Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Retro Game of the Day! Super Thunder Blade

Retro Game of the Day! Super Thunder Blade

Super Thunder Blade, by Sega for the Genesis - released in the States at the system's launch in 1989 (appearing a year prior in Japan)

So, then - Super Thunder Blade was the poster child for being one of "Those Games" released by Sega. You know the type I am talking about - truly impressive in the original arcade incarnation, more-or-less falling apart (by comparison) when it appears on the home scene. The arcade was a gorgeous contraption, absolutely unique in it's control and presentation (Sega loved to go all-out with their wild custom cabinets back in the day). Bringing the experience home in a case like this was always a noble effort, but..

The home version was dodgy - they were trying to play up their new 16-Bit system's abilities with a complicated looking game, and in screenshots it looked fairly well-executed - 3D perspective games were hardly a dime a dozen, so this was looking pretty sexy. You controlled a helicopter (a la Blue Thunder) and flew through environments blasting away at everything. Very similar to After Burner in some basic respects, but also fairly different (you could land any time, no missiles, obviously no afterburners!) The game would split each level into a 3D view and a then a top view (like 1943) where you'd take on a battleship or some other land targets. The whole game is very simply shoot-and-dodge.

It was alright, there were two glaring issues with the game - Genesis didn't have any scaling hardware unlike the original arcade board on which it was based, and it was so early in the system's life that the programmers hadn't been able to futz it out yet. So they faked it graphically, and lazily at that - the scaling effect was accomplished by sprite redraws, but looks choppy and sloppy. Though the graphics were detailed, the effect was hardly smooth. Still, the panning and general zooming of the terrain background elements (trees, buildings and things notwithstanding) were handled fairly well and gave you a nice sense of parallax that you wouldn't see on 8-bit systems. Overall this was bittersweet.

The other major issue here was the control of your helicopter - for some reason they added in a severe amount of inertia to make it feel "more like a helicopter," instead of the 1:1 swooping feeling in a game like After Burner. This felt strange and sluggish overall - after all these years I can't imagine it not playing this way, but I can appreciate how many gamers would be turned off by the effect.

Overall, the game is not a waste as many websites would have you believe - STB does have enough redeeming elements that the gameplay itself is still fun, and though you must fight with it at times to perform properly, there's enough polish and little touches here and there that I can appreciate someone in the development crew was trying to look out. The period music is strangely catchy despite being disgustingly rendered, and the constant firing/explosion sounds just sound like digital vomit - but yeah, there is something endearing about this game. See how you feel when you fly into a cave..

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