Lightening Force/Thunder Force 4
Box Shot
Lightening Force (AKA Thunder Force IV)
Platform: Genesis
Publisher: Technosoft
Designer: Technosoft
Genre: Shoot-em-up
Players: 1
Published Date 1993
Reviewed by: Kurt Kalata

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 often rare.

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 sound chip.

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.