Thunder Force AC (SEGA AGES) Review

M2 seems to be a game porting monster and that is no exception when talking about the recent Thunder Force AC port to the Switch. As with many SEGA Ages titles before it, this version of Thunder Force may actually be the definitive version, albeit with much less intrigue than an arcade cabinet. Thunder Force AC is a horizontal shoot ‘em up that was born from the ashes of Thunder Force III on the Sega Genesis. While admittedly I haven’t played many games in this genre on the Switch, it has quickly become one of my favorite, short-burst experiences on the console. I use it as a buffer between games when I am not quite sure what I want to play, instead of endlessly scrolling through the eShop that I’m sure many of us are guilty of. It doesn’t just act as a quick in-and-out experience though. This game is great whether you have mere minutes, or a couple hours to play.

The SEGA Ages series is notorious for squeezing great content into retro experiences. You are provided with not only the arcade mode that emulates the original perfectly, but are also given the option of a “kids mode”. While I may have felt a little degraded with the choice of words they used here, it was a welcome addition to the game. I have never been all that good at shoot ‘em ups, but this mode allowed me to see it to its conclusion with very little difficulty. It allowed me to experience all 8 levels that I would have never seen were I to stick with the arcade mode. On top of this new mode, you are given the choice of the difficulty level in each playthrough, the number of lives you are awarded with each credit, and the score necessary to earn an extra life. All of these options offer customized gameplay, tailored to the skill level of the player. Arcades were designed to eat quarters, making it necessary to be difficult within the fundamental design. These options circumvent that and make the game much more user-friendly.

As mentioned above, there are 8 unique levels, each with their own enemies, backgrounds, and bosses. The game does not lack variety, as my thirst for novelty was well quenched with every new screen. One thing I feel is worth mentioning is the nausea evoked from the second level. The background is wavy and there are instances where you speed up. It made the world around me spin uncontrollably, figuratively speaking. It was almost unplayable, which is incredibly disappointing because if I wasn’t driven to review the game, I would have likely stopped my playthrough there. Fortunately, in later levels this is not a problem, so if you can get over this hump your stomach should settle down.

There’s not much more I can say about this game. The music is stellar in typical SEGA fashion. It is full of energy and the funky melodies really compliment the fast-paced gameplay effectively. It is a port of an arcade game, which is the very definition of replay value. It’s just as fun the initial run as the third or fourth time through it, and perhaps even more so as you come to master the game, anticipating every enemy and bullet that is thrown your way. Beyond that I feel I’ve said more than enough about this bite-sized experience. I’m a huge fan of SEGA and love to support these SEGA Ages titles as much as I can because they are significant markers in the annals of video game history. On top of that, M2 does a fantastic job at porting these games to perfection while also giving a suitable amount of added content to remain relevant in this day and age.

Sound: 5/5

Gameplay: 5/5

Story: 1/5

Graphics: 4/5

Replay Value: 5/5

Total: 20/25 or 80/100

198X Review

As I get older time seems to become more and more precious. There’s just not enough of it in a day. Therefore my appreciation for short games has grown as I have; where I would have been furious as a child to get home and pop a game into my console only for the experience to be over as quickly as it had begun, I bask in enjoyment when I can complete a game within an hour or two of sitting down with it, as long as it’s fun and impactful. 198X is one of those games. It can be beaten in an hour, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. The story is meaningful, the gameplay is fun and engaging, and it acts as a nice throwback to a simpler time.

198X is essentially an hour-long story that finds a warm home as interactive entertainment. The protagonist’s name is Kid, and we accompany him in the outskirts of a city, appropriately called Suburbia. In the opening moments, he finds an arcade nestled down an alley in what looks to be an old abandoned building. He marvels at the glowing lights permeating the otherwise dark and dreary room. The game’s gimmick is that the player is experiencing old arcade games along with the protagonist as he inserts a coin and escapes into the virtual world, if not only but for a fleeting moment. The story, intertwined with the gameplay, is a neat and inventive idea that I would love to see more of. It’s a real coming of age story that implements gaming and nostalgia in a creative way. It’s relatable, and I was never an 80s kid, which says a lot about the masterfully written narrative.

The gameplay revolves around a variety of different arcade-style games that all fall within a different gaming genre. The first game you experience acts as an introduction, easing the player into the story. It’s a beat ‘em up that resembles the old Streets of Rage games. It controls as well as I expected from a game that has a lot of source material to draw inspiration from. In fact, all the games featured in the story control very nicely and I have no complaints in that regard. You move on to play games inspired by Outrun, Phantasy Star, and other 16-bit gaming staples, all of which are fun in their own right.

One of my favorite parts about this game is its soundtrack. It is comprised of some great 16bit-style tracks that are sort of smoothed out to appeal to a modern audience. Flying through space and blowing up giant starships becomes even more exhilarating when the music is ramping up in the background. Outside of the arcade games, the soundtrack that plays over the narration is just as stellar. It sets the tone for the whole game, evoking emotions that only a masterful soundtrack can draw out of the player. Paired with the incredibly atmospheric narration that Ms. Tuttle brings to the table, the sound in this game is definitely something to keep an eye (or ear) on.

The graphics are what’s to be expected from a 16bit video game, but it somehow looks better than what I am accustomed to in games from the 90s. I’m a sucker for the visuals in pseudo-retro games. The art directors are able to capture the essence of the times, but also upgrade it and make it pop in the world of the 2000’s. It is quite impressive, considering the game’s story, outside of the playable arcade games, is dished out in the same 16bit art style. The entire game, from head to toe, is pixelated heaven. I received pure enjoyment from the game’s art, and I hope we see more games like this one.

While the game is all about quick, pseudo-arcade games that can be finished within a matter of minutes, it allows for a certain level of replay value. When the story is completed, the player can choose to jump in at any point in the story, giving the freedom to play any featured game on a whim. However, these arcade games fall short of their source material. It’s simply more fun to jump into Outrun, or Streets of Rage than to play 198X’s take on these games. All in all, the replay value is there should it be something that interests you, but I would rather invest my time in the actual games rather than their depictions within this title.

198X is a short burst of fun that any fan of old arcades can pick up and find some enjoyment in. On one hand I would love for it to be longer, on the other it is the perfect sized experience that demands my attention for the little free time I have. At the end we are promised that the game is “to be continued” and I hope 198X reaches the level of success that is required for the developers to consider a sequel. If you haven’t checked this one out yet, I urge you to do so.

Sound: 5/5

Gameplay: 3/5

Story: 4/5

Graphics: 5/5

Replay Value: 2/5

Total: 19/25 or 76/100