Rolling Thunder (Arcade, FC) (1986, 1989)
Developer: Namco

Review by Faididi and Co.

Doors, floors, and background corridors

Story: Average

Albatross is an agent of Rolling Thunder, a group dedicated to preserving world peace and order. His mission is to stop Geldra, a criminal organization headed by an alien warlord known as Mabu, who has green skin, pointy ears, and fingers that shoot lasers. Albatross also has to rescue Leila, a fellow agent who's been captured by Geldra. Our hero's job won't be easy, because Mabu commands legions of killer robots known as Maskers (named so for their appearances), along with hordes of homicidal mutants. The story isn't super complex, but the idea of a secret agent taking on an evil space alien and his robot henchmen has to count for something, right?

Gameplay: Above Average

Namco's Rolling Thunder is an action shooter that's all about skill and reflexes. Albatross walks through 5 side-scrolling rounds, shooting at or dodging the deadly Maskers and other foes. He starts off with just a pistol, but he can find and use automatic rifles, which have limited ammunition. The challenge level is brutal, because our hero keels over with a single scratch from a bullet, grenade blast, or laser bolt, and the checkpoints are few and very far between.

To help Albatross avoid getting shot in the face, however, Rolling Thunder brings a few innovations into the basic action shooter formula. He can hide behind doors, staying safe until he emerges. He can leap between the ground level and an upper floor, which is a handy way to sneak around bad guys. There are also areas where Albatross can walk into another hallway in the background (on the same floor), bypassing enemies just as effectively. Never before in the genre has evasion been such an important focus in gameplay.

The level and enemy designs are interesting enough, if unforgiving. The old warehouse corridors, the large storehouses, the moss-covered caves with fire pits, and Mabu's secret underground base mix up the action with their different styles of terrain and obstacles. The Maskers come in a rainbow variety, each type having different attack and movement behaviors.

Controls: Below Average

Part of the game's difficulty is due to its imperfect controls. Although walking, crouching, and shooting while on the ground are all easy to do, the jumping is plain awful. Whenever Albatross is in the air, he can't do a single thing until he lands. Not being able to shoot or even adjust his forward momentum while he's leaping renders him unnecessarily vulnerable.

Graphics: Above Average

Aside from the Maskers resembling Ku Klux Klan members gone wrong, the characters are drawn well, and the backgrounds are textured in a somber, gritty manner. The scenery is animated a bit, containing details like spinning ceiling fans, glowing lava pits, and blinking lights. The movies in between the rounds are rendered nicely, too, considering that they're essentially torture porn with Leila.

Audio: Above Average

The gunfire sounds decent, but the explosions and the laser bolts could've been louder. The game uses a few vocal effects. Maskers groan out whenever they die, and Mabu can be heard laughing during the intro movie. The music is oddly quiet in spite of the frantic gunfights that Albatross endures, but in any case the tunes do their job at adding to the game's spyish atmosphere.

Overall: Average

The concept of using the environment to avoid bad guys is taken to a whole new level in Rolling Thunder, but as an action shooter, it's held back by its less-than-stellar jumping controls. Along with its murderous difficulty level, it's clearly a game that won't appeal to as many Players as it should.

Port: Average (FC)

The FC/NES version is quite faithful to the arcade version. Other than correcting the look of Albatross' life meter, it plays pretty much the same, right down to the unfortunate jumping limitations. On the bright side, it adds a password feature, so at least you don't have to start from scratch whenever you boot up the game.

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