Remind me to smack the marketing people at Sega back
in the Genesis era right in the head. Though it isn't
a well-known fact, Lightening Force is actually Thunder
Force 4. Yep, the third installment on the Genesis of the popular
shooter series which did very well in the earlier days
of the Genesis. And they not only renamed it, BUT THEY
SPELLED IT WRONG (it's Lightning, not Lightening.)
Classic Review Archive reviewer Rob Strangman refuses to call
this by its given American name...it's Thunder Force 4, dammit!
But enough of that blitheringly stupid poppycock. Despite
the idiotic name, Lightening Force is one of the best
spaceship shooters on the Sega Genesis, and possibly
even of all the 16-bit systems.
Of course it's your typical side-scrolling fare, but
to paraphrase a certain TV chef, it's kicked up a notch.
Everything in Light---er, I mean, Thunder Force IV moves
extremely fast. The enemies and their attacks are utterly
relentless and you need to be on your toes at all times.
You've got a pretty nice arsenal of weapons that are placed
throughout each level...most are the same as TF3 (upgraded
normal weapons known as the Blade and Rail Gun, the Snake
bomb which is just like the Fire weapon, and the Hunter homing
bullet.) The new weapon is the Free Way, which fires many
little arrows in the opposite direction that you move your ship.
Additionally, there's still the CLAW item to be found,
wherein two satellites orbit around your ship increasing
firepower. Dying only takes away your currently selected
weapon, plus rids you of the CLAW system if you have it.
Shields are found so you can sustain a few hits but are
Like Thunder Force 3, you have the option of tackling
the first few stages in any order. Once you beat these
stages, the rest of the levels (six remaining) are fought
in traditional linear fashion. The catch is that right
after the fifth stage, you get a new weapon mounted
on your ship known as the Laser Sword. Whenever you
get the CLAW weapon, just wait a second or two to powerup
the sword, then fire. A huge blast of enery will shoot
out, toasting most any baddie that comes near you. It's
certainly very cool, but since you'll be dying a lot in
the later levels,
it's hard to keep the CLAW around long for the Laser Sword
to do much good.
In fact, the difficulty gets absolutely nuts
in the last three levels of the game. If you choose
to fight through the planets in the default order (by
pressing Start at the stage select screen) there's
a fairly reasonable learning curve, at least for a
Thunder Force game. But there is a time when too much
is too much, and these final levels really push that
line to the limits.
It's all in good fun though. Even though you WILL be
dying a lot, you'll also be having plenty of fun. More enemies means
more big explosions, which, as video game players, we all enjoy! Instead of being
a strictly side-scrolling affair or having the screen shift around at
its own whim (ala Thunder Force 3) many levels allow you to scroll
up and down, giving a good amoung of freedom as where to go. Repeated
plays will allow you to find any secret items hidden near the top or bottom
of the screen, so playing through a level a few times is a pretty good idea.
It never quite approaches the level of frustration that TF3 did;
certain levels were unbeatable unless you knew exactly what was happening
at what time. However, the extremely cool
bosses usually require a lot of pattern memorization to beat. Though
you resurrect spontaneously when you die, some sort of mid-point to continue
at when you ran out of lives would've made it a little less frustrating
and more open to non-obsessive shooter fans. There's a limit of seven continues,
which is a fair number to get far in the game, but unlimited credits
probably would've worked better in a game like this.
One of the most astounding features about this game graphically are
the incredible parallax scrolling backgrounds. I'm sure everyone raised
in the 16-bit era are quite used to them, but they're quite simply one of the
best utilization of this graphica technique I've ever seen. The clouds
and mountains of the first level scrool by realistically and the waves
of the sea below provide an excellent illusion of depth. The rest of
the game, with shattered battleships, destroyed cities and molten volcanos
is equally impressive.
Near the beginning of the game, the music is a bit of a mixed bag. Most
of the level tunes just seem too laid back for a game of this fast-paced
caliber. Once you reach the fifth level, the music gets quite a bit
better, much more suitable. The boss music is consistently awesome throughout...
keeping with tradition, each end-level bad guy has his own theme. In many
of these tunes you'll hear the best version of a synthesized guitar from
the Genesis. Those spoiled the beautiful sound of a SNES or any of the
newer system will probably not appreciate it, but any Genesis player
will probably be in awe at such a cool sound coming out of the weakling
Even from the get-go, Thunder Force 4 provides enough action to (cliche warning!)
keep the gamer on the edge of his chair. Yes, it's tough, and well nigh
impossible without the 99-ship code, but it's not
as hardcore-directed as Gaiares or anything like that. Top it off with
an ending that actually ISN'T the same as almost every game in the shooter
genre, and you have a title that any Genesis-owning
shoot-em-up fan must have this game in their library.