Rolling Thunder

Code Name: Albatross

Source // Wikipedia

If a game is called something as awesome as Rolling Thunder, I'm expecting big things. I'm getting an Ace Combat vibe, dogfighting, pushing aerial machines to the extreme...

It's not what I got when I started playing.

What I got in Rolling Thunder is a shoot 'em up located firmly on the floor. We become a one man killing machine, special agent Albatross, on a mission to rescue agent Leila Blitz from the clutches of Geldra.

Yup. Sounds a lot less awesome than I hoped, but what does it actually play like?

Fun Times

I'm playing the NES port and it feels pretty damn good. The gameplay is almost drip fed to you as you make your way into the level. You have a gun with limited ammo and a button on your controller to fire it. Doesn't take much explaining there.

Some enemies are killed instantly, others take a couple of hits. Nothing new, is it? Enemies drop from the level above you, they come out of doors, they come from behind. They keep coming, though less so than the arcade original, but then that's what enemies in video games do, don't they? Near infinite clone armies and all that.

Step into some handily signposted doors and you'll be able to get new weapons and more ammo. Step into the right blank doors and your time increases. You can jump - you'll need to - and you can jump all the way up to the gangway above you, or up on to shipping containers and crates, or sand bags - there's all sorts scattered through the levels, and they're mostly left to right, rather than up and down affairs.

The animation on the NES isn't as swish as the arcade, but it feels fluid and fast paced, despite how clunky it is in places.

In case it's not obvious, these are tires and I'm standing in the middle of them. Once I worked that out, I thought 'oh, neat'. Once I got stuck in them, able to make no progress past the gun weilding goon hiding behind the stack on the other side, I had different words for those tires.


Rolling Thunder is another of those titles that looks easy but turns out to be a tough game to get through. Much of my playtime was spent remembering where enemies come from and firing at them before they were a problem. Little by little I made progress through the level, learning from my mistakes and really just taking my time.

Thankfully the continue system was generous (and also on the NES is a password system to skip sections of the levels), otherwise I might have stopped playing earlier. Agent Albatross can take a hit, but will die on the next one, and while you can enter doors to increase your ammo, you don't seem to be able to give yourself any extra lives or health.

Off screen enemies were rarely the death of me, but at some point, they sure were the death of me

Final Word

I might be missing something with that, maybe you can refill your health, but it means a run and gun game becomes a little slower paced than I think it could have been.

It feels a little rigid sometimes, and when you think about how you're firing at an enemy you can start to see the screen in terms of grids and firing lines. Duck and shoot this guy, stand on this crate to shoot that guy and so on. Having to slow down to compensate for the difficulty and/or your lack of skill almost saps a bit of the fun out of Rolling Thunder.

And it is fun. It's short, but it'll keep you going. You'll feel that you should be doing better than you are, and in time you will be doing better. If you hit a brick wall, yeah, it's a little frustrating, but at least it wasn't five seconds into the level.

For a quick burst of gaming, you can do worse than Rolling Thunder. You can do much better, but that's because it's not really a pick up and play title. But do play it.

Fun Facts

Leila Blitz has freakishly long arms, or appears to at least. After being tortured via electrocution, she is hung up on a wall like Christ on the cross, with body proportions that would freak out Mr Fantastic. Check it out in the background of the final boss.

Rolling Thunder, developed by Namco, first released in 1986.
Version played: NES, 1989, via emulation.
Version watched: Arcade, 1986 (arcadegamesfreak)