Thunder Blade logo

FOLLOWING the hugely successful Afterburner, Sega produced their own version of helicopter mayhem - Thunder blade. The object of the game is simple - shoot everything in sight. In fact the two games are similar in many respects, both using very expensive hardware to produce multi-coloured sprites which give the impression of explosions jumping out of the screen at you.

Whichever you play, the seat-of-the-pants feeling you get is remarkable, with or without the hydraulic rams supplied on some versions. This poses a problem. How do you simulate an arcade game which uses custom-designed sprite hardware and stereo sound on a meagre home computer? Simple, you find a machine capable of such mindboggling feats, an Amiga for instance, and program it in machine code. This is precisely what the team at Tiertex has done. It is astounding.

As per the original, the game is split into four stages of three waves each, the finale of each being the dreadnought - an emplacement of such vast capacity it seems to go on for miles.

The first scene of each wave is viewed from above the helicopter. But do not get the idea this is another boring vertical scroller - it most certainly is not.

The second wave puts you directly behind the chopper in glorious 3D, and the third reverts to overhead perspective.

The scene is set in a war torn city which tanks and artillery have infiltrated. You and Thunder Blade are the only things standing in their way. Pulling back on the joystick makes the chopper rise, pushing forward descends.

To move forward you hold the fire button down and push the stick forward. This feels a little odd at first but you soon get used to it. Holding the fire button down soon becomes second nature, as this is the only way to keep up the devilish rate of fire required to dispatch the enemy. As for the bad guys, they do not give you much of a chance - even in the early stages the homing missiles explode like hotels in Beirut. Get caught in the explosion and it is curtains.

Dodging missiles seems to be the only escape, but stray too far toward the edge of the screen and you crash into the skyscrapers.

In the second wave the view is from behind the chopper. This helps you avoid enemy fire by flying over the tops of some buildings. The end of the first stage is marked by a gigantic aircraft carrier that literally bristles with death. Then things start to really hot up.

Stage two takes place in a canyon and then on through a brushwood forest towards a desert where you meet a moving munitions dump. By this time the enemy has wised up to your antics and launched an air attack to keep you busy.

Later stages see the addition of bridges and strange rock formations. Even the wave endings become more bizarre - the penultimate one being a gigantic jet aircraft.

Finally you arrive at what I assume is the enemy's own city and headquarters. The opposition became too tough even for me with my highly trained reviewer's reflexes.

If you have ever played Thunder Blade in the arcades, this conversion is a faithful and exciting reminder. Graphically speaking, it lacks much of the subtle detail of the original while retaining the main structure, although there is so much going on this is hardly noticeable.

Ultimately, I have a niggling doubt about the game as a stand-alone title. Without doubt, it is challenging enough to keep arcade addicts happy for hours and its overall quality could never be held at issue. Whatever criticism you could raise, would also be true of the original, and in the end Thunder Blade is explosive fun, albeit shallow.

Thunder Blade logo Format Gold


Westland - home of the attack helicopter and home base for covert Heseltine operations - is the sort of place which regularly turns out the likes of the Thunderblade helicopter. Given that this advanced machine boasts all the latest weaponry, it's a pretty daunting task to be told that you're the one who's got to fly it - especially when your girlfriend is complaining about your eyes going a strange square shape and your fingers have taken to jumping up and down even when they're not clutching a joystick. Still, you'll take up the gauntlet, won't you?


The lush green fields of America (OK, so they're grey pavements really) are under threat from the marauding rebel forces of a merciless and unforgiving dictator, General Swindells. Put more simply, he is a Gadaffi clone with a trident missile and a stars and stripes pair of underpants.

With lots of battle weary troops rapidly acceding to the superior power of the rebel's weaponry it is only a matter of time before the government is overthrown. The top brass from U.S.G.H.Q. Have summoned you to their office and told you to vanquish the enemy. Easy innit? You're let loose on the world with the ultimate flying machine - the Thunderblade. This advanced attack helicopter is at your disposal but can you take the world by storm and live to reap the benefits of mega-herodom?


The mission is split into four strategic stages which become progressively harder. From the daunting walls of skyscraper city through mountains and deserts, then a river delta and into a refinery. Each of these phases is subdivided into three levels. These consist of an overhead view of your purring 'copter as you fly through cities, viewed from the exhaust jets of your machine. The third phase charts your progress as you fly over a tanker. Being a religiously accurate arcade conversion, this phase runs at a pretty slow speed, making it harder than ever to survive attack from the enemy forces.

