The Thunder Force series, although widely renowned among shooter fans for its awesome Genesis/Mega Drive titles, began life on the more obscure Japanese gaming computers, such as the Sharp X1 and the NEC PC-6001 MkII. The second game in the series, Thunder Force II, first appeared on the Sharp X68000 computer. Although that was regarded as the superior version of the game, featuring slightly better graphics & clearer voice synthesis, it wasn't until the game was ported to the Mega Drive that the series began to catch on. Odd, considering Thunder Force II is mostly considered to be the worst game in the series.
The first thing you'll notice about this game is the music. Being a musician myself, I'm a sucker for a really good tune, and this game is absolutely full of 'em! The soundtrack really helps to convey the intensity of the gameplay (and intense it is!)
The second thing that'll stand out to you is the nearly unintelligible voice-synthesis. When you start a game, you hear the following dialogue:
"This is Exceliza"
"Roger, good luck!"
Thank god for Google, otherwise I'd have no idea what the hell they're saying. Also, during the game, when you pick up a power-up, a female voice announces the name of it. This is equally unintelligible. It's a nice touch, and doesn't really add or subtract anything from the game other than giving you a few seconds of entertainment from the garbled, computerized engrish.
Although the hallmark of the Thunder Force series is its power-up system, which gives you an arsenal of weapons all at your disposal rather than having to choose just one, what sets Thunder Force II apart from other shmups (to me) is the different level types. Levels are divided into 2 missions, A and B. The A missions are top-down 8-direction scrolling, similar to Bosconian (which is my absolute favorite shooter of all time.) The object of these levels, like Bosconian, is to destroy a set number of enemy bases. Once you have destroyed them all, you move onto mission B, the "side-view" mission. These are side-scrolling levels similar to games like R-Type, Gradius, Darius, etc.
So with an awesome soundtrack, unique power-up system, and varied gameplay styles, what is it about this game that people don't like?
The answer is quite simple: Thunder Force II is balls-out COMPLETELY unforgiving. The top-down missions in particular are really difficult. You are given no map with which to find the bases, and your ship is in constant motion. Dodging bullets is easy enough, but it's easy to slip up, hit a wrong direction on the D-pad, and find yourself running into things. The side-scrolling levels are pretty difficult as well, but less so than the top-down ones. Apparently people disliked the top-down missions so much that Technosoft decided to omit them entirely from every Thunder Force game following Thunder Force II.
In short, I love this game. The great soundtrack coupled with the unique, Bosconian-style gameplay had me hooked immediately. It's pretty frustrating at times, but it's still fun nonetheless. I've played much more difficult games that people would rant & rave about how good they were, so I'm not sure why Thunder Force II gets so much crap. Oh, well. Haters gonna hate.
3.7 out of 5 stars.