M2 may have closed the lid on this generation of SEGA AGES, but that’s not to say there isn’t more than enough variety for nostalgia nerds to sink their teeth into. Across the 19 titles released, we’ve seen the original Sonic the Hedgehog earn his speed dash, Virtual Racing with 8-players on screen at once and even a fun score attack mode for Alex the Kidd in Miracle World. While support for the series is sure to be missed by many, it’s still great to see that so much love and care has gone into SEGA’s past adventures.
If you happen to own a Mega Drive Classic Mini then there’s a good chance that you’re already familiar with what to expect from SEGA AGES Thunder Force AC. After all, this coin-op conversion is pretty much a carbon copy of ’90s classic, Thunder Force lll. The original horizontal shooter from Technosoft really showed off the potential of what the 16-bit home system was capable of. It’s no surprise then, that such a fitting game would quickly see its own plastic cabinet moulded around it.
While there are some slight visual and audio differences between the two, the only real stand out change is the structural progression that separates both versions. The original Mega Drive game allowed the player to branch out between several different stages of choice, while this arcade port stays strict to a linear path. Thunder Force AC would also allow the player to directly carry on from a continue as a persuasive tactic to gather more coins from the pocket, whereas the much more unforgiving Thunder Force lll had no qualms in making the pilot restart the stage from scratch.
This penultimate release in the SEGA AGES lineup brings with it everything a SEGA arcade aficionado adores. Chunky visuals, parallax scrolling and classic Yu Suzuki-style pacing. The sound alone tickles the taste buds with excellent BGM and retro voice work beefed up with some newly added stereo goodness.
I never had the privilege of finding a Thunder Force AC arcade machine when coin-ops were commonplace in chip shops and cinemas. As soon as I banged a pair of headphones on and got stuck in, I instantly felt the magic I remember from many-a-late ’80s to early ’90s SEGA arcade cabinets once again.
This game itself still looks and plays incredibly well today with an interesting gear system to manage the speed of the ship, along with plenty of firepower attachments to boot. As far as gunplay goes, the idea is that you hunt down and equip weapons collected through the environments, then cycle between them and experiment to find which tool is right for the job. If your ship happens to get destroyed (which it will, I promise) then the current weapon in use is lost until you’re fortunate enough to stumble upon a replacement.
This clever mechanic forces the player to pay attention not only just to the layout of each stage, but how to manage weaponry for the moments that really matter. It may not seem quite as fresh of an idea in the year 2020, but that doesn’t mean it won’t bring a whole world of strategy and replayability into the mix when pursuing a diverse horde of aggressive mechanical creatures.
As with most of M2’s SEGA AGES rendition titles, SEGA AGES Thunder Force AC comes with its own small gimmicks and additions. For starters, two extra ships from Thunder Force lV have been ripped into the code including the unlockable Rynex complete with its famous blade cannon. There is also plenty of dip switch-style options available to adjust difficulty and extra life score requirements making it accessible to anyone keen to memorise the route at their own pace.
However, I did come away thinking that M2 could have done just a little bit more with SEGA AGES Thunder Force AC. More notably, I was disappointed to find that Thunder Force lll wasn’t included for players to throw direct comparisons against, especially considering its absence in the SEGA Mega Drive Classics collection. It would have also been nice if there was some form of extra challenge mode too. Maybe one where small segments of each stage would get remixed up for its own separate high score fix.
On the general scale of things, SEGA AGES Thunder Force AC is a great addition to the catalogue. The emulation is crisp and clean and pretty much on par on with what you would expect from M2. If a bit of online score chasing is your thing or you just want to casually blast away for the ride, then SEGA AGES Thunder Force AC is certainly one worth giving a shot.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by SEGA