For the men who were born only to fight, whoever the enemy is and whenever the place is, it's no problem.
The men who broke into the terrorists secret base find only the battle worth to live and the break-out is their only fun.
START FIRING ! GOOD LUCK !!
「THUNDER ZONE」is the fourth and final installment of what fans regard today as the DECO tetralogy of「Army Men」shooting games, also comprised of the previously released arcade hits「HEAVY BARREL」,「BLOODY WOLF」, and「MIDNIGHT RESISTANCE」. Interestingly enough, THUNDER ZONE is the only game in the tetralogy that was never ported to any console or PC system, as apparently the game was not met with the same commercial success than its predecessors.
Admittedly, at first glance it is very easy to regard THUNDER ZONE as DECO's own version of the CAPCOM smash-hit「WOLF OF THE BATTLEFIELD II」. However, labeling THUNDER ZONE as a mere WOLF OF THE BATTLEFIELD II-esque game just wouldn't do justice to this fantastic shooting game that offers just about everything any fan of the genre could possibly want from a shooting game of this type : exciting non-stop shooting action, excellent game balance, varied and interesting level design, amazingly fun multiplayer - all of which is wonderfully complemented by a deluxe hard rock original soundtrack, as well as by the notorious humouristic overtones that fans came to expect from the DECO games of the period, and most specially after their controversial「TRIO THE PUNCH」.
It is only regrettable that the game was altered for its overseas release and thus some of the original graphical variety and humour were lost in the translation. Personally, I was very disappointed upon discovering that the Japanese version of THUNDER ZONE is not available to play in the MAME emulator. Only the World (?) and the far worse「DESERT ASSAULT」(US) versions of the game are supported. Needless to say this was a real drag for me as obviously the Japanese version is the one I wanted to cover. Not to mention that I really don't like the changes done to the overseas versions.
Of course I will be pointing out the most significant version differences so you can judge for yourselves which version is the better one.
■HOW TO PLAY
● Game Controls :
8-WAY Joystick ... Handles the player's movement A Button ... Shoot B Button ... Special Attack
● Special Controls :
・DASH You can dash by quckly pushing the joystick twice in the same direction. This is an essential move that for some reason is not mentioned in the instruction card.
・Lend a shoulder This is basically the game's trademark gameplay mechanic. By coming in contact with a「DAMAGED」character, you can help him survive by carry him and shielding him from enemy fire. The「HELPER」character will receive a slight speed penalty but still will be able to move, dash, and shoot in all 8 directions. The DAMAGED character in turn won't be able to move on his own, but still will be able to shoot in the 3 forward directions.
Overall, this is a very cool and incredibly useful move that I wish had been implemented in more shooting games.
■MANY MEN WERE TRAINED... ONLY FOUR WERE CHOSEN
The two main characters from BLOODY WOLF「EAGLE」and「SNAKE」will be leading Operation Thunder Zone. However, this time around they will have the support of two additional team members.
Your command officer, the「COLONEL」is also the same one from BLOODY WOLF, so all seems to point out that THUNDER ZONE is indeed the direct sequel to BLOODY WOLF.
MONKEY is that one character that for some reason hardly anyone ever used back then (myself included...). This was a real pity though since he has the most hilarious character portrait actions (check out his flame dance!).
● Machine Gun A very balanced and reliable weapon. Its auto-fire function and high rate of fire compensate for its low power.
● Heavy Machine Gun The Heavy Machine Gun is arguably the best and most useful weapon in the game. Its combination of high fire rate and power makes it the strongest weapon, while its distinctive wide range bullets makes it very easy to hit the enemy.
● Bazooka A genre classic. The Bazooka unfortunately lefts a lot to be desired this time around as it just lacks the distinctive punch that you would normally expect from this most classic weapon. In the overseas versions you won't even be able to kill most of the normal enemy units with a single shot, which is just disappointing.
