I distinctly remember thinking TTI and NEC could turn things around for the Turbo Grafx with the Turbo Duo. As an owner of the system for a brief period I genuinely wanted it to succeed for obvious reasons. Mind you I was 13 at the time so don’t judge me. You can only live in denial for so long however and I wound up owning a SNES and Genesis eventually. While that was the right decision hidden gems like Gate of Thunder made me wish I had the money to own a Duo back in the day.
It’s interesting that for the majority of western gamers their exposure to Gate of Thunder came as a pack-in. When the Turbo Duo was released in late 1992 it came packaged with a variety of games that offered an astounding value. The majority of the titles were ports of the system’s most popular Hucards. But there were gems like Ys Book I & II which most probably did not experience beforehand. But it was Gate of Thunder that really stood out. While it would be easy to dismiss it as just another shooter with its high production values and intense action Gate of Thunder emerges as not just one of the best shmups but one of the best games for the system.
Most shooters live or die by their weapon system however here the arsenal is kept small. You begin with the default laser but can also pick up a wave beam and explosive shot. These can all be switched out at any time although death destroys your currently selected weapon. Rather than options your ship is equipped with two satellites that perform the same function but can also be aimed backwards. Your only other weapons are a rare shield and homing missiles.
While that may seem disappointing there is further depth. Each weapon can be powered up to three times at which point they become ridiculously powerful. The wave beam at full power covers the entire screen, perfect for eliminating weaker enemies as soon as they spawn. The laser passes through walls and shields and the explosive shot explodes on contact as well as tracks enemies. Learning when to switch makes the game a lot simpler and is necessary as the game can be a bit….chaotic.
Intense barely describes it. This is one of the most hectic shooters you will play this side of a ridiculous bullet hell game. There is rarely a moment when you aren’t being assaulted and while that may seem tiring the game is well paced. The moments of respite come at just the right moments and the game is not stingy with its power-ups so you needn’t fear death as much. At the worst times you’ll need to deal with incoming waves while also dodging environmental factors like tight spaces, moving platforms and indigenous life forms that want to swallow you whole. It sounds like a lot but in reality this is about average on the scale of difficulty on the normal setting. Bump it up to devil and you just might punch a wall in frustration.
The only real flaw if you can even call it that is the game flies by so fast. Seven levels is about standard for the genre however Gate of Thunder is far from the most difficult shooter. Unlike the vast majority of shooters its insanity is perfectly balanced so that it never becomes overwhelming. Using the right weapon in a given situation goes a long way and even death isn’t as punishing. Since you respawn immediately it is possible to brute force your way through the game but what self-respecting fan of the genre does that?
The production values are top notch. This is a technical beast, often flaunting four or five layers of scrolling in its imaginative backdrops. No matter how chaotic it gets the game rarely ever slows down. The bosses are large and impressive mechs even if they are a let down from a tactical standpoint. Interestingly you won’t find lavish animated cutscenes outside of the intro and ending. The majority of the CD is dedicated to the fantastic soundtrack. The heavy metal soundtrack rocks harder than most and is among the best on the system.
Gate of Thunder is one of the strongest shooters in the system’s library and one of the most compelling reasons to own a Turbo Duo. I waited a long time to get my hands on it and it lived up to all of the glowing praise. Back in the day you would have had to plunk down $300 for a Duo to experience this. Now however it has been re-released on the Virtual console as well as PSN. It has held up beautifully and is definitely worth a purchase.