Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Thunder Spirits (SNES)

Checkpoints OFF
4 Difficulty levels
8 Stages
Ship speed selectable
- - - - - - -
Developed by Technosoft / Toshiba EMI
Published by Seika in 1991

If I was an SNES fan back in 1991 I would’ve wet my pants if I knew Thunder Force III was going to be released for the console. Fanboyism aside, I’d probably be aware of how awesome a shooter it was. A copyright issue concerning Sega and Technosoft led to the change in the game’s name, but this could also be related to the fact that Thunder Spirits is more an adaptation of the arcade port Thunder Force AC than Thunder Force III. I use to joke about this making it a second generation port, however there is absolutely no excuse as to why it resulted in such a disappointment, especially for those who had already been exposed to the wonders of Thunder Force III.

There’s no other way to put it, Thunder Spirits is the poor cousin and the black sheep in the mainstream Thunder Force family (meaning the part that doesn’t include the obscure first chapter). Thunder Spirits is also largely used by Sega fanboys who love to jest at the lower speed of the SNES processor. Looking at it bluntly one can’t help but agree with the derogatory statements, since the game seems to run in permanent slowdown whenever you’re shooting. I for one would blame Seika and Toshiba because there’s absolutely no explicit reason to have such a degraded adaptation on a 16-bit console that has grade-A stuff like Axelay, Macross and R-Type III. The SNES was perfectly capable to handle the port better.

That said, this game isn’t a total waste. It’s kinda like Raiden Trad, but a little better. You can’t really trash the influence of an excellent source, can you?

A little taste of Hydra on the SNES
(courtesy of YouTube user djgyixx)

The first thing you need to do in Thunder Spirits is to press SELECT + START at the start screen in order to toggle autofire on. Then you’re all set to enjoy eight stages of horizontal shooting fun modeled after Thunder Force AC, as initially indicated by the status bar positioned in the lower portion of the image. By default the controls work with A (fire), L (change speed) and R (select weapon), but you’re allowed to remap buttons at will at the options screen mentioned above. Everything about the gameplay remains the same: starting with two default weapons (twin shot and back-fire), win enhancements or other weapons by collecting their icons (red S, B, F, W and H); get the claw item to gain two rotating options that amplify firepower and provide protection against normal bullets; find the blue S item and get a 3-hit shield; find and grab 1UPs to increase both the life stock and the final bonus upon completing the game. Die and lose the weapon you're currently carrying, except for the default ones.

While there’s nothing blatantly wrong with how it plays, Thunder Spirits lacks the flair that made Thunder Force III a great experience. Graphics are fine throughout but voices now look like something out of a Parodius game. After you get the claw item slowdown kicks in because the game simply cannot handle the amount of on-screen action. The overall consequence is that at default conditions Thunder Spirits in even easier than Thunder Force III. Never mind bumping the difficulty to mania (very hard) because the challenge increase is pretty minimal and the rewards are the same in the end (there is no additional score bonus for playing in a higher difficulty setting). Extends are aplenty and come with 100.000 points and then for every 200.000 points afterwards.

Another aspect that brings Thunder Spirits down a bit is the lower tempo and the general subdued nature of the soundtrack – as opposed to the stronger emphasis easily noticed on sound effects, especially for the ship’s weapons. By the way, these have gone through minor changes in order to make them more powerful than before. For example, either enemies have gotten weaker or the efficiency of the fire and hunter weapons has been enhanced a good deal (besides them being slightly beefed up graphically). And note how most bosses won’t put up any decent fight. Poor Gargoyle doesn’t even have a chance to shoot his fireballs if you hit his weak spot with the lasers as he enters the screen. King Fish, one of the most feared opponents in previous incarnations, is left in severe disadvantage due to the massive slowdown.

The new battleship level in Thunder Spirits

If we plot a straight line starting in Thunder Force III and ending in Thunder Spirits to compare both titles, practically half the game is somewhat altered. Again, most changes derive directly from the treatment applied in Thunder Force AC, such as the player not being able to select the starting stages anymore, the new outer space level that replaces ice planet Ellis and the new level inspired by one of the stages from Thunder Force II, which replaces the caves from Haides. Exclusive to the SNES iteration are the reworked spaceship stage (plus a brand-new boss) and the additional stretch before the fight against a dumbed-down final boss. Having now played all of these versions, I honestly think that the original Ellis and Haides planets from Thunder Force III are the best-looking of them all and shouldn’t have been excluded.

In short, if you fancy an easygoing shooter on your Super Nintendo and you haven’t been exposed to Thunder Force III on the Mega Drive yet, Thunder Spirits will fit the bill. It’s not atrocious and it’s fun while it lasts. I just recommend trying the original game next so you’ll have an idea of how much cooler it is in comparison.

By beating Thunder Spirits you unlock special lines in the options screen, which allow you to listen to the game's soundtrack and tinker with the starting number of lives and the extend routine. I played at full defaults on Normal with autofire and cleared the game on one life. Each life left in the end is worth 1 million points regardless of the chosen difficulty.


  1. Haha, the SNES couldn't manage TFIII in all its glory so it had to host an inferior version :P

  2. it's kinda sad that people like the above continue to say such silly things when the actual article devotes a good portion to debunking that silliness. tfiii isn't a particularly intensive game; it'd be easy for the snes. stuff like, tfiv, r-type iii, and axelay are all much more demanding, and two of those were snes games...

    i like the new stages for ac, and i really like the bgm for the battleship level. i think it all should have been one giant game... we need a "super thunder force iii" (and one that isn't as easy and with no slowdown ever... we *really* need one of those for iv, but eh).

