The hardest part of any project like this will always be the first step. This is why the introductory post is so stilted and formal. I am aware this is not a 9th grade book report, but writing something new is always unnecessarily difficult. Of course, that goes doubly for when the first game you have to write about is one you absolutely despise, which is a polite way of introducing Super Thunder Blade in a way that won’t automatically disqualify me from future employment.
In the game’s defense, Super Thunder Blade isn’t horrible so much as a necessary by-product of the vehicular shooter genre figuring itself out – a painfully reductive process that over the years stripped the once proud shmup down to a dozen fans all competing to top multi-trillion point high scores on a handful of games that for whatever reason all feature women of legally actionable age dressed up as gothic pioneer women wading through oceans of fluorescent gunfire. But that being said, the game just simply isn’t fun. Sega’s arcade bread and butter in the pre-mascot days were the psuedo-3d shooters that maintained the illusion by throwing dozens of scaled sprites at you a second. Space Harrier, Afterburner, Outrun, and Thunder Blade all used this effect, but only one of these was both not very good and the start and end of a failed franchise (I’ll give you a hint – it’s the one that had a superfluous adjective added to the home port that actually removed features)
The Mega Drive was easily the first home console that could come close to emulating the scaling witchery that made Sega’s arcade hits possible. So it makes some sense that this is what they’d push out for the early adopters. After all, even back then console launches were glacial at best, and it’s easy to see why Sega would push out a game that had the sizzle of a perfectly grilled rib-eye that tasted of paint thinner soaked licorice. The game is fast, mind you. Each of these screenshots look almost garment-rendingly bad, but in motion everything you see will fly by a little under a second later anyway, leaving the naked eye precious little time to wonder who exactly built all these identical office buildings in the middle of an unbridged river. So while the graphics might seem like they are off the hook, they really aren’t, because they are conceivably the only reason anyone might play this game. There is very little skill involved in the gameplay mechanics, unless you exploit the game engine by flying straight ahead in one of the upper corners of the screen you will die to endless barrages of nearly unavoidable enemy fire. Practically the only reprieve comes from the oddly engaging midbosses, which are absurdly giant military vehicles that took up what must have felt like the whole screen twenty-two years ago while still being right on the horizon. This is about the only place the game begins to approach being fun, simply by virtue of these bosses being the only time an enemy bothers to stay on the screen for longer than a fraction of a moment.
Perhaps worst of all is that even when played perfectly, the game is unbearably dull. Watch this perfect run of the first stage, with sound if possible as to hear the tinny cascade of explosions drowning out the otherwise completely dull music, and try to pay attention for the full six minutes, keeping in mind that is only if you play the game beyond the limits of an unaided human being:
There is really no reason to play this half of the Mega Drive launch library (and the only two games available to Japanese consumers for the first month after release) now that the game is old enough to purchase and consume alcohol in the United States. Naturally, this means that it is available in every single collection of Genesis games Sega puts out, most recently on the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 release that requires savant like skill or a willingness to exploit glitches to unlock the far superior arcade version of Space Harrier. But if there is nothing else polite to say about this game (and I assure you there isn’t) at least we can all take solace in the fact that the high score screen offers not one but two panda icons in lieu of your proper initials: