Another month and another Ratalaika release – how this publisher scouts so many games in such short time is perhaps the reason why they’ve been able to succeed with their own niche. Yet while Ratalaika Games has largely been fixated on amateur visual novels, puzzle games, and other RPG Maker-style oddities, they do dabble in the occasional arcade style romp too. Thunderflash is an ‘80s-style shooter, and while it is functional and enjoyable, you can’t help but wonder the point of getting into it at all. Especially when its obvious influences and inspirations are now so easily available on several platforms including Xbox.
Thunderflash isn’t exactly original nor does it try to be, as it clearly copies its aesthetic style and presentation from the many arcade shooters of yesteryear. In particular, it emulates the SNK arcade classics like the Ikari Warriors series and especially the excellent Guerrilla War. In fact, you can find a lot of these games in the excellent SNK 40th Anniversary Collection on Xbox. These classics hold up extremely well, and so Thunderflash simply mimicking far superior timeless classics can make us wonder if it’s worth investing in it.
Thunderflash could be worth checking out for nostalgic gamers who grew up on the SNK classics, and so at the very least you end up with a functional, albeit derivative, homage that can be fun for what it is. On the other hand, modern gamers curious to step into the genre would be better off simply trying the SNK classics or others that can be found on Xbox One or any other platform.
To be fair, Thunderflash does show some enthusiasm in its art style and graphical presentation. It looks like something straight out of the MS DOS era, with pixelated sprites that have a dull, washed-out finish about them. It certainly does have some attention to detail with little nods to the gaming trends of yesteryear, especially with its use of simplistic chiptune music. Again, there is nothing remarkably clever or interesting here, just familiar art and presentation styling.
The gameplay is fine and functional, and it is a tough game where many of the enemy patterns and action segments seem to be borrowed straight from aforementioned Ikari Warriors and Guerrilla War. There is some appeal to the gameplay here, as the shooting action is fast-paced and straightforward, and what makes Thunderflash different and far more accessible than its influences is that it features a health bar. The instant one-hit deaths in Ikari Warriors still remain absolutely infuriating, and so being able to take a few hits goes a long way to make the game more accessible and enjoyable, especially from modern gaming conventions.
Although not a deal breaker, the movement and pacing in Thunderflash can feel a bit on the slow and sluggish side; it’s one of those things that players can probably get accustomed to after holding the controller for a few minutes, but it can be a little jarring at first. Not that Ikari Warriors was a fast-paced game by any stretch, but at least the pacing and momentum felt just right in terms of the shooting action and movement.
There are other things to enjoy about Thunderflash. For one thing this is the ideal quick two player co-op romp to kill half an hour or so with a friend, and while the game is largely a top-down shooter, the pacing and action is punctuated with some different segments such as a speedboat sequence, and it is always fun shooting bombs and rockets. It’s a fun game in fact, and there’s nothing overtly offensive about the experience, but then it all feels so derivative and simplistic in its level design and structure that it doesn’t really inspire much memorable challenge to encourage subsequent replays.
Thunderflash on Xbox is as derivative and basic as they come; a homage to top-down arcade shooters of yesteryear that provides a fun and functional experience at best, without delivering a sense of compelling challenge or encouraging subsequent replays. Those unfamiliar with this style of gameplay would be much better off picking up the excellent SNK 40th Anniversary Collection and trying the many superior games that Thunderflash was obviously influenced by. Of course, hopelessly nostalgic gamers looking for a quick two player co-op fix with a like-minded friend can get some enjoyment out of this inexpensive Ratalaika release.