Thunder Cross II
by sunburstbasser

Thunder Cross 2 is a horizontal shooter which may have a story involving blowing stuff up. There is no narrative to indicate this. Thunder Cross 2 is a followup to a Konami shooter and was released in 1991.

Controls are unchanged from the first game. Button A shoots, button B repositions the options. In addition, most of the icons are the same as well so I'll just go over what's changed or new.

What's this? The regular gun is in the weapon lineup this time. Picking this up makes the shot larger and stronger and also pierces some small enemies. No autofire at all though, so this strength comes at the expense of your fingers and buttons.

The rapid fire gun makes a return and is very underwhelming. The firing rate at maximum level is about half what it was in the first game. It does seem to get a little stronger as more power ups are collected, but the firing rate is about what a moderately good button masher could keep up.

This weapon got a nice makeover. It still works exactly the same, but now three can be on screen at any time and they move very fast, improving the two weaknesses of the weapon. Still hard to hit with though.

In the first game, grabbing the F gave a neat looking but not always useful flame thrower. Here, it shoots huge ass fireballs that do massive damage. Major upgrade.

I guess with N now being "normal," the Napalm became Crush. It sucks. In the first game, the bombs would explode when they hit an object or enemy. Now, they fly a pre-set distance doing NO DAMAGE then explode. Half the time they seem to end up behind whatever it was you were aiming for. Stick with the Laser and Fire in this game.

? IS FOR ?
? can give points, or give you a random weapon. I haven't gotten a speedup from it yet, otherwise it seems anything goes.

That's about it for the weapon system. This is a sequel, so mucking around with what defined the original isn't necessary. The options may move a little faster now, but there aren't any glaring differences.

Sonically, this game excels. Still that classic Konami sound. Explosions are deeper and the sound effects are fatter and less tinny. The music has the same upbeat style Konami's shmups are known for, and it seems that a track or two has been added as I can hear a lot more going on at any time. Sound quality is also improved. It's still all synthesized, but a step up.

Thunder Cross 2 does add one thing musically. Shortly before each boss fight, an ominous track replaces the stage music. It only plays for 15 seconds or so, but it really sets the mood.

Where Thunder Cross 2 sets itself apart from the first game is in the level design. The levels this time around are much more dynamic, and nearly every level features at least two layers of parallax scrolling, making the whole experience more visually stimulating. Still no infinite vertical scrolling, but be on the watch for diagonal scrolling and even multiple paths.

Stage 1 opens in the sky. Right away, the music is pumping and multiple background layers are moving in parallax, making the game captivating at once. This being an aerial stage, all the baddies are fliers of some form, many of them the Konami-standard spherical popcorn enemies. Golden enemies release powerups instead of red ones, and explode with an Irem-esque tink. Enemies also zoom in from the background, including one large green missile carrier. The hardware that both of the Thunder Cross games ran on is basically the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade board, and it either doesn't naturally support sprite scaling or is choppy about it as this large green enemy is quite clearly re-draw about three times as it flies in. The effect is less noticeable on smaller enemies.

Stage 1's boss should look familiar. It's that dome from Thunder Cross stage 1! He's learned some new tricks for this time. For starters, this time the ball tentacle must be destroyed by shooting it in at the tip. The dome splits and mechanical arms are revealed which try to swat any careless shmuppers out of the sky. However, sit in the left armpit and with careful motions, this boss will die quickly. Just like in the first game, bosses are pretty simple.

Stage 2 is a nicely detailed fire stage. Almost immediately, the stage splits between a rocky upper path and a metallic lower path. The upper path has fireballs that first appeared in the volcano stage in Thunder Cross, though here they go down quicker and aren't as numerous. Stalactites can fall from the ceiling, which makes the level feel a bit more alive. On the bottom, look for roly polys from hell and a midboss with a cool charge shot.

The boss is a total joke. A big mech holds a three-missile launcher in one arm, and a shield in the other. After firing the three missiles, the launcher is repositioned. They don't home in and aren't particularly fast, so if one of them causes a death it's your fault. The shield does nothing but soak up bullets. Once both are destroyed, the boss sits in one place and slowly tries to stab at you with a tail made out of big, circular sprites. Shoot the gem while moving slightly vertically to win. Pushover.

Stage 3 starts to look a lot like Gradius. For the first time, Thunder Cross has a star field for a background. This stage is effectively a fight through a few giant space boxes. The backgrounds indicate that these boxes are all connected as some kind of ship, but this isn't a giant battle ship fight. Fight through a few boxes, each one successively harder. Konami loves to reference their other games, so watch out for a Contra reference (you won't miss it).

