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 Post subject: Thunder Dragon by NMK (Arcade)
PostPosted: Fri May 15, 2020 9:04 pm 

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Joined: 11 Oct 2008
Posts: 286
Location: Autobot City, Sugiura Base
Time to make another classic arcade review while I wait for another XB1 shmup to play and review. This time is NMK's Thunder Dragon.

And I'm proud to be an American, where at least I know I'm free.

In the early 90's, Seibu Kaihatsu/Fabtek's Raiden was the vertical shmup by excellence for any arcade operator who wanted a quick profit. With such a hard hitter, it was only a matter of time until the competition wanted to take Raiden out of its place just like with the fighting genre competition. Tecmo's Final Star Force was one of them, but also a small company called NMK decided to take "The Raiden Challenge" and brought Thunder Dragon to the arcades in 1991.

The story of this game doesn't tell us to much and most people might think this is the usual "You and the United States military VS alien invaders". But actually it has a plot that is only explained in the promotional flyers: In the 22nd century, Earth was so contaminated, humanity had no choice but to live in space colonies and now the governments are concentrating their efforts and resources for it. To do this, all the nations signed a peace treaty banning all Automated Weapons of Destruction.
However, terrorism strikes as a group of mad scientists called "Cybermephists" took the banned weapons and dedicated their efforts on wipe out all of mankind.
Then, two American pilots from the 23rd Marines unit find the GH-68 "Thunder Dragon", a helicopter-like spacefighter built 100 years ago in a Chicago military museum and use this legendary fighter to strike back.

To put it simple: They've messed with America, they've picked a fight with the wrong country. Now, make them suffer.

People are in big confusion, they don't like their constitutions.
Everyday they draw conclusions, and they're still prepared for war.

The gameplay of Thunder Dragon is basically a carbon copy of Raiden up to its weaponry system. While Raiden featured two weapon options, Thunder Dragon brings us four weapon options to unleash unprecedented destruction to our enemies.

WEAPON 1 (ORANGE) - WIDE: Fires a Spread Shot pattern to the sides of the screen, ironically, the frontal fire remains the same simple twin shot.
WEAPON 2 (BLUE) - VULCAN: The "Laser" of this game, fires a frontal volley of small rockets that inflict heavy damages, its maximum level resembles a large fireblast of energy.
WEAPON 3 (GREEN) - REFLECT: The "Rebound" type weapon. Fires lasers to the sides that bounce once they hit the borders of the screen.
WEAPON 4 (RED) - MISSILE: Fires a wide vollet of missiles that go straight forward. It's width addresses the common issue of linear weaponry being unable to take lateral targets without being exposed to enemy fire. Also, the missiles make a small move back, resulting useful against enemies behind you.

Along with the weapons, you have the SOL Bomb, a "Strategic Satellite Bomb for Nuclear Assault" which is more of a Satellite Laser strike that delivers a Napalm Beam that brings destruction to everything on screen.
There's also the "S" Super Power Up item that gives you the maximum firepower and full bomb stock. Unlike Raiden's "P" item, this special item only appears when you lose all of your lives and you continue the game.

Like in Raiden, the game relies on Medal bonuses. However, Thunder Dragon makes a difference by adding a "Bonus Star" system which works like this. Picking one adds 100 points, as long as you keep picking without missing one of them or getting killed, its value will increase until you get 10,000 points.
If you're curious of how the Star bonus sequence looks. Here it is: 100 > 500 > 1,000 > 2,000 > 3,000 > 4,000 > 5,000 > 6,000 > 7,000 > 8,000 > 9,000 > 10,000 + 1UP (The 1UP only applies on the first time you get the 10,000 points), Also, every each 5 stars in a row, you'll get an extra SOL Bomb.

While the game innovates further than Raiden on its power up system, the difficulty goes from being balanced and fair to out of control from Stage 4 as the enemy formations use fast small projectiles that shoot bullets, spam you with the Axelay-esque "trapping the ship" with a circular formation with more enemies and adding former bosses, along with the usual increase on the stage length, resulting in potential cheap deaths, and that is not challenge or fun. At least the Ex-Stage 1 Boss changes its attack pattern of spread bullets for two flamethrowers, making it a little more unpredictable. The only point in favor for Thunder Dragon is that unlike Raiden, you can continue where you left off in 1 Player mode instead of being sent back to a checkpoint.

Another complaint is the recycling of bosses like in Stages 5 and 8 where the Green and Red battleships are seen again to fight you, not to mention the Stage 7 boss returns in the final stage before fighting the final boss. There's a small instance in Stage 8 where the enemy spamming can turn to your favor and that's when the game throws a massive formation of Power up-carrying enemies which can be taken down with one SOL bomb and drop multiple "1 or 2" weapon items. For a fully powered up player, this means quick 5,000 points increasing the score in a very exponential manner.

