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Genre: Shooter

Publisher: American Sammy

Total time played: 12 Hours

Short review: A pretty straight forward auto-scrolling shooter where you kill hundreds of guys while riding on a motorcycle.

Interesting links related to Thundercade

Ahh… Memories

I rented this game one time as a kid and remember nothing about it but I remember a lot about the situation surrounding me renting the game. It was a Friday night and my dad took me to the video store and then to Arby’s. As we pulled in the driveway my cousin Sarah burst through the front door to greet us, she was going to be staying the night that night.

As she ran down the sidewalk to meet us her foot hit the edge of the sidewalk and her leg gave out, she broke her ankle right there in front of me and my dad. Needless to say, we went to the hospital for her to get a cast. I remember nothing about the actual game, but the vision of Sarah breaking her ankle is burnt into my mind.

Another Arcade Port

The game started in the arcades and was made to be hard so you kept putting in quarter after quarter. It falls into the shooter genre called “Bullet Hell” where no matter where you are on the screen there are dozens of bullets headed your way. I was actually pretty impressed how well the NES levels and the arcade game levels matched. So much so that the same power-ups are located in the same places. The NES seems to have a bit fewer enemies, probably because the NES hardware couldn’t handle it. I’m thankful for this as the game was hard enough without double the enemies.

tc.png?w=2246 bad guys and a tank to worry about (From the Arcade Game)

How Do You Win?

B shoots and A uses your bomb. The goal is to stay alive until the screen stops scrolling. This game is only 4 levels long and can be beaten in about 20-25 minutes. That is if it doesn’t take you 100 attempts like it took me.

Throughout each level you control a motorcycle and move around the screen in all directions dodging bullets and shooting bad guys. To help you along your way you will find different sidecars that add fire power to your arsenal. These sidecars are hidden inside bushes, trees or inside buildings. To find them you must blow up everything in your path.

The Powerups

There are a lot of power-ups in the game but they fall into just a few categories and are pretty each to keep straight. Your motorcycle can have two different gun power-ups, one sidecar on each side of the bike. The key is, you have to run into the power-up on the side of the motorcycle you want that power-up. More times than I care to admit I hit a power-up with the wrong side of my bike replacing a good gun with a crappy gun.

Green Guns – These guns shoot bullets about halfway across the screen and there are a lot of variants. Some shoot forward, some shoots sideways, some shoot 1 bullet, some shoot 2 bullets wide, some shoot big bullets that do a lot of damage and some shoot double bullets that do a lot of damage.

Red Guns – These guns shoot bullets the full way across the screen and for that reason are much better than the green guns. All the same shooting variants are available for the red guns.

Bombs – You start each life with 3 bombs and use them by hitting A. These bombs clear all bullets off of the screen and blazes a path about 3x as wide as your motorcycle and wipes out all enemies in its path. If you use a 2nd bomb within a few seconds it covers the entire screen instead of just the straight wide path up the middle. Each level has several hidden bombs, the most I had at once was 6, but, that is because I used them a lot during tough sections and unloaded them on the end level bosses.

V Gun – This is the most powerful gun in the game and adds a sidecar to each side of your bike that shoot a double wide big bullet at a 45 degree angle. The game gets much easier with this gun. Even though this was the best gun in the game I prefer the double forward shooting red guns to this one as I found it easier to clear a path in front of me.

guns.jpg?w=480Now we’re cooking with gas!

1UP – Adds an extra life. Each level has a couple of these scattered throughout. If you want to beat the game you will need to remember where they all are.

The Bosses

At the end of levels 1, 2 and 4 there are bosses. Level 3 just ends as your motorcycle drives off the screen. Both level 1 and level 2 feature the same boss, a giant plane that moves left and right taking up half the screen with 5 guns that each shoot a 3-way shot at you. This is where I used most of my bombs.

If you beat the boss quickly enough a B appears behind the plane and if you pick it up it takes you to a bonus stage. If you don’t beat the plane fast enough it eventually just moves towards the bottom of the screen and drives away. If this happens you don’t get a bonus stage or a cut scene, your bike just keeps driving and the next level starts. I found this to be a nice touch and it makes the game feel like one huge level (all 4 levels combines are still shorter than level 1 of Ikari Warriors).

But, if you want to beat the game you better beat the plane and get to that bonus stage.

image.png?w=1024Level 1 boss…looks just like Level 2 boss

Bonus Stage

In the bonus stage a big plane flies over and drops a lot of parachutes that contain power-ups. There isn’t a way to get every parachute but you want to get as many as you can. Most of the time the parachute contains a missile that shoots with your regular gun, unfortunately it only lasts a few shots so it isn’t much help in the next stage.