The boss is a variation on the Big Core, at least to start. It's bigger, but it moves up and down and shoots straight lasers. When it opens up, long arms reach the length of the top and bottom of the screen. Every few seconds, the arms will exchange vertical lasers right where the player is. They don't move at all, so with a little horizontal movement they are easy to avoid. Be careful of the homing missiles coming from behind, maybe take the Twin Laser to this fight. It still isn't hard.

Stage 4 is a straightforward affair. No fancy scrolling, but great music and nice backgrounds. Lots of right angles and some pipes that blow what looks like blue steam. The vents can be destroyed and should be since space fighters are fragile to blue steam. At one point, the stage is completely blocked off and to progress the proper tactic is to shoot the wall and destroy it. This is one of the few times in a shmup where shooting the wall actually works like it should. Don't take the Vulcan in this stage; you'll encounter vertical lasers in pairs, one on the wall and one on the ceiling. At least one must be destroyed to progress and the Vulcan doesn't seem to do enough damage consistently. Honestly, the Normal gun powered up is probably the best bet.

The boss is a bit disappointing. The gem enters the screen and takes possession of a mechanical chameleon. Seems Stealther from Darius Force wasn't the first. Stealther was better, though. This chameleon only moves in a vertical line, and has about 5 frames of animation. It's extremely choppy and distracting. It can launch a pattern of 5 fireballs or do a tongue lash, but it still isn't hard. The only thing hard is hitting the gem, as the choppy walking means bullets can strike the legs mid-stride and be cancelled, doing no damage. These bosses aren't at all on the same level as what Irem and even Taito were doing at this time.

Stage 5 gets better, though. Here, maybe for the first time, Konami does a giant battle ship really well and in some ways better than R-Type. The ship this time is an enormous affair that would take several screens to capture. The first part of the level is a fight over the top of it that ends at a superstructure. Along the way, look for lots of gun turrets and popcorn escorts along with some very irritating bombs that plant themselves when they hit the ground and begin firing bullet arcs. At the superstructure, destroy the gun emplacements and avoid the lasers. Destroy it, and a huge but perfectly cut hole will be revealed. The rest of the stage is a fight inside of a huge battleship. Not a bad idea, really. One short section features some pumping pistons that must be dodged. Not really hard, but dynamic scenery always helps make a level more interesting.

The Stage 5 boss is apparently the core of the battleship, though it looks a little bit like a train wheel with the way the it moves. Who would have thought that coal was the best fuel for a planet smashing space super destroyer? The awesomeness of coal powered space ships is lessened by another lame boss. A cannon above and below the piston fire destructible bullets, and the wheel in back fires a bullet are around the screen. Destroy the cannons and sit in front of the piston, moving slightly vertically to avoid the big yellow bullets. Moving on...

I don't know if Stage 6 was trying to use some R-Type motifs or instead went for a Gradius II/Contra vibe, or maybe the arcade Alien style. Whatever the case, the stage looks like it's made out of organic materials cobbled together to create a cave, and the design looks somewhat like the alien lairs from the Contra games, especially the backgrounds. At the end of the alien lair, you'll fight through some space that isn't quite empty. In fact, it's full of asteroids. At first they need to be avoided, but very quickly they become important tools as they block the enormous laser being fired at you.

Of course, huge lasers mean bosses. Avoid or destroy the fireballs and shoot the front. When it is destroyed, it'll start in with that blue laser that was stopped by asteroids earlier. It does have a charge time but it doesn't take long so be prepared. Any weapon is OK, with the best being a couple options to stay away from the front of the thing. Still, not a terribly exciting boss besides that giant laser.

The final stage looks a bit like the final stage from the first game, but now pieces of the scenery will spontaneously thrust out and alter the level design. And again, there is no credit pumping allowed on the last level so I can't review more than a tiny bit of it!

After playing through this game, one thing that struck me was how much better balanced it turned out than the first game. Death never seems unfair here, and the difficulty as a whole never seemed as high as the first Thunder Cross. The first level is a little harder, perhaps, but after that the difficulty curve is more gentle. Like the Gradius games, having four options bumps up the rank a bit, but with four options at full power it's actually much easier than with one or no options. Sometimes the graphics are a bit choppy, but that's a pretty minor complaint. Besides, Konami had other games around the same time with gorgeous graphics. In the end, I wound up liking this game better than the first.


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