You gotta love the way the narrator yells「BAZOOKA !!」though. (^^;;
● Flamethrower In the Japanese version the Flamethrower can practically burn through anything on its path and thus it is one of the best weapons to use alongside the Heavy Machine Gun. This is not the case in the overseas versions though, since due to enemies having more HP in those versions, the weapon now feels more on the underpowered side.
The Flamethrower overall excels at dealing with enemy crowds and destroying homing missiles, but it's very weak against bosses.
● Homing Missile This is probably the best weapon for beginners. The Homing Missile has less fire power than the Bazooka but it can take care of practically every enemy on screen, thus allowing you to focus entirely on dodging the enemy bullets.
Of course being a homing type weapon, its main downside is that it cannot be aimed manually and can get very unreliable at times. For example, sometimes the missiles might not always target the enemies you want or can get stuck circling around a target for a while, in which case you won't be able to fire another shot until the missiles disappear.
● Shotgun A 5WAY weapon with high firepower. Unfortunately its low rate of fire and short range limit its usefulness.
● Anti-Tank Rifle Hold your fire to fill up the energy gauge and unleash a powerful devastating blast. This can be an interesting weapon to use in multiplayer, but it's just too unpractical to be used in the 1P game.
■1 COIN CLEAR CHALLENGE
One of the things that made THUNDER ZONE popular among arcade fans is that unlike many other arcade shooting games of the time the game actually gives players a fair chance to complete it with a single credit. The game even rewards you with a cool special ending message for achieving this, although unfortunately this message was among the things that were removed from the overseas versions. (T^T)
The key to clear the game with a single credit lies in making the best use of your special bomb attacks. Throughout the game you will have the chance to gain a total of 17 bomb items, which if used correctly, should be more than enough to deal the most difficult enemy bosses and any other obstacles that could get in the way. It is also recommended, specially on the overseas versions, to stick with the Heavy Machine Gun as it is by much the most powerful weapon in the game.
Of course bear in mind that I'm writing all this based exclusively on the single player game. In multiplayer you can be a whole lot more flexible with the weapons and tactics you can use since the additional firepower alone will be making a world of difference.
It also should be noted that at the default factory difficulty setting the overseas versions are noticeably harder than the original Japanese release - most remarkably the bullets move faster and enemies have a more HP. Fortunately, the enemy numbers, locations, and attack patterns remain exactly the same in all versions, so the game can be cleared in pretty much the same manner.
The only exception is the US exclusive「DESERT ASSAULT」version which features a number of significant gameplay tweaks :
● The training stages are missing (that's -6 bombs).
● You can get damaged inside vehicles.
● You can only carry a maximum of 9 bombs.
This version is also the only one released on a 4-Player dedicated cabinet, so it's very likely that these changes had something to do with it.
- IT'S SHOWTIME, BABY ! -
All right, it's time for some serious shooting action, DECO style!
As previously noted, this review is based entirely in the 1P game since in multiplayer things can be done somewhat differently. Actually, I do think the game becomes a bit too easy in multiplayer, so it's highly recommended to go into the DIP switch settings and increase the difficulty level for the best possible gameplay experience.
Now for choosing a character...
While EAGLE was definitely my favourite character in BLOODY WOLF, this time around I think SNAKE is the most bad-ass「tough hombre」of the group, so obviously I will be playing as him. (^^;;
Of course all characters are worth using if only to see all of their amusing portrait actions (some which are truly hilarious).
Finally, If you're the completist type of gamer, or if you want to play the game like it was fashionable back then. In that case make sure to destroy all of the unique targets (i.e. all the non-respawnable enemies and breakable objects) that you will be coming across throughout the game.
You won't be getting anything special for doing this of course, but you certainly will look like an expert player!
START FIRING ! GOOD LUCK !!
■MISSION 1 : RESCUE THE HOSTAGE
This mission is only a small taste of what will be waiting for you later on, so obviously don't be expecting much in the way of challenge just yet. By the way, I really like how all stages in the game feel very compact and to the point. This works really great at keeping the action intense at all times.
