Retro Game of the Day! Thunder Force II
Thunder Force II by Technosoft, released at the Sega Genesis launch in 1989.
"NI NI NI ZOO-EEGAY... Nanu, goodnuck!" That's the first thing you hear after hitting the START trigger on your Genesis controller. What follows is a masterpiece of gaming! Oh sure, TF2 is old and gray by modern standards, and probably looks a bit rough around the edges to the discerning gamer. But to me, it's like that zitty, overweight chick you kissed in Junior High, at the time you were just really psyched to be getting anything, and the memory stays with you.
Perhaps I am being too harsh - to my eyes, TF2 still looks and sounds great. In a time when arcade-quality shooters of this caliber were not something one could previously play on a home console otherwise, this was a breath of fresh air. TurboGrafx-16 and Sega Genesis brought a lot to the party what Sega Master System and NES couldn't - tons of colors, decent synth soundtracks, several sprites moving around onscreen quickly, impressive powerup weapons, huge agile bosses - it was all here and then some!
TF2 had a couple things going for it to differentiate from the pack. 1st and foremost, it was 2 games in 1 - each level was comprised of two completely different engines, a top-view mode followed by a more standard side-view. In the top views, you had to hunt down several well-fortified bases and take out their control center with several precise shots. The world wrapped infinitely in X and Y, but there were often huge barriers which would restrict your movement requiring careful navigation.
The side view modes were far more traditional - fly to the right, dodge the rush of obstacles, engage the enemies, and destroy the boss waiting at the end of each stage (there'd often be a much weaker mini-boss to contend with partway through). The mix of game styles was refreshing, though apparently most folks didn't enjoy the top-downs as they got noticeably ditched in further iterations of the series, unfortunately.
Otherwise, the big gimmick for TF2 was how they handled the weapon system. Your fighter was equipped with a stock forward shot and a front-and-rear cannon, you could cycle between each with a flick of the trigger. You could constantly be acquiring all manner of bonus weapons, and likewise cycle between your inventory of whatever else you'd picked up - which could be a lot of weapons! Following in the tradition of Gradius and then R-Type, at the time TF2 was released I'd say it's a fair bet they started the trend of giving the player the option of equipping their fighter with any of multiple different weapon systems. This made the game a blast to play (no pun intended) as it would be a very different experience depending on which pickups you enabled. (Be careful, one hit and you lose a life, and all but your standard weapons!)
Thunder Force 2 is the first, for many, in a very notable and respected line of shooters which still manages to be talked about to this day, a sequel even released in Japan last year. It's got a long and interesting history spanning multiple consoles and computers, for me it represents the first generation of Genesis software and how much of a technical upgrade the 16-Bit systems were from the 8-Bitters, and how they could truly bring that arcade experience home for the first time.
Very notable is the Technosoft game Herzog Zwei - like TF2, also published in the US by Sega. The games share more than a few similarities (though TF2 is a straight shooter, whereas Herzog Zwei is actually an RTS, the first of its kind at that!). The graphics and audio, at least, appear to be handled by the same development team - and in the US, the box arts are more than a little similar to one another, have a look! You could almost confuse them altogether -