Retro Review: “3D Thunder Blade” (Nintendo 3DS – Attack Helicopter Week Special)

There’s quite a selection of SEGA’s 3D Classics line on the Nintendo 3DS: After Burner, Space Harrier, Fantasy Zone II; many of them are considered to be highly-regarded classics, but Thunder Blade isn’t usually part of the conversation when SEGA fans reminisce about the company’s glorious arcade past.

Why is that? I contend that one reason is that Thunder Blade didn’t receive a successful home release, causing the series to fade into obscurity. Sure, Super Thunder Blade was a SEGA Genesis launch title, but have you played it? We have. Oof.

In any case, the original Thunder Blade really is a solid arcade title, one quite worthy of being discussed among SEGA’s arcade contemporaries. As one of the 3D Classics line, it may even be the best.

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Now SEGA is playing with power… 3D POWER!

Originally released by SEGA in 1987, the Thunder Blade arcade game was designed with an elaborate flight stick and a cabinet that rocked back and forth as you played, making the gameplay experience part ride, as well. There was a port of the game for the SEGA Master System, and the aforementioned pseudo-sequel Super Thunder Blade on the SEGA Genesis/Mega Drive. Clearly, neither console was able to duplicate the graphical power or ride-like experience of the arcade game.

Fast-forward to 2015, and SEGA has tapped development studio M2 to port Thunder Blade to the 3DS as part of their 3D Classics line. While the 3DS couldn’t replicate the full experience of the arcade game, it could simulate it. There are several visual options that recreate the arcade cabinet along the edges of the screen, and as your helicopter banks to and fro, back and forth, the cabinet rocks visually sways from side to side. It may be hard to describe, but it’s a really cool effect, especially in 3D.

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There’s some Red Dawn shit going down

And how does the stereoscopic 3D effect compliment the onscreen action? Extremely well. Each stage in Thunder Blade is split into two sections, an overhead section similar to Raiden or Tiger Heli, and a behind-the-back section similar to Galaxy Force or After Burner. Your helicopter is equipped with both guns and missiles, and you must confront wave after wave of enemy tanks, jets, ships, and of course, helicopters. You also must dodge oncoming buildings, pipes, and cave formations, all of which look really impressive in 3D. Perhaps the most interesting 3D effects are in the overhead segments, as tall objects such as the skyscrapers and cliff walls really pop out from the screen nicely as you pass them.

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The screenshots don’t do justice to how cool this canyon looks in 3D

On the sound front, Thunder Blade is completely adequate, but not quite a standout. The background music in Thunder Blade is energetic and matches the action well enough, but for my taste, it doesn’t quite match the brilliance of some of SEGA’s other arcade games such as After Burner or Space Harrier. It’s not bad, but Thunder Blade’s tunes just aren’t as catchy as SEGA’s arcade standard. Fortunately, M2 has added an option to play with a  remixed set music tracks, so you have your choice of which tunes you prefer.

All of the sound effects of the arcade are all faithfully replicated, and I do mean all of them. In addition to the shots and explosions of the onscreen action, M2 has also recreated the sounds of sitting in the original arcade machine. This includes all of the button clicking, hydraulic gears shifting, and even the sound of a quarter dropping into the machine when you press start. For retro aficionados, it’s really cool. If that doesn’t sound like your thing, you can switch it off.

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Frickin’ trees! Mankind’s greatest enemy from the dawn of time.

Get on the special mode bus!

Other than the rotoscopic 3D upgrade and the added audio options, the main attraction for SEGA’s 3D re-releases is the special modes that M2 includes, and 3D Thunder Blade is no exception. One of the biggest additions to the special mode is an extra stage at the end, extending the game to a full five stages and rewarding the player with a more satisfying ending than the arcade mode (which ended with an uninspired “The End” screen).

The special mode also rewards the player with extra lives based on your shoot down rate at the end of each stage, which makes playing from beginning to end quite a bit easier than arcade mode. Graphically, the only difference that I noticed in the special mode was that the color of your helicopter is changed from blue to brown.

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Is it the Russians? Just blow up everything and pretend it’s the Russians.

Blades of Steel!… erm, wait…

Overall, 3D Thunder Blade is a remarkable port, and most importantly, it’s a lot of fun. The added features help make the game more accessible to newcomers, while also scratching the nostalgic itch of the 80s arcade faithful. There are so many graphical, sound and control options that you really can customize the game and make the overall Thunder Blade experience your own.

Given that there are no other decent home conversions of the original Thunder Blade and that the stages give you two completely different ways to experience the 3D effect, 3D Thunder Blade may very well be the best purchase of all the SEGA 3D Classics line. If you are at all inclined to have a retro arcade experience on your Nintendo handheld, then 3D Thunder Blade is highly recommended, particularly at the budget price of $5.99. If you’re not interested in a retro arcade experience on the small screen, I doubt that 3D Thunder Blade will sway you, but it still may just be worth a shot.

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Despite SummitSoft’s obvious attempt to confuse consumers, Thunder Blade this ain’t

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