Thundercross - Konami

Thundercross - (JP ver)
Konami, 1988

Reviewed by Malc

Konami must think us westerners fools. First, a rant. Why treat us shmup fans like we're somehow mentally deficient? Some of you may be familiar with Konami's tinkering with western versions of shmups. Notably Lightning Fighters - a revision of the japanese Trigon which removed the exciting homing Trigon weapon in the 1 player mode - unfathomable if you have ever played Trigon. (Yes, a special one player weapon you first find on level 3, NOT the 2 player elastic band things) Thundercross takes the fiddling to a whole new level. Here's why I'm reviewing the japanese version of the game:

The US version doesn't give you speedups. It removes all the weapons except for Vulcan, and the lovely autofire has been disabled on that. Yes, even the three superweapons are removed. Your agile multiple gradius style options are now fixed in position and not adjustable any more. You do get 3 bombs now, called Lil' Baby for some reason, and start with 2 Options already attached, well, cheers for that.

Oh, and the level order is changed around now, for no apparent reason. But that's minimal, its the excision of the entire weapons system thats simply inexplicable. Play both versions, and realise how the soul of the US version has been ripped out. A game which previously had clever weapon/level interaction, and powerups which made you smile inanely when full, plus a cunning "option formation" adjustment - all of that has been removed and replaced with an oversimplified mess. How serious is it? Imagine Rtype with the Force removed and only one type of weapon. Shame on you Konami.

Alright, rant over. Let's get on with reviewing the vastly superior japanese version, then.

Coining up, you can't help think it's Nemesis with different graphics. The music is very gradius flavoured, I'm sure theres a few themes which are very very familiar in there. I'd also have to say I think it's just as good as any Gradius game's music too - it really is noticably good, and always fits in with the theme of the level well. Especially some of the faster levels, the music is suitably up tempo in them. Really classic stuff, if a little predictable at times. I'm mentioning music first because that's the thing that hits you first.

Next, pretend it's 1988 all over again. R-type came out a year before, and set some awesome standards for shmup visual design. Thundercross's levels and enemies are all slightly clunky and chunky looking, with what I call a "Megadrivey" look. Low palette of colours, some very tiled looking levels... definitely a late 80's shmup. They are likeable enough and do the job they are supposed to - but this isn't a game to play to gape at. I think there was also a conscious decision to have no black starfield backgrounds at all - making it seem less gradiusy.

It's all too easy to dismiss Thundercross (and it's sequel Thundercross 2) as a poorer cousin series to it's mighty Gradius franchise. I consider them equally as good, but in a different way. When you think of a konami shooter, thoughts like "lost my weapons, give up" "lots of treacly slowdown" and "silly amounts of ice particles onscreen" come to mind. Thundercross is not like this at all. Faster scrolling levels, a powerup system that will let you continue fairly safely no matter where you died, and much less sprites onscreen at once.

And, brilliantly, it's what I call a Cruise Shmup. Know those times when you are tooled up the max, cruising along in your turbonutter beast, blowing up anything that gets in your way for levels on end? Yeah - get quite good and you can Cruise like a mofo. I like grabbing 4 Options and the maxxed out V autofire weapon, unbeatable fun. Plus, you can show off a lot by skilfully using your Options adjustment. Basically, you get up to 4 Options which sit at a fixed spacing from your ship and fire forward with the same weapon as your ship. But, pressing B button will change the distance the are spaced from your craft - letting you blast streams of fire down alleyways and raze ground installations with style as well as taking care of airborne enemies. Sometimes I like just to hold the B button down constantly and watch the Options expand and contract as I'm flying. Yes, very shameful that feature was removed from the US version. Cruising is helped by not having restart points - you revive right off where you just died, and can quickly accrue weapons again.

Level design is not that Gradius in style at all. Graphics aside, there's just not the overly claustrophic feel that Gradius games have. I'd definitely say the creators had a long hard look at R-Type before making this. It doesn't copy the levels, instead it creates something new - faster open spaces to fight through, with some really clever levels that are based around how you adjust your Options through corridors, and the various features of the weapon types you can get.