If you remain in a spot for too long the enemy will be able to pinpoint your position and shorty afterwards they will be dropping「The Bomb」on you. When this happens all enemy bullets will disappear from the screen, so the best way to avoid getting blasted is to come in contact with an enemy soldier right before the bomb hits the ground. The time limit is noticeably shorter in the overseas versions, so be careful, and above all try to not run out of time in the first place.
A bit further into the stage you will have the choice to enter a small warehouse with more terrorists and stuff to blow up. You can also pick up the Homing Missile from one of the terrorists there, at least for a bit so you can defeat more comfortably the few enemies that will be waiting for on the other side. 【 GET ON THE HELICOPTER ! 】
This is the first vehicle that you will be commandeering in the game. Unless you're playing the US DESERT ASSAULT version, the main advantage of using vehicles is that as long as you're riding one you won't be getting damaged by enemy fire, even when the vehicle gets blown up.
The first boss in the game is a simple missile carrier so you should have no problems defeating it. In the Japanese version you can actually beat the boss while still riding the helicopter (the stage ends right afterwards). This wont be the case in the overseas versions though, so you will be going down no matter what.
A general note on bosses : If you want to score the highest amount of points possible from defeating them, make sure to destroy all of their parts first (whenever this applies of course) before taking them down completely.
■TRAINING STAGE 1 : OBSTACLE COURSE
It's certainly hilarious how these guys train themselves, don't you think? (laughs) You will really need the bombs though, so no matter what you must come in first place!
To tell you the truth I'm still not 100% sure about how this bonus stage works, but it seems each button will be giving you a short speed burst.
If pushing both buttons at the same time isn't working for you, then try pushing them in an alternate fashion.
■MISSION 2 : FIND THE HELICOPTER
In the Japanese version this mission takes place in the Antarctic, and Ambassador STIEN is actually renown biologist Dr. BROWN. Apparently, all changes done to the overseas versions were done so the game could be more closely associated with the Gulf War conflict that was going on at the time.
Those of you who have played HEAVY BARREL will probably remember its notorious rocket soldiers since they were the most annoying enemies in that game. Well, unfortunately they're back for more in THUNDER ZONE and you know that can only mean bad news... Just like in HEAVY BARREL these guys will never stop coming so you're going to have to learn to deal with them.
This mission also has a fun optional challenge that was very popular at the game centers - it consists of successfully driving four snowmobiles (or sandmobiles in this case) on your own all the way to the boss. This can be very tricky the first time you try it, but once you get the hang of it, it really isn't that difficult.
A battleship cruising through a desert canyon doesn't make a lot of sense does it?
Anyway... If you can manage to get at least three vehicles to this fight then you're almost guaranteed another perfect victory. If you couldn't, or if all of your vehicles get wasted, then in that case feel free to use one of your bombs. Just try not to use more than one on this boss since it really shouldn't be necessary.
NOTE : You will only get one chance to destroy the flame thrower and and grenade launcher units on the rear part of the ship, so it's a good idea to focus on destroying those first.
【 MISSION CLEAR SCENE COMPARISON 】
Since in the Japanese version this mission takes place in a different region, the mission clear scene is also different than the one in the overseas versions. Something interesting is that you can actually see both of these backgrounds in one of the scenes of the opening intro.
The original Japanese text translates somewhat like this :「The Doctor is nowhere in sight. There's only the wreckage of the helicopter, and penguins here!」
■MISSION 3 : RESCUE THE DOCTOR
While this mission is meant to take place at night, it certainly doesn't feel that way in the overseas versions since as you can see the area is now completely visible. The flashlights also look different and more realistic in the Japanese version, so overall the stage doesn't feel as unique as it did before. (T^T)
Honestly, I still don't know why they chose to re-edit this stage. Maybe the programmers thought the original design could frustrate players somehow, but then again the area wasn't even that dark in the Japanese version and you could still see the enemies very clearly, so I just don't get it... 【 ROOM SERVICE ! 】
Finally, Dr. BROWN has been located, but bailing him out is not going to be that simple since an enemy helicopter will be getting in the way. The helicopter is actually the second most time consuming boss in the game, just behind the final boss. With that said, the fight isn't really as difficult as it might seem at first. Actually, most of the times I only get hit when I fail to make a quick dash on time.
