As a kid growing up in the early ’90s I can remember dreaming about the Genesis games that I wanted to see “souped-up” on my SNES. Thunder Force III was one of them. I would have given an arm and leg for a Super Nintendo version of Thunder Force III, figuratively speaking of course. I was blown away when I first played Thunder Force III on the Genesis in 1990. It was totally badass. SNES owners received Thunder Spirits in the summer of ’92. It was more or less Thunder Force III. Sadly, less… but I digress. First, let us take a trip down memory lane.
RAINING GHOULS ‘N GHOSTS
In early 2006 the SNES bug bit me hard and I began reclaiming bits and pieces of my childhood. It started out innocently enough with a mighty comeback to the SNES on January 17, 2006. Not before long I found myself repurchasing all things 8-bit NES and Sega Genesis as well. On March 31, 2006, I met up with a stranger outside a local grocery store. I remember it well. It was 3 PM on a Friday afternoon, and it was raining cats and dogs (or ghouls and ghosts, if you will). I met Kevin in the parking lot, a guy I had been communicating with off Craigslist. He waved over to me sitting in his red Toyota pick-up. I suppose he could tell who I was based on my nostalgic (and searching) eyes. Standing outside, umbrella in hand, I watched as he spoke fondly of the games he was selling to me, mentioning how they had been sitting up in his attic for years and years now, and how they were all purchased brand new back in the day. A small cute beagle stood on the passenger seat, its head tilted as it looked at me quizzically. I got all five games for $20. Thunder Force III was a game I used to watch and play all the time back at Tommy and Denny’s, way back in good old 1990. The game was mind-blowing and really brought home the arcade experience that a home system had yet to deliver at that point in time. I had always wanted to play the SNES version that went by the name of Thunder Spirits, but never did back in the ’90s. Less than a month then into my SNES resurrection, I picked up a copy.
The cybernetic computer that controls the planet Orn has long held a disdain for humans. It has surrounded itself with a formidable automated defense system consisting of four planets: Hydra, Gorgon, Saline, and Ellis. Motivated by its fear of the Commonwealth of Humanoid Planets, the computer has initiated a systematic plan to destroy the Commonwealth and enslave its members. The only hope for the Commonwealth is to intervene quickly and destroy the cybernetic computer at the Orn-Core!
The Commonwealth has pooled its resources to develop its most technologically advanced fighter, the Vrax. This ship’s diminutive size coupled with advanced stealth technology make it difficult to detect. Equipped with some of the most powerful weaponry ever to be deployed, it is easily the equal of ships many times its size.
Be sure to blast these red ships. They carry new weapons, shields and the CLAW, a special and extremely valuable weapon. It attaches two orbiting drones to your ship which can intercept enemy attack. In addition, these drones will fire the same weapons as your ship, increasing the effectiveness of any gun you use. Sweet! As for the rest of your weaponry, discover them on your own
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
For a Thunder Force game hitting the SNES, Thunder Spirits shockingly received very little fanfare. EGM gave it lackluster ratings of 5, 5 and 4. Super Play scored it 73%. On the internet, everyone highly prefers Thunder Force III. Though to be fair and more accurate, Thunder Spirits is technically a port of Thunder Force AC rather than Thunder Force III. Thunder Force AC was released in the arcades after Thunder Force III, and is largely based upon said game. Therefore, players expecting a magical carbon copy of Thunder Force III with SNES trimmings are likely to be quite disappointed.
Here’s a handy cheat to help maximize enjoyment of Thunder Spirits: during the game pause and press select 10 times followed by L, R, R, select. Now you can press Y to add a shield, X to add a Claw, and A to add and upgrade weapons. Try beating the game on Maniac mode with these cheats to help even up the odds!
For nearly 20 years I wondered if this was *THE* ultimate Thunder Force game… a dream game which would combine one of my favorite Genesis titles with the souped-up capabilities of the almighty SNES. So much for that dream. When I finally played Thunder Spirits in the fall of 2011, I was sorely disappointed. The graphics and sound fail to meet SNES standards, and it pales in comparison to Thunder Force III which came out two years earlier. Then again, keep in mind that Toshiba Emi programmed the SNES version, not TechnoSoft (who did the Genesis game). Maybe the quality would have been vastly different in their hands. At any rate, the bosses here don’t look nearly as impressive or intimidating as they did in the Genesis version. The music is actually somewhat solid, but slightly tarnished by the weak sound effects that accompany it. I really like the first three stages, but the rest leave something to be desired… with too many similar space stages.
Still, at its core, it is Thunder Force. That alone is enough to carry some merit. The game does suffer from the sporadic spot of slowdown here and there, but it’s certainly playable and has its moments. It’s pretty cool being able to switch weapons and ship speed with the shoulder buttons (as well as during the pause screen). It also presents a fairly stiff challenge, especially on the Maniac difficulty level. Unfortunately, you can’t help but feel this was a rushed programming job, and certainly one that was handled with a lack of expertise and knowledge of the Super Nintendo’s inner workings. Thunder Spirits should have been an awesome shooter. Instead, it’s rarely mentioned whenever folks talk about the best SNES shooting games. It doesn’t do anything special. Even worse, you know the game didn’t live up to its potential. There are too many moments where you just fly around waiting for enemies to show up. It’s not the frenetic in-your-face shooter that, say, Space Megaforce is. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy Thunder Spirits. It’s just difficult to hide my disappointment that this game didn’t knock it out of the park. But hey, can’t win ‘em all!