Bouncy shots are advisable in caverns where there's enemies above and below you in hard to reach places, where the Backwards shots are mandatory during those levels where certain enemies consistently come from behind. I haven't a clue how Konami expected westerners to get through these levels with the one weapon they give you in that version. They totally destroyed the carefully considered level designs by doing that.

With bashable scenery it's still very much a traditional horizontal shooter though, and even though its far more open in layout, you have to be quick on navigating the hittable parts of the faster levels.

Enemy attacks are always fair, each level starting with a familiar grouping of lots of little enemies to blast (missing some results in hairy moments). Your ship has a relatively small hit area, meaning you can slip quite close to bullets and through tight parts without worry. Bullets only occasionally fill the screen, and practice of the game means you can learn what's coming next and be prepared to have the right weapon and destroy enemies before they become a problem. Prior knowledge isn't necessary though, but it helps to know what's coming next! Get into Cruise Mode though, and you can't help but grin at the familiar way you can roast anything that comes your way, with a few rounds of experience under your belt.

Bosses though. Oops. Helping you maintain that Cruise feeling, boss encounters are short with few deadly moments. From somewhere comes a little golden diamond, which swoops into the boss ship and probably controls it or something. This is never explained, but lets assume it's so. Each has a bunch of weak spots, and fairly easy and quickly predictable attacks. Fully tooled up, you will be able to kill each within a few seconds, and be on your way. I suppose this does help if you encounter a boss unpowered up - you can survive, make your time ;)

Well, I'll explain the weaponry now, as it's crucial to understand to get the most fun out of this game. It's not difficult though, certainly not so difficult to warrant removing most of it for the US version.


These are the weapons on japanese version. Don't make me go near the US version again please! Weapons are gained by picking up icons, which get dropped when you kill a series of red small enemies.

This icon usually starts with an S Speedup or an O Option, but can also start with one of three normal weapon types, or if you are fully Optioned up, a Super Weapon. Leave the icon for a bit until it changes into the item you want, then pick it up.

  • S Speedups. Personally I like NO speeds in the game in the earlier levels, but the icon will insist on giving you Speedups loads until you pick at least one up. The icon sometimes doesnt geta chance to change much before it scrolls offscreen, so you might not get the item you want if there isnt time. So I usually get one speedup, and the icon then tries to give you Options right away, the next time it appears.

  • O Options. Like Gradius, you can collect up to four options in the 1 player game. These are adjustable and you can position them to do the most damage on a particular level - I like to make them line up with corridors and shoot down them, lots of ways to play with them depending what enemies you want to kill. Bunch them up if you are fighting hard enemies.

Now there's three versions of normal shot:

  • V Vulcan - forward shooting normal shot, increasing rate of autofire the more you pick up.

  • B Bounce - a sort of boomerang shot that bounces off scenery and is very handy on certain parts.

  • T Twin Taser - a double shot which shoots forward and behind. Absolutely crucial for some enemies! I don't know if its called Twin Taser or not but that's my name for it.

But, get 4 Options, and you can also pick up these huge types below! When you get one, your Options change into giant clunky fixed things, quite similar in look to pod racers I think... well, there is a meter at the bottom which tells you what it is, and how much power it has left. To use, press the B button.

My least favourite - creates huge round explosions. Note that in the US version, the 3 smart bombs you get are actually just Napalm explosions.
Strong forward shooting giant lasers, travel through scenery nicely where your normal weapons can't. My favourite Super Weapon.
Has a nice wiggly tip, fun to use flamey attack that will destroy bosses really quickly. It has a short reach though, and I die quite a lot using it.

Sometimes I will avoid all these Super Weapons, and just use Vulcan instead and have the advantage of my adjustable Options.

There's also 1ups to collect every so often (which is nice) and a ? mark which gives you 10,000 points. However, I've noticed that you get the ? marks only when you have a Super Weapon, so if you decide not to pick up the Super Weapons then you won't get any.

