Essentially a port of Thunder Force III on Genesis, Thunder Force AC is the next arcade title to receive the AGES treatment thanks to M2 and Sega. Known for having steep difficulty, this horizontal shooter is highly playable thanks to the added features of this Switch release.
By now, Switch owners should be familiar with M2’s work on the SEGA AGES line as they all support the same quality features: online leaderboards with scores that automatically get uploaded upon game over, numerous visual settings such as screen filters and boarder options, a clean and easy-to-use interface, replays, tons of options to adjust in the main menu, a music player, and more. Unique to Thunder Force AC are the unlockable ships, which are basically guest characters from other Thunder Force titles, and a Kids mode.
Each unlockable ship plays with a new arsenal which gives the campaign loads of replay value. There are dedicated leaderboards for each ship too, which is a nice touch. What makes Thunder Force AC different from other shooters is the ability to swap weapons and speed on the fly, sort of mixing the best of R-Type and Gradius into one. While I found it best to stick with the middle speed and shooting straight ahead is the way to go for about 90% of the game, there are moments where different weapons and speed adjusting could be beneficial.
Most players can probably finish the first stage but most will die almost instantly during stage 2. The difficulty can be punishing as this was designed to be a quarter muncher after all. This is where Kids Mode shines and where I had the most fun – no shame here! Kids Mode is basically turning on all the Game Genie cheats at the same time as the player retains power weapons upon death and gets maxed continues. If it wasn’t for this mode, there would be no way I could ever finish this game. Purists need not worry as each mode retains their own dedicated leaderboard so the hardcore doesn’t have to mingle with the kids. Instead of “Kids Mode”, maybe they should have called it “assist mode” or something to provide a more gentle naming convention. Or, “wuss mode” would have probably been more accurate.
Thunder Force AC isn’t exactly the shooter to end all shooters as it has its flaws, like not being able to understand the voice clips and some wonky hit boxes especially when making contact with a surface, but the overall gameplay is fast, entertaining, features a smooth frame rate, a quality ending animation, and much welcomed enhanced features. Boss battles are big and memorable too. Like the other AGES titles, this is the best way to experience this old arcade title outside of tracking down a machine in the wild and dumping handfuls of quarters into it.
Also Try: Thunder Spirits (SNES)
Don’t Forget About: Thunder Force Gold Pack 2 (Saturn)
Hold Out Hope For: a revival of the canceled Dreamcast Thunder Force VI