to go on for miles.
The first scene of each wave is viewed from above the helicopter. But do not get the idea this is another boring vertical scroller - it most certainly is not.
The second wave puts you directly behind the chopper in glorious 3D, and the third reverts to overhead perspective.
The scene is set in a war torn city which tanks and artillery have infiltrated. You and Thunder Blade are the only things standing in their way. Pulling back on the joystick makes the chopper rise, pushing forward descends.
To move forward you hold the fire button down and push the stick forward. This feels a little odd at first but you soon get used to it. Holding the fire button down soon becomes second nature, as this is the only way to keep up the devilish rate of fire required to dispatch the enemy. As for the bad guys, they do not give you much of a chance - even in the early stages the homing missiles explode like hotels in Beirut. Get caught in the explosion and it is curtains.
Dodging missiles seems to be the only escape, but stray too far toward the edge of the screen and you crash into the skyscrapers.
In the second wave the view is from behind the chopper. This helps you avoid enemy fire by flying over the tops of some buildings. The end of the first stage is marked by a gigantic aircraft carrier that literally bristles with death. Then things start to really hot up.
Stage two takes place in a canyon and then on through a brushwood forest towards a desert where you meet a moving munitions dump. By this time the enemy has wised up to your antics and launched an air attack to keep you busy.
Later stages see the addition of bridges and strange rock formations. Even the wave endings become more bizarre - the penultimate one being a gigantic jet aircraft.
Finally you arrive at what I assume is the enemy's own city and headquarters. The opposition became too tough even for me with my highly trained reviewer's reflexes.
If you have ever played Thunder Blade in the arcades, this conversion is a faithful and exciting reminder. Graphically speaking, it lacks much of the subtle detail of the original while retaining the main structure, although there is so much going on this is hardly noticeable.
Ultimately, I have a niggling doubt about the game as a stand-alone title. Without doubt, it is challenging enough to keep arcade addicts happy for hours and its overall quality could never be held at issue. Whatever criticism you could raise, would also be true of the original, and in the end Thunder Blade is explosive fun, albeit shallow.