My first exposure to Rolling Thunder came from the Tengen NES port on one of those weird black cartridge. I didn’t know what to make of it at first as my initial impression was to go in guns blazing. But after a few trips to the game over screen I learned to appreciate its strangeness, from its Ku Klux Klan inspired enemies to its 60s spy thriller theme. I never saw Rolling Thunder 2 in the arcade but I’m sure I would have dropped a king’s ransom on it since I enjoyed its predecessor so much. The Sega home port does it justice and is one of the better action games for the system despite its early release.
Originally released in the arcade Rolling Thunder 2 was ported to the Genesis in 1991. The setting moves from the swinging 60s to modern day as our agents Albatross and Leila (looking suspiciously like Mine Fujiko) battle the resurfaced Geldra like their predecessors. Everything that made the original unique returns with more levels, weapons, and players. You can now tackle the Geldra in coop. When most list their favorite action games for the Genesis Rolling Thunder 2 is usually overlooked. It is no less worthy of attention as it has a cadence to its action that is still rare today.
From a gameplay standpoint not much has changed. Both agents have a life bar that protects against melee attacks but projectiles still equal instant death. Like Codename: Viper you can bump into enemies without taking damage; you can and should abuse the second of invincibility it grants. The various assortment of weapons also return and for the home version Namco has added a few more such as time and health extensions.
Rolling Thunder has a deliberate pace to its action and while the number of enemies has increased that still remains the same. The level design is excellent with more varied terrain and areas for enemies to hide. Anyone familiar with these games can recall rushing into an area and three enemies spawning and dying. Part 2 has that in spades. The Geldra have become smarter as they will duck into cover or change their angle of attack to get you. It’s in these moments that you’ll curse the fact that you can’t jump and shoot. I know the game was designed around it but it still feels like a blatant oversight. Sadly while they’ve become more aggressive there isn’t as much enemy variety in the game’s first half. New bad guys are introduced later though.
The quest to take down Geldra spans two locations: a European villa and later Egypt. There is a very clear shift once you change locations. In Egypt there is more platforming as well as more aggressive enemies such as panthers and bats. Egypt is definitely trying but also home to some of the best levels as the level design offers more spaces for enemies to hide ambush you. The difficulty is definitely ramped up here; the last few stages offer no power-ups whatsoever. Only the truly skilled will see the real ending (such as it is) but they’ll have lots of fun trying.
With eleven levels home owners are getting a more well-rounded package than in the arcade. The three new levels (the grounds of a European mansion, a laboratory, and another set in the mountains of Egypt) all slot nicely within the flow of the game and if you didn’t know any better would assume were part of the game all along. More importantly they introduce new enemies and weapons such as the flamethrower and the laser gun. In the arcade there was only the lone boss battle against the Geldra leader however now there are three more. Admittedly they aren’t exactly top notch but at least add something to the game. You’ll have to go through this lengthy beast twice to see the real ending but I’ll warn it isn’t worth it.
Like the other games in the series Rolling Thunder 2 can be pretty difficult. Despite its pace things can go from calm to chaotic in seconds and these moments lead to careless mistakes. Yet at all times it remains fair. The series has always been about memorization; where specific enemies will spawn and at what moment to jump out of cover. While the clock will sometimes force you into rushing it is always better to take your time. These elements are what has always made these games great and are executed flawlessly here. The addition of passwords to track progress also eases some of the difficulty.
What a great game. As an arcade port and a game in general Rolling Thunder 2 is fantastic and worth tracking down for any action game fan. It tends to fly under the radar because of the crowded company it keeps with the likes of Gunstar Heroes and Contra Hard Corps but I like this just as much as those two titans. A bit difficult but definitely worth it in my opinion.