Isn't great when you can type your name or internet handle rather than typing initials?

Very, very few games had the option of allowing the player to put his/her name in the rankings. Thunder Dragon was one of them allowing us to enter our name as long as its not 8-digits long.

And I won't forget the men who died, who gave that right to me.
And I'd gladly stand up next to you and defend Her still today.

The Game Over screen goes beyond the traditional "You Lose" cliché as it shows the coffins of the pilots, implying they've died with pride and honor for their country in the name of Patriotism.
If you ask me, this is a (back then) rare instance of death in videogames, since like the Angry Video Game Nerd on his "Angry Nintendo Nerd" days said on its Friday the 13th review, nobody dies in videogames. They're defeated or they turn into an item and fly away.

'Cause there ain't no doubt I love this land.
God Bless the U.S.A.

The game, although it has an ending after completing Stage 8, it loops indefinitely until you ran out of credits, so you can reach beyond Stage 100 if you're a super skilled player.
Unlike Raiden, you don't get a million point bonus for completing a loop.

This is no field trip or vacation, soldier.
You're here to defend your country.

When it comes to graphics, my best way to describe them are "Dark and dirty" as we have a color palette that uses dark colors most of the times, even on the battleship details they look almost dull and lifeless as we have also "dirt battleships" like the blue vessels found in Stage 2 onwards, as they look more like dirty than simulating shades or detailing, a side-effect of using obscure colors, contrasting a lot with Raiden's brighter color palette.
Another problem with the game is that the lack of "blinking" when an enemy is hit. A simple detail like this is essential to tell us if we're damaging the enemy or not, any average player will end up burning his/her bomb stock to destroy the boss thinking he/she's wasting time with the regular fire.

Although Thunder Dragon utilizes the Science-Fiction element as its main theme, the game basically sings "Booooorn in the U.S.A!, Booooorn in the U.S.A.!" like Bruce Springsteen as the game mixes American Patriotism in the Sci-Fi blender as we have our spare lives indicated by American flags with the "I" and "II", the plot taking place in the U.S.A. most of the times as a couple of stages are space-based. Not to mention, the item 2 will make your ship look like an AH-64 Apache helicopter without the blades. This game is even more patriotic than U.S. Navy/Carrier Air Wing.

The infinite wonders of the Universe.
Even the depths of space become the battlefield between good and evil.

Ironically, for a dark colored game, the space stages are the best part of the game. While Stage 6 is a starfield with a few galaxies decorating the background, Stage 7 is a very well made space station scene.

The music and sounds of this game can be compared with those of an early 90's Genesis game due to the synthetization of the soundtrack, with a percussion reminiscent of the Commodore 64 and Geoff-Tim Follin's Sky Shark and Silver Surfer. Also, the style of the game is what I can call generic and uninspired since the music while it has some action fast paced moments, its forgettable, and worse, its repetitive. Stage 5 reuses the same theme from Stage 1, Stages 6 and 7 uses Stage 2's, and Stage 8 uses Stage 3. Well, Raiden did the same, but the difference is that Raiden's soundtrack was good to hear and worth to listen again in a later stage. The best theme of this game can be found in Stages 3 and 8 since it has a Thunder Force-ish like rocking pace which is quite good. There's not too much sound effects only your shots and small enemies exploding, lacking the intensity felt in Raiden when we heard different explosion sounds when a large enemy or a boss goes down with loud explosions. There's a couple of voice samples in the game, but the clarity of them doesn't allow us to understand what they say.

- The kanji on the title screen says "Rairyu".
- There's a bootleg version of this game using Seibu Kaihatsu's sound driver, which utilizes the sounds of Raiden. A twist of irony for a game known as a "Raiden Killer".

Eagle fly free! Let people see. Just make it your own way!
Leave time behind, follow the sign. Together we'll fly someday!

In the end, Thunder Dragon is what we can call "A Real American Raiden Clone", as we have vertical shooting action with a shot of American Patriotism that will make Uncle Sam proud.
It had what it takes to give Raiden some challenge with is gameplay features, but NMK messed up with the unbalanced difficulty during the second half of the game.

In resume, Thunder Dragon is worth a few plays if you're a Raiden enthusiast who likes the clones regardless of their quality.
Fan of Transformers, Shmups and Anime-styled Girls. You're teamed up with the right pilot!
Bringing you shmup reviews with humorous criticism.

STG Wikias: Thunder Force Wiki - Wikiheart Exelica - Ginga Force Wiki

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