【 CRASH THE HELI ! 】
Your main goal in this fight is to reach the rooftop (hopefully) without getting hit and destroy the helicopter's missile/bomb launching units with a special bomb attack. The homing missiles will be your biggest concern throughout the fight, but if all goes as planned, you should only have to deal with two full-fledged double missile barrages.
Once you get to the rooftop the hard part of the fight will be over, really. Now, when the helicopter moves to the top side of the screen, shoot the bomb hatch as fast as you can and wait until the right missile barrage is about to hit you to unleash your special attack. Usually the blast should be taking care of the missile launcher but not of the bomb hatch, so if that's the case go ahead and finish it.
With one of its missile launcher units destroyed, the boss will be practically done for and you shouldn't have any problems finishing it.
■TRAINING STAGE 2 : TARGET PRACTICE
At this point it does seem a bit late to be target practicing, although I guess it's never too late to sharpen your button mashing skills. (laughs)
In any case, this bonus stage is substantially more easier than the previous one so you should be able to beat the CPU by a large margin.
Also, it goes without saying but don't even think of wasting one of your bombs on this stage!
■MISSION 4 : INFILTRATE THE ENEMY H.Q.
According to Dr. BROWN, the terrorists have developed a new biological weapon of unparalleled mass destruction. There's no time to lose! You must infiltrate the enemy base and sabotage their feared VX-1 missile!
As it was to be expected from now on you will be facing a much stronger enemy resistance. Be specially careful of the exploding commandos during the first part of the stage as they can really damage you if you let them get too close. Also, once you get to the jeep the enemy will be launching a pre-set carpet bombing, so step on it and avoid the bombs.
On the bridge you will get ambushed by another tank identical to the one from mission 2. The problem this time around is that you won't have a lot of room to maneuver. However, as long as you still have the two jeeps with you, then you should be able to defeat the the tank without getting damaged.
The sewers are a nasty place... The terrorists here will be drowning you in grenades if you let them, so don't give them the chance try to take them down as fast as you can.
Right after coming out of the sewers you will have to deal with a wall full of homing beam cannons. You can avoid the beams very easily by running all the way down, but it's better, not to mention far more rewarding, to destroy them all with a special attack. 【 HOVERCRAFT RIDE ! 】
Note that in the 1P game the hovercraft will be completely useless for anything else than for crushing the enemy sentry robots ahead. So, in order to avoid doing any serious damage to the vehicle, it's better to take care of the enemy soldiers in between with your equipped weapon instead.
Also, make sure not to take the hovercraft to the boss after you're done with the robots. It will just be getting in the way if you do.
NOTE : During this part it is possible to leave a single robot standing and remain in the area indefinitively shooting rocket soldiers for 5PTS a piece. If you want to clear the game with an impressive 9999PTSscore, then it's highly recommended not to advance further until your score hits at least the 6000PTS, or better yet, the 7000PTS mark.
【 DISABLE THE SECURITY SYSTEM ! 】
Thanks to the bombs we've been saving this will be a very easy and short fight. Just shoot the boss as fast as you can, wait until you're about to get hit by one of its attacks, then use a special attack and continue shooting until the boss goes down. That's it. The boss has 5 stages, so that will be 5 bombs you'll be using. Remember that your character will remain invincible for around 5 seconds or so after each special attack, so don't worry about getting hit afterwards.
Whew, after all the hard fighting we've finally made it to the final stage. Prepare yourself for one last level of epic shooting action!
As you step into the enemy base you are greeted by an holographic projection of the terrorists leader (who looks very much like the dictator wanna-be type). Unfortunately, he shows you that the missiles are nearly ready to launch, so you must hurry to the main control room and sabotage the launching sequence before it's too late!
A bit further ahead the boss will attempt to halt your progress with what appears to be some rather slow moving poison gas... (just with who does this guy thinks he's dealing with here!)
