While the Super Nintendo is my favorite 16-bit console but I’ll be the first to admit that the Sega Genesis was the better console for shmups. It’s library of space ship shooters is vast and among these many games is Thunder Force III and it’s considered to be one of the best shmups on the Genesis. I had a great time playing it and was relieved to find a shoot-em-up that didn’t kick my ass every five seconds.
Thunder Force III is a horizontal space ship shooter taking place directly after Thunder Force II. You pilot a ship called Styx and battle the ORN Empire across five planets, or stages. Once you complete all five stages you move on to the ORN headquarters. One of my favorite features of this game is the fact that you can choose any stage you wish to start but then the game progresses through the other stages automatically from there. This allows you to go from stage to stage in a different order each time so it mixes things up in a way.
One of the best things about Thunder Force III is it’s easy to pick up and play. Compared to other shmups, like Gaiares for example, Thunder Force III isn’t brutally difficult. Almost anyone, including me, can beat this. I died several times during my playthrough but I hardly found it impossible. Like most shmups, memorization is key and the game is definitely forgiving. After losing all your lives you have plenty of continues but you’ll have to start the stage over again. The enemies are easy to take down and at the end of each stage is a boss. Once you learn the boss attack patterns, they almost feel like push-overs. Some stages are more challenging than others but, overall, none of them are too hard to navigate. Haides gave me the most trouble due to the stage itself constantly shifting causing me to crash frequently but once I memorized it, it wasn’t that difficult. Thunder Force III was released in 1990 and it looks pretty good but nowhere near as good as Gaiares and that was released the same year. For it’s time, however, Thunder Force III was a visual marvel. Each stage is visually diverse and it’s got some great parallax scrolling going on. The sound effects are okay but the music is better. You got your typical shooting and exploding sounds of that era and overall it’s a nice presentation.
When you start playing you’re equipped with two weapons, the Twin Shot which fires two shots out the front of the ship, and the Back Shot which fires single shots out the front and back simultaneously. You can acquire various other weapons throughout each stage, including a Sever laser, which is my favorite, and missiles among others. You can store up to five weapons and switch between them at will. Every now and then you’ll come across a shield pickup which can be very useful as it allows you to take a few hits. Dying will cause you to lose your current weapon minus your starting weapons. The weapon system is balanced and no weapon feels useless. You can also adjust your ship’s speed on the fly making it easier to navigate certain areas. Some sections of a stage may require you to quickly fly ahead to avoid the shifting environment otherwise you’ll be trapped. However, I noticed having the speed maxed out all the time usually caused me to crash more as moving around at that speed was somewhat sensitive.
Thunder Force III is one of the best games for players who are new to the genre or want to get into it. It won’t kick your ass after five minutes of playing and there’s plenty of diversity in the stages and weapons to keep you interested. There is an options menu but you need to hold down A+B+C and press Start at the title screen to view it. From there you can change the difficulty, change the starting ship speed, change controls, and it even has a sound test. Why Technosoft didn’t feel the need to include a standard menu system is beyond me but oh, well. Visually, the game looks great and it’s backed by some great music. I don’t have much else to say about Thunder Force III other than it’s a great shoot-em-up and I’d definitely recommend it to any space ship shooter fan.