Sunday, March 1, 2009

Lords of Thunder

Red / Hudson Soft
Super CD-ROM

Going a mythological route and incorporating armor-selection and item-purchasing elements, Lords of Thunder deviates from shooter norms in intriguing ways, but it achieves excellence primarily due to the phenomenal visuals it sports and the huge, ferocious creatures it pits players against. I like the game a lot, but I have issues with its gameplay and music that prevent me from ranking it among titles like Gate of Thunder and Lightening Force--the absolute elite of the old-school shooters.

Blade-wielding Landis, the hero of the affair, can choose from four different suits of armor at the beginning of each level, and the suit he selects determines the brand of firepower that will be at his disposal. He can also use cash acquired during his beast-crushing exploits to stock up on goods at pre-stage shop screens. Such elements suggest that strategy and prudent planning will play parts in the Lords experience, but most players agree that the earth-based coat should never be removed once donned, and money can be obtained in such abundance that discretion needn't be employed during shopping sessions.

Stage play doesn't prove to be any more taxing than the formality-screens that precede it. I've never had to memorize a pattern in this game, nor have I ever found any particular segment to provide a true test of reflexes. So I don't have to use my head, and my adrenaline never really gets pumping. The action is basically about plowing through huge, roaring, slobbering enemies. It's presented in awe-inspiring fashion, but it doesn't feel very refined.

As far as aural elements go, I dig the crunchy guitars and bold basslines in the numbers accompanying the title screen and opening cinemas, but once the actual game begins, the soundtrack may as well not even be present. I like rock scores, but I prefer solid riffs (like those in Gate of Thunder) to wailing solos (like those in this game). I can't get into this sort of material and find it mostly forgettable.

Again, I like Lords a lot. It'd be difficult to dislike a game that has levels and enemies that look this great. Also, its cinemas are very cool, and the shop element is incorporated well enough. But in my book, Lords doesn't quite reach the tier of brilliance where Gate resides.

Our pissed-off protagonist.

The adversarial lords are a strange-looking bunch.

Select your destination, and buff yourself up in the shops. In the Japanese rendition, the shopkeeper has an awesome "goddess-like" voice.

Enemies that just come walking along mid-level in Lords could easily act as major bosses in many other shooters.

Of course, Lords' actual bosses are in another league entirely.

Some creatures, such as the ice land's unicorn boss, are absolutely magnificent...

...while others are simply bizarre.

Lords delivers beautiful backgrounds, interesting enemy designs, and plenty of action. It may be easy, and it may feel sloppy, but it's still impressive and enjoyable.

True to the Lords way, your last few opponents go down with little resistance but look pretty damned awesome.

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