Alright, time for the screenshots and captions, staple component of every Shmups review ! As for a score, I think an 7/10 is in order - a really addictive little game which deserves a lot more recognition, and can stand proud alongside the Gradius series as offering an equally good but definitely differently flavoured shmupping experience! It's just a shame the bosses are SO weak! I've been toying with the idea of giving it an 8/10 but although its really playable and very addicting trying to beat - its not that difficult at all and a little bit unbalanced if you are fully powered up.


Oh, I never said much about the 2 player mode there did I? Well, here's a snap of it in action. You can only get TWO of the large superweapon Options each, it seems.

The colour coding is your normal blue ship and red ship, which extends to the colour of your Options too. Notice the destroyed city in the background, which you will visit in level 2. The US version swaps these levels around.

I'd forgotten about this. Here's a pic of the US version in action. Notice the LIL'BABY x 3 bomb info being very obtrusive at the bottom. Well anyway, there is an enemy in the US version which seems to pop up, and I've never seen it in the Japanese one. Its that round thing with 4 legs on it, and he has a HORRIBLE nasty homing shot which unnerringly homes in on your ship very quickly and blasts you dead. How fortunate for us westerners eh?

Plus, one last thing I can't work out - in the US version - theres a "B" pickup, but it doesnt seem to do anything! I've picked up about 5 of them once and can't work out what it does.



After a forgettable launch sequence, we're into level one proper now - and being attacked by some incoming rocks - a bit like a horizontal asteroids.

Definitely some shades of Gradius inspiration here, with some Volcano-like holes which spurt out blue snotty stuff.

This is about as Gradiusy as it gets really.

Ooh nice an Option to pick up. It's mine, gimme it. 2 player mode is full of greediness as you might expect.


   Here we go, managed to powerup to the Super Flame weapon in level one - this shows you how easy it is to collect full weaponry again if you die - most unlike Gradius!! You even get the icon-giving red enemies AS you fight some bosses, which is extremely thoughtful.

End of level one boss, and he's a pussy.

Just stay to the far right whilst he dithers about, letting him pop up in front of you. Then after a bit he will take off and grow a sprouty arm ( a bit like Salamander's Brain boss, really!) and home in on your position.

Unless you are totally useless, you will definitely have enough firepower by this time to finish him off before he hugs you.

Notice my nice tight spread of Options here - keep them tight to yer arse if you are needing concentrated fire..



And here we are, level 2 and arrived at that city. After a few screens of the same old destroyed skyscrapers you reach these guys - kill them quick as their crossfire WILL result in death.

See here how I have cunningly spaced out the options a bit to try and kill them both at once.


Inside I tend to use Bouncy shot a lot, as it will hit the scenery and get into those hard to reach places. Sometimes there is an option blob like that shown - similar to the red streams of enemies except they just float there ready to be killed. Inside each is an icon to pick up as normal.

These laser spitting capsule-like grey blokes can be easily avoided even if not tooled up, by staying quite close to the top of the corridor where I am placed here. Their lasers only shoot down the very middle.


   Lasered up is the best way to be when attacking these mid sized missile sprouters - missiles feature a lot in Thundercross, and are invariably of the homing but destroyable variety.

Now is the time to scramble again - Konami's roots are showing as this little sequence mimics the gameplay in Scramble. I love rockets which take off when you get near them and theres plenty of them to ogle at here.



Nope, its not the end boss, but a very easy little mid sized one.

Bosses are incredibly weak throughout , but I don't mind at all, sometimes its good not to be scared shitless every time a boss trundles onscreen.

They do have a nice line in opening up and exposing their pointy bits though.

End of Level 2 boss - again a real doddle to kill. A large chunk of it falls off after a few hits leaving you with a lasered up core to dispatch with much violence.

Oh yes, here's a wee shot of the landing flying aircraft carrier which picks you up after each mission.