Assaults on your physical well-being range from conventional forward-shooting planes to cannons with a nifty knack of firing flame balls up at you to blast you into oblivion with barely a quiver of their snouts. A range of views of your Thunderblade from different angles keep the game surprisingly addictive. At the end of each of the three stages your score is totted up and bonuses are awarded depending on your performance - not an altogether brilliant ego boost.,

As for self defence, Thunderblade is equipped with two types of advanced weapon systems. A rapid-fire Chain Cannon used for aerial targets such as enemy helicopters and aeroplanes sounds like something out of Rambo part 94, with much the same effect. It's only really effective when used against flying subversives but boy, does it leave a lasting impact.

You can only shoot two missiles at a time but they are about as efficacious as the explosion of two tons of gelignite on an oil refinery. Straight line air-to-ground missiles take care of your land and sea targets - they are scattered like high-velocity confetti all the time your finger is held down on the fire-button. It takes a rapid blast on the old fire-button to eject the lethal Chain Cannons.

The game begins with five reserve helicopters and comes to an end when all of your helicopters have been destroyed or the last stronghold has been taken by the evil Swindells. Scores shoot up every time you destroy anything vaguely resembling an enemy, which ain't too difficult since there's nothing out there which is your friend - even the infernal skyscrapers are quick to turn your amiable little Thunderblade into a jigsaw puzzle if you get too close.

An extra helicopter is awarded every 20,000 points. Since 20,000 points isn't any major achievement the bonus helicopters appear quite often and come in extremely handy when your lifespan looks to last about as long as a herd cattle somewhere within a five-mile radius of Chernobyl.


When you're soaring above the landscape scattering missiles left, right and centre it's easy to forget that there are lots of skyscrapers and innocent people hanging around down there. This has got to be a good sign. The graphics look brilliant with good explosions whose only fault is that they occur too often.

Descending onto the top of skyscrapers as a method of seeking sanctuary from the flame-throwing tanks is possible but make a miscalculation and you soon explode into lots of flames and smoke. If you approach the skyscrapers when you're below root height, each storey becomes alternately black or grey as it disappears off the top of the screen. So much for realism.

But there are few other faults. Takeoff looks good from overhead with your Thunderblade gradually increasing in size as it rises like a battle-stained Phoenix in the air - tentative, and not entirely sure that it finds war such a great pastime. With tanks, aircraft and lots of generally offensive beggars hanging around everywhere, the whole game becomes a myriad of fast paced action and lots of good graphics.

In the rush to the presses Format had to make do with a version lacking any sound effects. However, having listened to the digitised music which will go onto the final game as well all the spot effects, the sound will keep Thunderblade alive with vibrant activity.


Thunderblade is more than just another shoot-em-up. The twelve different levels are filled with enough graphical variation to keep you struggling to get further and further through the game. All the great arcade action has been left intact.

Occasionally it becomes slow at times but this in no way detracts from the gameplay. Trips over the sea-faring battleship are designed to go especially slow. This might obey the arcade version but it causes infinite hassle when you've only got one life left and you're about to kiss the nostrils of an oncoming formation of the latest fighter jets as they perform their rendition of aerial Bolero. It wouldn't matter but they've decided that you should play the bull.

Thunder Blade logo

US Gold
C64 price £9.99 cass £14.99 disk
Amiga price: £24.99

C64: Your country has been taken over by the evil dictator Baron Swindells (are you sure about this, Richard?). You are the only hope, as usual. Your government has graced you with a fleet of three multi-million pound helicopters that make the AH-64 Apache Gunship look like a potato gun with wings.

What is more, it runs on pure Pepsi Cola, which is why Pepsi have sponsored all the helicoper's take-off pads (not landing pads, there are no landings to be done here, matey).

Probably the only real way to describe the coin-op is Afterburner with a vertical scrolling section and without the mind numbingly fast scrolling. The coin-op's 3D graphics are impressive to say the least, and feature a brand new way of producing 3D images that are both realistic and manipulable.

The screen is set up as a series of planes, each one being a cutaway of a real image. When these planes are transposed onto one another, a 3D image is formed. The angle at which each plane is positioned in relation to its neighbours is governed by the laws of perspective in relation to the position of the helicopter. With me so far?

Each of the four levels is divided into three sections. The first is an overhead view, which has your helicopter flying over a 3D landscape filled with all types of enemy. The second section has you flying into the screen though the same landscape with a different perspective. The third section in each level is a fight with the mothership for that particular area, level 1 for example is a huge battleship.

