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"Putting it all into retrospective!"
Rolling Thunder

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Rolling Thunder

Namco / US Gold (1987)

Synopsis

As secret agent 'Albatross', your mission is to infiltrate levels of armed hooded henchmen, and lava men, to save your female secret agent associate from certain doom.

The name's Tross... Alba Tross


Graphics

Pros:

Colourful, bright, and detailed, and much closer to the original than the rest.


Cons:

Sprites can look a little clunky in places where colours clash.





Sound

Pros:

The music is absolutely fine. Sound-effects are standard fare.


Cons:

After 10 seconds the music is absolutely not fine.





Gameplay

Pros:

The action is involved enough that you don't notice any shortcomings.


Cons:

A little slower-paced than its contemporaries.




Graphics

Pros:

Clean graphics, big sprites, smooth animation!


Cons:

Mainly a dichromatic affair, unfortunately.





Sound

Pros:

Practical sound effects.


Cons:

There is no music to speak of. Sound effects are minimal.





Gameplay

Pros:

The fastest rendering of the game, and seems to give you more of a challenge.


Cons:

Too many situations arising where you can be elbowed to death!




Graphics

Pros:

Clean, unfussy sprites and background detail.


Cons:

Misses out on so many graphical features that made the original such a classic.





Sound

Pros:

Starting music is there along with some standard gun-fire effects.


Cons:

The music is more in keeping with an adventure game. Thankfully, it's brief.





Gameplay

Pros:

An entertaining game to pass the time of day.


Cons:

This interpretation is unable to go beyond its own comfort zone.



Ma-boo...... the hooded man




Hot on the heels of their earlier side-scrolling hit, Pac-Land, 1986 saw the release of Namco's 'Rolling Thunder' in the arcades. For me, this soon-to-be classic was another immediate triumph in the amusements of Southend-on-Sea, et al, way back when eating an ice cream with sherbert on the top seemed like a great idea! Actually, now come to think of it...!


Invisible trampolines were all the rage!

As a World Crime Police Organisation secret agent with the peculiar codename of 'Albatross', your mission is to infiltrate a lair of evil henchmen (none of which appear to have been decapitated by an ill-tempered, mutated sea bass), to reach a female agent called Leila. She's being held hostage and tortured by a group of nutjobs called the 'Geldra', headed by master-villain 'Maboo', so it's imperative that you make it to the end to release her from their dastardly clutches.


Rolling Thunder's gameplay included a couple of nice novel touches, such as your player being allowed to jump between two tiers of armed and dangerous hooded enemies, whilst also giving you the ability to evade the 'hoodies' by hiding behind closed doors into unseen rooms. Some of these doors are marked by a sign telling you that this is a place for gaining extra ammo, and this is a commodity that you're well advised to stock up on. You could also jump onto crates to reach much higher levels than is prevalent throughout the game, providing a bit of a distraction away from the standard approach.

These ports deliver regardless of their inabilities to live up to the dream

The original arcade version depicted Albatross as a slightly lanky individual with some great animated moves, such as holding himself on his back foot as he fires his gun, and splaying his arms as he jumps between tiers. The gameplay was flowing and floaty; the music reminiscent of any 60s espionage thriller, urging you on in your quest to conclude matters between yourself and the whole army of deranged individuals.


Did the conversions to our trusty 8-bit home computers fully live up to the standards set by the original? Absolutely not! However, compared to other arcade ports of the time, these are fairly faithful offerings that provide a jolly decent and playable game.


It's fun at the YMCA!

The Spectrum's take on the game is mainly two-tone in colour with all characters depicted in black & transparent emblazoned against a yellow background. It's certainly not all bad though, because the main character is perhaps the most comparatively well-proportioned of them all. His movement is also nicely animated, and he jumps the bannisters better than in the Commodore 64 version (there are no bannisters in the Commodore 64 version...)! The 'red hot magma' level is, by far, more striking with some fearsome red-hot lava on the Spectrum against the C64's half a centimetre high worth of crude-looking brown sludge. The Spectrum version also plays faster than both the Amstrad and C64.


In what must be perceived as a slightly arrogant move, the makers of the Commodore 64 version decided on a level design that was far more removed from the arcade version than its contemporaries managed to muster. Gone are some of the main features of the original, such as the bannisters and tyres that you hopped over, and the removal of all doors that leave just a vacant space for you to walk through instead. The game is overly conspicuous due to the bannister's absence as jumping over them was something of a feature that was clever and new. Never mind though, because you can still jump up and down between the basic blocks of dull grey concrete instead. On the plus side, the Commodore's controls are responsive and the graphics, whilst plain and lacking any decent detail, are a lot cleaner than on the Amstrad.


Gordon's alive!

The CPC's production of Rolling Thunder retains the closest likeness in level design and colour scheme compared to the other systems on review. Whilst the graphics are above average for the CPC, they can appear a little blocky on occasion, particularly on the mid-levels. However, aside from some dodgy sprite poses that pervade in each version, everything here is representative of the original. It may not have the same velvety movement and reactiveness of the C64, but it doesn't particularly hamper the game in the same way as, for instance, Green Beret does with its slideshow scrolling. The CPC version is still more than fit for purpose even when it clearly sacrifices some fluency in the name of aiming high instead of being just another dreary Spectrum port.


Thirty years ago, you could probably imagine a number of CPC and Spectrum users rejoicing in the fact that they'd bought an arcade conversion that felt like it'd been given some proper attention. Commodore users maybe not quite so much with what feels like a half-hearted 'tried and tested' approach. The only real overall let-down is that the levels eventually return back to square one but with a greater difficulty setting, and that the ending is something of a damp-squib.


Rolling Thunder is a nice game to crack open from time-to-time but, as far as long-term appeal goes, the thunder doesn't quite rumble in the jungle.




Graphics

Each system's game appearance is completely different, with the CPC well ahead in this area.


Sound

There's very little in the way of ear candy, even on the C64. The CPC's music made me re-evaluate ever wearing earphones again.


Gameplay

It's fun to play, but the level rotation will eventually dampen your spirit.


Overall

You so badly wanted an arcade conversion to look and play incredibly well on your 8-bit home computer, which was something of a false aspiration. Yet these ports, although stylistically divergent, all managed to deliver a respectable game regardless of their inabilities to live up to the dream.



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Overall Ranking

74

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Screenshots

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ROMs

Amstrad: download
Commodore: download
Spectrum: download

Video Review

Pixel8Games'pick of 1987