   Into Level 3, and a horrible purple background made up of only 2 colours. Bouncy shot is the best weapon for this level, definitely.

It's not the strongest though, and you might find you get overwhelmed by baddies at points.

Shoot the row of red enemies for an icon. These blue spiky things can block your path - take them out asap as they need a lot of shots to kill. Sometimes it's better to switch to another weapon to get rid of them, and pick up bouncy again afterwards   


Possibly the easiest boss in the whole game, he throws his arms out and fires a few shots off, then repeats until you've blown him up.

There's a stupidly simple pattern even a monkey can to do with his eyes shut to kill this with impunity. Hint: try moving up, then down, then up...

Ahah a favourite level of mine - level 4. Starts off with a GREAT rumbly growly approaching noise!

Shades of R-type's mothership as a huge grey chunky thing moves in, opening and closing its "jaws" and launching loads of ships from its belly at you.

This is one point where a Laser Super Weapon is good - so you can reach into the spaces and kill gun emplacements quickly. Failing that, a bounce will do.



The fight isn't tiringly long, but the constant stream of little enemies in a tight space introduces the first sense of real panic in the game. Well it's only tight when the "jaws" close a bit. Sometimes the close completely, so make sure you are outside them then!

Usually I'll go for a Bouncy shot here, a Twin Taser backshot isn't really necessary yet, although I am using it here anyway.

Twin Taser is definitely not as powerful as the other weapons, so I only use it when I really need to.

Finally, fighting the core.

Even if you only have 1 Option, you can position it so its pointing at the core, while you stay away from those lasers.

The hardest bit here happens if you have forgotten to take out the triple shot gun emplacement at the top, as it bothers you while you are trying to dodge lasers.


   Since this is the nicest explosion yet, I had to show you it. All bosses go red and shake about a bit before falling to earth in a shower of explosions.

Probably the weakest graphically, this level could have been done nicely on a master system. The simplicity is welcomed though when you play through this fast moving level with some deadends and traps.

Probably the most R-Typey level in the game so far, you'll need to use Twin Taser backshots for most of the mazy part of it. Lining up your Options intelligently helps you through a quite challenging level.

I couldn't say in general though that Thundercross was an R-Type clone, but it has parts which are undoubtedly heavily influenced by it. My favourite level, one which is great for grabbing ? bonuses.



There's a little Alien Thingy in that box there, can anyone tell me what happens when you shoot it? I've done it a few times now but I didn't notice any effect apart from a plinky plonky noise.

**update** I think its how Thundercross gives you some bonus lives actually, having found a couple of other little strange things to shoot in other levels - not sure though!

Sound effects remind me a lot of Xevious somehow, little tinkles rather than lots of booms.

Horrid bit in which rows of baddies come from behind - as well as ground emplacements throwing aimed spam at you.

Want to show off? Get a Twin Taser backshot, then pre-line your Options up in the exact pattern the enemies come from, and sit still in the middle and Cruise!



Small mechs jumping off ledges? OK, this bit is a little too close to R-Type for comfort :)

Make sure you take out them all, as passing one will leave your bum open to a pasting.

Clearing corridors with the Large Super Laser weapon - very effective on the chunks of junk which float towards you - as they take a bunch of hits.   

   Without any Options this part is quite tricky, as the streams of baddies try to block your path. Hate to mention R-Type again, but there's a level in that which is exactly the same as this bit!

Level 5's boss (for it is level 5, indeed!) is a two part attacker - most bosses respond well to a bunch of Options filled with normal Vulcan attacks by the way.

These missiles are easily taken care of, then two big bits burst off it, revealing this...



Doesn't look too bad does it - well, yup, its not that hard at all funnily enough.

Even though the orange cheestrings suddently APPEAR at you, they are slow moving and easily avoided. Another boss down.... Level 6 next!

Thunderforce 2 has some levels which use these firey blobs - I noticed here that if you stay in the same place, the intensity of the blobs attacking gets fiercer.