The first level is a jaunt through a city centre. As you might guess, the buildings cause a bit of a problem when you are in low level combat with tanks and helicopters but since when was realism a part of the arcade. It is right on the first screen that the 3D effect, though used very crudely on the 64, works really well. The skyscrapers are portrayed as a series of rectangles, each one slightly bigger than the last, overlaid on the previous one.

This system means that it is very simple to move around inside a 3D area. You can move your helicopter left, right, forward, backward and up and down. The same effect applies on the second level, except that the viewpoint has changed.

You have two different types of fire. You can fire a stream of bullets and launch missiles, which are far more destructive. The bullets can be fired in a continuous stream, but the missiles are a bit slower to fire. There is quite a pause between each launch of the rockets, so a bit of care is necessary when picking targets.

All this means that there should, by rights, be a lot going on in the joystick area, but the game is surprisingly simple to control. Speed can be controlled via the keyboard, but it is far easier to use the joystick. The fire button activates both weapons i.e. the cannon automatically fires and the missiles fire if any are available. Hold down fire and move forward and back to accelerate and decelerate, left and right to move left and right, and up and down to climb and dive.

They have crammed in all the coin-op, and that means that there is a lot of big things being moved around. For example, on the second level, you have to fly between huge pillars and try and steer through little arches that appear in huge walls. All this is very, very fast, and quite playable too.

The game plays very much like the arcade, apart from the fact it seems a lot easier. Any game that I almost complete inside of the first hour I play has to be easy - I lost all my lives fighting the end of level mother on the last level.

As I have said, the graphics are very fast, and strangely enough, not at all confusing. The 3D update is a little crude and jerky, but it works well enough to provide a recognisable effect. All the sprites are recognisable although there is simply not enough of them. Chris Butler who programmed this, relies far too heavily on character blocks. The sound is a bit poor, with a weak tune and very few spot effects. The whoosh effect when you take off is particularly pointless.

Thunderblade is by no means a disaster but as is the case with Afterburner, it comes nowhere close to Operation Wolf in the gameplay stakes.

Amiga: The Amiga version is, without a doubt, as close as you can possibly get to the coin op. It also happens to be the best home version, so Amiga owners are finally getting what they want from their machine. The game follows along the exact same lines as the C64 version, progressing though all the same levels in order, but it is far better in three respects:

GRAPHICS: The game makes full use of the Amiga's colour scheme. The graduated tint on the sky is really nice, the update is incredibly smooth, much more so than the ST version, and hence the 3D works amazingly well.

SOUND: Is another area where the Amiga version scores over the competition. A really thumping heeeaaavvvvyy soundtrack belts away at your ears at the end of each level and there are some really meaty explosions and neat effects.

PLAYABILITY: The final area that gives the Amiga version superiority over all the other versions, and that includes the coin-op for me, is in playability. The game is extremely responsive. The speed gets to you in no time and you find yourself pitching left and right with the joystick, creating your own hydraulics.

Is it as good as Afterburner or Operation Wolf? That remains to be seen, but they will have to go some to beat this.


Thunder Blade logo

US Gold, Amiga £24.99

You're mean, you're lean and you've been appointed to take that nasty tyrant, the optician General Swindells, out. Leap into your chopper, ease the throttle - and you're off. Wooh!

Your mission takes you through city, desert and river delta (overhead viewpoint first, then head-on 3D). You've got cannons and missiles to help you counter choppers and tanks - but ultimately success depends on your flying skill.

Lucky you got that freebie helicopter in your cornflakes last week, wasn't it?

Gordon Houghton Phew! This is one arcade conversion you're not going to get fed up with in a hurry. Talk about incredibly hair-raising 3D and 'orribly hard levels! This is so reminiscent of the coin-op, even the difficulty level is just as tough. OK, they could have done a lot more with the sound, but the fast-paced action, the fact that it's ruddy hard and the brilliant graphics make this great fun to play. If you're a fan of the arcade machine, you won't be able to keep your hands off this conversion.
Kati Hamza Cor blimey, take a look at that 3D! You cannot really tell from a still screenshot, but the 3D in this is absolutely brill. Talk about realistic depth and height! Of course, none of that's any good if you haven't got the gameplay, but this definitely has. If I was being picky (OK,OK, I'm being picky) I'd say it was just a bit hard to start off with, but then who cares when you've got something that's nearly as good as the coin-op staring you in the face? Not me, mate.