As the arcade adaptation of Thunder Force III which was later ported to SNES as Thunder Spirits, Thunder Force AC is one cool shmup.
Technosoft's fantastic Thunder Force franchise has been around for a long time yet the only entry in the series that ever made it to arcades was Thunder Force AC. Beginning its life as Thunder Force III for Sega Genesis, this arcade version is an amalgamation of the title that it's based on while also incorporating stages from Thunder Force II as well as plenty of new elements. If you've ever played Thunder Spirits for Super NES then what you get here is a very similar experience considering that's the console port. It's strange that the same game has 3 very distinct variations but that just goes to show what an excellent shmup it is; it's so good, you'll want to play it thrice! Now that it's finally available for Nintendo Switch, it's fantastic that fans of the series can enjoy it both at home and on the go.
So, what makes Thunder Force AC so special? For starters, it features pixel-perfect visuals that are quite colourful with detailed and unique environments, stand-out enemies, smooth animations, and memorable hulking bosses. On top of that, the music will get you pumped as it sounds like it belongs in a Mega Man game. There's also a nifty announcer that highlights whenever you get a new weapon or advance to the next stage. Lastly, the shooting sound effects are actually kind of cute which is weird but for whatever reason, it works and makes exchanging fire with your foes quite satisfying. Overall, this is one great looking and sounding shoot 'em up.
When it comes to gameplay, you essentially just shoot while avoiding projectiles which is standard but where Thunder Force AC sets itself apart is in its variety of weapons that you can swap to on the fly. For example, Sever lasers can go straight through enemies, Fire missiles will travel along the ceiling and floor, and Hunter projectiles will home in on opponents as they emerge. Meanwhile, you'll often have to fire backwards as enemies will approach from both sides of the screen so selecting an appropriate weapon in time is part of the challenge. As you progress, you'll encounter loads of distinct situations such as traps, lava shooting up from the ground, intricate level designs that are tricky to navigate through, and boss fights that may not be damage sponges but they definitely require some strategy.
This Sega Ages release of Thunder Force AC has some cool extras; the most notable of which is Kids Mode which makes the difficulty a lot easier to manage. You can also unlock bonus ships such as Rynex from Thunder Force IV and Styx Mass Production Model which can defeat enemies behind it whenever you change its speed. There are also standard extras like a music player and online rankings but I wish there was more, especially because the core gameplay of Thunder Force AC doesn't feature much variation so it would have been great to be able to play Thunder Force III and Thunder Spirits as well. The only other negative thing I can say is that there are loads of surprise deaths throughout which are sure to frustrate as they force you to memorize hazards in order to emerge unscathed.
As far as classic shmups go, Thunder Force AC is one of the best and the opportunity to play it on a modern console is a treat.
- + Tight shmup gameplay with cool power-ups and plenty of clever stages
- + Awesome graphics and music
- + Contains some nifty additions
- - Plenty of annoying surprise deaths that force you to memorize stages
- - Core gameplay somewhat lacks variation