    1. hmmm... I quite like that idea
      emphasis on the SUPER!

    2. Oh, it seems that the soured SNES fanboy show has occured.... Rather look at this :
      1° Thunder Force III runs at a higher-resolution than Thunder Spirits; R-Type III & Axelay. Higher-res = more on-screen stuff to process, something that the SNES can't do.

      2° Even running at a lower-res + adding others status info on the playfield, Thunder Spirits is ruined by slowdowns while Thunder Force III runs smoothly so no, it wouldn't be easy for the SNES.

      3° Thunder Force III is more demanding than R-Type III. Not only due to its higher-resolution but it's also a faster game with a lot more parallax & sometimes more on-screen enemies & / or bullets. & what about that Gorgon stage's distortion-based background which blow away every R-Type III's backgrounds? & when R-Type III has backgrounds! Since sometimes it's not even the case.

      4° & still demanding-wise, compared with Axelay i'd say Thunder Force III is more or less on par. Again Thunder Force III runs at a higher-res & is a faster game with more parallax but Axelay has, for a SNES shooter, quite a lot of on-screen enemies & / or bullets & it also runs in fullscreen. But Axelay is certainly the most advanced SNES shooter while there are more advanced Mega Drive shooters than Thunder Force III like Thunder Force IV or Eliminate Down. & i don't even count Mega-CD / 32X games, hehe. (& on a side note, IMO Axelay has a great mood, some interesting moments but also all its vertical stages are UGLY due to the bad idea to apply the vertical scaling also on the enemies & some of the weapons have kind of a "cheesy" look, not as sharp as i like them)

      So, you came here, stating that RetroKingSimon says silly things while in fact it's only YOU that say silly things & a lot of silly things. Typical.

    3. What the hell is this garbage? Aside from the silly claims of fanboy this and that while going on and on about how great the MD supposedly is, your entire post only works if the SNES and the MD are not even 1% of what they are. This is bullshit, and I'm not standing for it.

      Spoilers: I like the MD more than the SNES, and I hate how it never achieved quite what it was promised. I also have a lot of respect for what the SNES can do, because it too got gyped on a lot of things it should not have.

      Both the MD and SNES use a number of different internal resolutions, some of which are very similar to each other. TFIII happens to use the MD resolution that provides about 1/4 or so of extra horizontal room and a very slightly taller vertical value over the standard SNES resolution. The thing is that this all means NOTHING as far as TS is concerned, because TS uses the SAME sprites as TFAC and just displays everything in a smaller window. The reason why Thunder Spirits is so slow is because it's a shoddy porting job; TF was made for a system with a completely different kind of processor, so a different approach needs to be taken. Similarly, the reason why Thunder Force IV is plagued with slowdown is because they tried to pull off way too much without the necessary programming tricks to back it up; this is why games like Eliminate Down and Alien Soldier are able to get as crazy as they do.

      The idea that TFIII is technically more impressive than something like R-Type III is literally the biggest pile of crock I've heard in my entire life. It's like all those crazies who say that Super Castlevania IV is technically more impressive than things like Chi no Rondo and SotN; fanboy lies at their absolute worst. That distortion effect is an EXTREMELY common trick that TONS of developers spammed on every single platform back in those days; R-Type III not using it is entirely a stylistic choice, never mind that it already does something very similar with stage 6's portals. No, I don't like that R-Type III starts off with a 10-minute slog through space, but at least it has cool eyecandy all throughout, and at least the rest of the game has amazing backgrounds everywhere.

      More spoilers: I don't really like Axelay as a game, but it's pretty clear that it's more technically impressive than just about every other console game in that era. No, Axelay doesn't run in some "fullscreen", it runs at the same res that nearly every other SNES game does, which is the same res that Thunder Spirits here does.

    4. Cool story filled with nonsense...

      1° The Mega Drive achieved some awesome stuff & not only gone further than most others systems of its era SNES included but also gone further than what it was "supposedly" mean to go.

      2° MD's most used resolution (Like 75-80% of the time) = 320x224. SNES's most used resolution (Like more than 95% of the time) = 256x224. So indeed MD has a huge horizontal advantage but unlike what you've said it has slightly less vertical space but most of the time it's the horizontal aspect which matters like for hori shooters; run 'n guns; action game like Earthworm Jim etc etc...

      3° "Axelay runs fullscreen" means without HUD bar.

      & i can continue quoting others wrong (& fun) things from what you've said but considering your lame behavior since the beginning here i guess it's like talking to a wall.

    5. geez louise, you both kind of need to settle down. you are clearly still bitter at each other over some unsettled "sega vs nintendo" schoolyard disputes or something.
      you in particular ryzmaker. he wasn't trying to upset, so try not to be so easily offended by others' opinions.

      for what it's worth, i prefer the genesis/mega drive for games like this any day, but that's mainly because it has a great deal more quality titles. it's not because i'm sold on unnecessary spec-babble.

  3. Yo' Ed'! Another great writing. I agree with almost everything except that, though Thunder Spirits is average & clearly pales in comparison to Thunder Force III, it's still not just "a little better" than SNES's Raiden Trad but a LOT better since SNES's Raiden is total garbage :D Really, i've played it again some days ago for comparison purpose & loled throughout the session for every kind of possible wrong reasons.

    1. Missed this. Similarly, the reason why Raiden Trad SNES is so poor has nothing to do with the console and everything to do with the developers being the terrible people responsible for a glut of bad NES ports (worse, ports that a lot of people *like*). There's absolutely no reason why the PC Engine can get good ports of all those arcade games and the somewhat better SNES can't.