The parachute could also be a V Gun, a bomb or a 1UP, if this is the case the parachute opens up and you see what the item will be. My goal was to always try to get the 1UP.

image-1.png?w=1024Get them parachutes

Are You Kidding Me?

Is Thundercade hard? Yes, yes it is. But, it is also fair. I just didn’t know that for my first 60+ attempts. For weeks (maybe months, its hard to know for sure in 2020) I played Thundercade on my Retron 5 on my 65″ HDTV. Even though every time you play the game the enemies appear in the same locations and the power-ups never change locations I just couldn’t get a feel for the game. On a couple of attempts I’d get to the end of Level 3 but the game was starting to feel impossible.

On a whim I attempted the game on a tube TV with real NES hardware and on my very first attempt I got to the final boss of the game. Lag on HDTV’s is real y’all! I guess it was subtle enough and I had no history with the game that I didn’t notice but once I played on real hardware on an old TV the difficulty of the game dropped 50%.

Are You Kidding Me Part 2?

I got pretty good at the first 3 levels of the game over my dozens and dozens of attempts. Many times I could get to the final boss without ever using a continue. A few nights before I beat the game I was having a pretty good run and was on the final lead up to the end of the game when the power flickered and the game reset. It defeated my confidence and I decided to call it quits for the night.

I went upstairs and complained to my wife about it and that is when I learned she was trying to turn on the smart lights in our living room but hit the wrong button and accidentally turned off the power strip in the game room. Sometimes having smart plugs throughout the house can be painful.

That Final Boss

The final boss of the game is a power plant with 10 windows. Each window features a guy who pops up, shoots some bullets and then ducks out of sight. Your bombs are no help here, they do not remove the onslaught of bullets and I didn’t notice them doing any damage to the guy either. Also, having upgraded weapons didn’t seem to help here either. The sidecars make your motorcycle wider and easier for the bullets to hit.

To win you must shoot each guy a lot, I have no idea how many times because I was too busy dodging bullets. But, I do know that the guy turns red when he has only 1 hit left. I can’t tell you how good it felt to get that last hit on the red guys. Each one you kill means that is one less bullet coming at you.

In theory, this should make the boss easier as you go along, and it does. I had more than one attempt where I got in a groove and would knock out guys one at a time only having 2 or 3 left. I would start tensing up thinking “this is the time” and then without fail a bunch of helicopters would appear out of no where and shoot at me. These helicopters show up in every level and were my biggest cause of pain throughout the game. They move erratically and shoot erratically making them hard to dodge. I found these guys showing up on the final boss as the only unfair part in the game. In fact, two times I had only one guy left on the final boss and he was red, that means a single shot from me would kill him. But, those helicopters showed up and killed me. Every attempt I would shoot around 5,000 times (the game keeps track) and I was 1 shot from the end and died. This is the most frustrated I’ve ever been playing a game.

It took several tries but I eventually got lucky enough and finally beat the game. I never really learned a strategy to make the final boss easier. But, on my winning attempt I was in the zone, I had 8 lives and had yet to use a continue when I finally got to the power plant. I blew through the boss so quickly I never once got shot and the helicopters must have been scared because they didn’t show up. This is one of the few games I can remember 1CC (1 Credit clear), meaning I did it without continuing.

image-3.png?w=1024The Final Showdown

Final Thoughts

I feel so stupid wasting several hours over several weeks playing the game on a TV with lag that would never let me beat it. Now I’m wondering if my struggles with Best of the Best and Ikari Warriors can be partially blamed on the TV? I disliked those games so much I shant be attempting them again on a tube TV so that mystery will remain a mystery.

Once I played Thundercade under the right conditions I grew to like it quite a bit. It is basic but it has a pretty fair difficulty and good amount of gun combinations that made it never boring. It isn’t an all time classic but it is in the top of the mid-tier of NES game


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Great article, man!  I actually just beat Thundercade earlier this year and so I could totally relate to everything you wrote as I was reading it (except having to switch to a CRT - I'm already a CRT NES gamer for life!).

It's funny: there are only four levels and more often than not I could get to the final boss on my first game before continuing, and yet it took me like a week and a half to beat it.  That final boss is sooooo hard, and the same thing with the choppers coming in when you're down to one dude left to kill happened to me multiple times too.  But when you finally beat it.... oh man, what a feeling!  I don't get that feeling beating games on any other system, but when I take down a really tough NES game, the satisfaction is indescribable.

Thundercade was completion #367 for me, but I started recording NES completions in 2001.  Keep up the good work!

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