I once got here with fully tooled weapons too - and there was hundreds of firey blobs attacking - I wonder if theres some sort of proto-rank system in place depending on how many Options you have.

There's another point in the game where a bunch of backward appearing yellow ships try to ram you from behind, and you get more of them too if you are powered up. As well as this I've found that certain static powerups are missing too when you have a tooled ship.



Suddenly, huge platforms of goo arrive. As they do.

You realise quite how small your hit area is when you get here, you can scrape between very tight spaces. Definitely a tense level until you understand where you can and can't go. Little snotpiles can be shot away to clear your path, but magically grow again, so be quick. Strangely your hit area is definitely bigger though when it comes to bullets, so don't get trapped.

Nice little purple jumpy enemies here which bounce up the platforms like bugaboo the flea.

Almost Cave-Shooter like with TONS of purple baddies swamping the screen. Easy to get cornered and killed.

Good change of pace though, and it's quite unexpected to get this amount of enemies onscreen at once. And yes, the old cliche "slowdown rears its ugly head" applies, but nowhere near the extent of a Gradius game.



Nastiest Boss I've shown you here, spurts blasts of fire as well as the firey balls too - hard pattern to master but once you have it sorted - he is history.

Unless you are like me and just lost 3 lives in a row.

Now I don't know if this is the last level or not, but every time I get here and die, I can't continue any more. Not that I am using continues outside of reviewing purposes of course!

Again, cool little homage to the Gradius games with the patterned streams of small enemies - letting any of these ones past though will result in a swift bullet up the tailpipe.

I really like the stylised speedy graphics in the background, several parallax style layers



If there's one level where you MUST pickup the Twin Taser backfiring weapon, its HERE. Little men who remind me of Kokotoni Wilf (remember the theme tune for that? arghhh!!!) come at you from all angles, and are impossible without this weapon to avoid. Woe for people playing US version... with the sadly missing weapons.

Am I being cynical when I think the weapons were removed because the game was too easy? Could they possibly decided to rip them all out because they wanted to you pump continues in? And that extra baddie with the fast homing shot added to the US version - the cause of many a lost life. It's like he was designed specifically to kill you stone dead without warning. Bah.

Even though I have Super Weapon Flame here, I would have been better sticking with the Twin Taser backshot.

That mid sized enemy there drops bombs and you can't go under them whatsoever without being killed. I suppose you can slip over the top of them though but the bouncy guys at the bottom need taken care of too.



And this is as far as I got while I was taking pics. Restarting here with no weapons will really begin to test you hard - hey, it's probably the last level so that's only fair.

I once got to a giant ___ _____ boss at the end of this when playing on the cabinet. I'm not telling you what he is though, I have to leave something secret!!!

**UPDATE** I have killed the bast!! WAHEY!! Got here with 6 lives in tow - blasted it away - and after a little bit of credits you have to do it all over again, but harder! CONGRATURATIONS!!!


I'd only actually realised the difference in the versions today - I got a new pcb in, being Thundercross Japanese version strangely enough - and realised it played totally different to the one I'd played in mame. Yes, it works lovely in mame by the way. Thundercross 2 has pretty much the same weapon system as the japanese Thundercross, and although a lot of people rate 2 better, I like the level design of 1 more. Thundercross 2 has absolutely brilliant stereo music though, really fabulous.

At the moment, I'm still playing it - I can get to a certain place, and no further on a credit. I know the game really well now, and I'm sure a few more tries will let me complete it. It's been a long while since I felt to compelled to play a game so much over and over again, and Thundercross is fitting the bill nicely.

Have I got anything totally wrong in this review, or want to add something I have missed? Email me please! - Bye - Malc

** It has come to my attention from a very nice man in Japan that there might also be two revisions of the Japanese version too - one which is apparently the same as the US versions I've played. (I've had two US boards in the past few years, and they both are the "weaponless" ones, same as the mame US set). If you know any more, I'd like to know! thanks!


shmups!   © 1997 - 2007  Malcolm Laurie