SEGA Ages: Thunder Force AC (Nintendo Switch) Review

By Rudy Lavaux 28.05.2020

Review for SEGA Ages: Thunder Force AC on Nintendo Switch

There's a SEGA AGES release which has a particularly interesting release history behind it. To understand where Thunder Force AC comes from, one has to consider the state of the market at the time. In 1990, the Mega Drive is a dominating force in the home console market, at least everywhere but in Japan, and the Thunder Force series, with Thunder Force III, being the latest entry at the time, is very popular. So much so, that Technosoft decided to create a retooled version of the latter for the arcades, specifically for the Mega Drive based System C-2 board. This would be Thunder Force AC. This franchise was very much associated with SEGA, however, not their rival Nintendo. That didn't stop Technosoft from licensing their arcade port to Toshiba EMI to release a Super Nintendo port the same year, known as Thunder Spirits, which turned out rather poorly due to a narrower viewport, and extreme slowdown issues. This reviewer, being in the Nintendo camp during the 16-bit wars, only experienced that port, though, and still holds fond memories of it, and especially of the soundtrack. Thunder Force AC would only reappear later on Sega Saturn in a compilation, and then today on Nintendo Switch. It's time, then, to revisit a classic!

Opening on a delightfully "Engrish" introduction, Thunder Force AC puts the player in control of the Styx spaceship, battling its way through waves after waves of enemies and mini-bosses in horizontal side-scrolling stages. Power-ups are collected along the way, which improve greatly the ship's fighting ability by allowing varied shooting patterns (straight, front and backwards, up and down with fire crawling along the floor and ceiling, etc), and currently active weapon gets lost upon death, which happens instantaneously upon crashing into the environment, enemy units, or of their own shots. Previous entries, before Thunder Force III that is, mixed up side-scrolling stages with overhead view ones, but this one is a strictly horizontal scrolling shmup, which changed the series permanently, going forward.

Screenshot for SEGA Ages: Thunder Force AC on Nintendo Switch

With this arcade version, made up of eight stages like the original, gone is the level select feature which allowed the player to play the first five stages in any order. Thunder Force AC is a much more linear game in that sense, and it is neither better nor worse for it, as it was remixed and balanced in such a way that this does not come with any disadvantage. Two stages found in the original are replaced with one original, and one remade from Thunder Force II, perhaps specifically for the sake of said balance.

As for the rest, the AC version plays like the original, and even looks and sounds very much the same, which makes sense since the C-2 arcade board was based on Mega Drive hardware, making ports one way or the other very easy. Sound samples for the many voice clips are perhaps much cleaner sounding, though, which is a good thing. No slowdown ever occurs during gameplay, though the massive amount of sprites on screen can sometime lead to some brief flicker, but this never gets in the way of the gameplay. Shame that M2 could not include an option to deactivate the per-scanline sprite limit, though.

Screenshot for SEGA Ages: Thunder Force AC on Nintendo Switch

Speaking of limitations, none of the included scaling options features integer scaling, at least not in docked mode, which means that scrolling shimmer is present unless one of the included smoothing or scanline effects are used. A shame, given the otherwise great track record of M2 in that regard. The "fit option," played on a 1080p display, reduces this greatly, and should be the preferred way to play. Other options include an arcade cabinet view with ambient arcade sounds, but the view there is just way too small to justify using it. It's great to have the choice, but it makes playing less comfortable, especially in handheld mode. Other SEGA AGES features are present and accounted for as expected, including online leaderboards and music player, but as always the meat of the package are the extras.

Screenshot for SEGA Ages: Thunder Force AC on Nintendo Switch

These extras include a kids mode, similar to the one found in SEGA AGES Thunder Force IV, which gives more credits, and removes the loss of weapons upon death, making things extremely easier, among other changes. Enemies do seem to die faster as well. Moreover, unlocked after playing for a while, are two extra playable ships. The version of Styx from Thunder Force IV where it was a support ship, and Rynex, which was the main ship in the same game. Rynex is the most interesting, since its armament is largely different, so playing the game with it requires entirely different strategies. In fact the announcer says the names of the weapons with the same voice clips as in Thunder Force IV on Mega Drive, but much cleaner sounding.

It's so great to see this retro-fitted in the arcade version of TFIII, so many years later. Why on earth the Mega Drive version wasn't included, though? It would be downright outrageous for SEGA to even consider releasing it separately, since it is practically the same product, and there have been occasions where content from the other versions was retro-fitted in, such as Master System exclusive content being re-injected in the SEGA AGES release of the arcade version of Fantasy Zone or the Mega Drive version of Ichidant-R being included with the arcade game in its SEGA AGES incarnation. In the meantime, Thunder Force III is still on the Mega Drive Mini at least. There's no point in asking for Thunder Spirits when Thunder Force AC is clearly superior in every way, even if having it for the sake of completion would be nice - but at least Thunder Force III should have been included.

Screenshot for SEGA Ages: Thunder Force AC on Nintendo Switch

Cubed3 Rating

8/10
Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

Thunder Force AC is a fantastic classic shoot 'em up, and its inclusion on Switch, along with some added bonuses, is a welcome addition to the SEGA AGES line-up. It is only held back by the lack of the original version, Thunder Force III, of which this one is but a slightly remixed version. Seems like a lost opportunity, but here's hoping the developer won't dare releasing it separately.

Review copy provided by Sega America

Developer

M2

Publisher

SEGA

Genre

Shooter

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date 28.05.2020   North America release date 28.05.2020   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date 28.05.2020   

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