A horizontally scrolling shoot-'em-up for the Sega Mega Drive, developed by Tecnosoft. The game is largely an exercise in technical showmanship, and some shooter fans feel that the gameplay is not as enjoyable as its predecessor, or other contemporary games (such as Hellfire). In my opinion, the game is very playable, albeit extremely difficult, but I would not profess to being a shoot-'em-up aficionado.

With Thunder Force III being a runaway success in Japan, Tecnosoft were obliged to really do something special with this game, and they deliver in spades. The presentation is top notch. After a simple yet urgent attract sequence, you decide which order to attempt the first four levels in (their names : STRITE, DASER, AIR RAID and RUIN - the first two being Engrish for "Strait" and "Desert"). You can tweak the ship speed and select weapons while paused.

STRITE is the initial showcase level : an astounding flight over (and briefly under) a stretch of ocean with mountains and clouds in the background, and a ridiculous number of levels of parallax scrolling. Most of the levels in the game are two screens high, giving you a vast amount of air space. The feeling of speed is excellent.

When your ship is destroyed, there is a pneumatic explosion (like your capsule loosing pressure) instead of the usual weak explosion you get in most shooters - which really pisses you off. The game is full of clever touches like this to draw you into its world. Bosses can be heard revving up before they arrive on screen, sometimes changing the palette to indicate they are blocking out the sun. The DASER and RUIN levels are fairly pedestrian by comparison to the first, and AIR RAID is much slower, but fills the screen with biomechanical bombers and multipart ships.

All the bosses are awesomely drawn and huge, with some fitting homages to R-Type. The fifth level (an awesomely "streaky" trip through hyperspace) has you flying around a much larger carrier ship (where have we seen that before?) and receiving a secret weapon that adds a nifty new power to the claw powerup. The remaining levels include a magma cave (a la TF3), a Scramble-like biological tunnels level (with a grisly wasp/embryo boss thing), culminating in a face-off with the evil KA-OSS computer from the previous games (and its massive guardian robot) on an orbital base.

Kill all that lot (and you won't without cheating, unless you're God) and you get an awesome outro where your ship (the Rynex) is nearly destroyed escaping from the exploding base. There are a series of black and white stills of the pilot's experiences, the ship being designed, and his girlfriend as the credits roll. The game ends with a final image of the critically damaged Rynex floating in space as the signal breaks up. Now that's an ending.

The music is great in places (especially the stage select music), but a fair proportion of it is a bit too high pitched and twittery. The boss music is weak, basically letting you know it's a boss but dragging more than urging you on to kill it.

Overall, one of the best shooters for the MD, and at least worth downloading to gawp at the first level. No emulator has managed to make the intro work yet, although this could be the fault of the crappy "cracked" copy of the ROM I have.

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