As much as I like shooters during the 16-bit era they did become a bit stale. The vast majority fell into the space shooter category and while I like sci-fi you can only shoot down so many aliens and capital ships before it grows old. That’s why I gravitated towards games like Elemental Master and Dragon Spirit. Fantasy shmups always stood out due to their theme but even among that category Lords of Thunder is special. With its ridiculous production values and intense action it is one of the best shooters on the platform.
The peaceful land of Mistral is in distress. Six evil beings have invaded the country and plan to revive the dark god Zaggart. Zaggart was imprisoned long ago by the Goddess Pharina and the hero Dyu. Landis is the only living descendant of Dyu and the only one who can save Mistral from disaster.
While there were many awesome CD titles for the Turbo Grafx it never had its killer app. That one title that is so great everyone takes notice. As much as I like Bonk he was no Sonic or Mario. Lords of Thunder is probably the closest TTI came to producing just that. Their confidence in this game was so great they even mailed out promotional VHS tapes to perspective buyers. Ultimately it didn’t really help the system but did make more people aware of this awesome game.
Oddly enough Lords of Thunder has a lot in common with Mega Man. The first six lands of Mistral can be tackled in any order. Each country aligned with a given element which is absolutely critical. While Landis is armed with a short range sword for close quarters combat and a beam weapon his greatest strength comes from his four elemental armors.
Before each level you have a choice of four armors corresponding to Earth, Wind, Water and Fire. Each armor has its own particular weapons and quirks which adds hugely to the gameplay. Weapons can be upgraded three times and change dramatically each time. At level one the Wind armor features two straight lightning bolts. The next level increases their size while at max power two more are added, covering a wide part of the screen. The water armor is the best overall as it eventually covers both your front and back and is extremely powerful. You can also buy upgrades in the shop such as bombs, shields, continues, and extra health.
Variety is Lords of Thunder’s greatest strength. Like its armor and weapons each land is filled with unique enemies specific to that country. The game is well paced despite how frantic it can get. The action rarely lets up as enemies pour in from all sides. There are an equal number of environmental hazards such as swinging spikes, closing gates, and rising lava. Surprisingly despite the elemental theme you gain no strengths or weaknesses from entering a level with its opposite. The difficulty comes from managing the chaos using a particular suit’s weapons and even then the challenge is moderate.
Thanks to a generous life bar Lords of Thunder is only slightly challenging. Although your weapon level drops when you are hit upgrades come frequently enough that it doesn’t matter. The water armor is so overwhelmingly powerful you could use that alone to breeze through the game. It has its moments; there are no checkpoints so death sends you back to the beginning of a level. Bosses can take a lot of punishment and dish it out as well. But compared to the genre’s usual difficulty this is simple in comparison.
Lords of Thunder was a showcase for the hardware in 1993 and that still applies today. Although it covers the usual tropes such as a forest, an ice covered wasteland and fiery volcano the art direction and visual variety stand out. The game shifts a large number of sprites big and small and rarely ever slows down. Indeed, many of the standard enemies could even pass as bosses in similar titles. The actual end level bosses are the game’s visual treat. These screen filling bad asses sport original designs that belie the game’s setting.
The element that probably garnered the most attention though is the game’s soundtrack. This is one of the most bitching heavy metal soundtracks to ever grace a video game. While metal isn’t my cup of tea the music is pretty incredible. It’s kind of odd to hear these heavy guitar riffs in a fantasy shooter with dragons and knights yet it never feels out of place.
Lords of Thunder is not only one of the best shooters for the Duo it is one of its best games overall. Few games managed to match its graphics, music and tight gameplay that is still superb today. If you have even a slight interest in the genre this is a must buy. And if you like phenomenal games in general than Lords of Thunder has plenty to offer.