【 DESTROY THE COMPUTER ! 】
The boss has prepared you a small welcome party at the main control room. Of course all this special attention from his part is only to keep you entertained while he makes his cowardly escape.
Your goal here is merely to destroy the computers (they're worth 40PTS each).
However, just like with the previous stage you can also stay here all the time you want shooting bersekers to increase your score.
Bersekers are only worth the same amount of points than the rocket soldiers though, and they're twice as problematic, so it's up to you to decide if it's worth it or not. Just take in mind that in order to secure ending up with 9999PTS, you must reach the final boss with a minimum score of 8299PTS.
【 ALL RIGHT, LET'S GET HIM ! 】
After a miraculous escape you're now aboard of the enemy's giant aircraft. This is the last stretch of the game so let's finish strong!
This part isn't particularly hard, but if you want you can use one of your special attacks to make things easier.
More importantly, make sure to destroy all of the 4 laser turrets here as they're worth 50PTS each.
Also, be very careful not to pick up a weapon you don't want by mistake along the way, since due to the auto-scrolling, you could end up losing your equipped weapon. This actually has happened to me a couple of times... (｀-´メ)
The boss is really pissed at you for ruining his plans and wants nothing more than to crush like an insect with the help of his new bad-ass Mobile Armor. However, as long as you get to this fight with at least 7 bombs, then you really will have nothing to worry about. Believe it or not, it is actually very easy to beat the boss without getting hit.
As soon as the fight starts use a special attack and shoot down the missile launcher units on the two sides of the MA. Now, here comes the most important and time consuming part of the fight, which is to take down both the left and right laser turrets (they are the only ones that can be destroyed). Destroying the left turret is actually pretty easy. The right one though, is a bit more problematic since in order to hit it you will have to be constantly luring the MA towards the left side of the screen.
Once you're done with the turrets, keep shooting at the MA until the boss activates the two giant energy barriers. With only two laser beams to worry about destroying the barriers will be pretty easy - just remember to remain at the bottom part of the screen to avoid getting rammed by the MA.
【 ADIOS PAL ! 】
With the barriers gone, the boss will now activate the three thunder generators located below the cockpit. Again, destroying the generators will be an easy enough task - just keep shooting at them and use a special attack whenever you see that you're going to get hit either by the thunder beams or by the MA. The generators should go down in no time.
Finally... when the MA detaches its two options, this will be the cue to start unleashing your special attacks one after another and blow this damn thing sky high!
■AND THE MEN BECAME THE FISH...
THE GREAT WINGED BEAST LIFTED INTO THE AIR WITH A FLASH, THEN DISAPPEARED TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA. SOON ALL WAS CALM.
THE SILENCE HOWEVER, DID NOT LAST FOR LONG...
WHAT? YOU MUST BE KIDDING! I CAN'T HOLD IT... ANY... LONGER
The ending in this game is certainly among the coolest and most hilarious endings you can find in any retro arcade shooting game. I just never get tired of seeing it and it certainly lives up to the notorious DECO awesomeness of the epoch.
By the way,「AND THE MEN BECAME THE FISH...」is the title of the ending music track. The THUNDER ZONE Original Soundtrack CD released alongside the arcade game also marked the debut of the DECO in-house band「GAMADELIC」. No doubt wanting to follow after the success of other popular game music bands of the period like「ZUNTATA」and the「S.S.T. BAND」.
■THE END... OR IS IT ?
Originally, if you were able to clear the game with a single credit (something rather easy to do, specially in the Japanese version). A cute commando gal named「JAMIE」would show up all of a sudden at the very last moment to congratulate you on behalf of the programmers for a job well done. This scene however, was (very unfairly!) removed from the overseas versions, as it probably was considered to be either too Japanese or「too cute」for a game they wanted to pass in the west as a Gulf War themed shooter.
As for my final score. You can check it if you want. (*ﾟ▽ﾟ*)
C I A O A M I G O S ! S E E Y O U N E X T G A M E ! !