Prior to 3D Thunder Blade, my only experience with the game was the “Super” port for the Sega Genesis. I never even SAW an actual cabinet, despite my frequent trips to arcades. Super Thunder Blade was serviceable for a launch window Genesis release, but I found the movement slow and controls somewhat unresponsive. Aside from a few jokes here and there, I rarely thought of Thunder Blade over the years.
Then I found this write-up on the game, praising the merits of the arcade release and lamenting the lack of a quality home port.
It got me interested, but that didn’t change the fact that Thunder Blade cabinets are EXTREMELY rare. In the hundred-plus arcades I’ve been to in the United States and Japan in my lifetime, I’ve yet to see a machine. For years, I wondered if I would ever have a chance to play an arcade-perfect version of the game.
Luckily, M2’s Sega 3D Classics line exists, so the answer is a big YES.
If you’ve been following the releases under this banner, you probably know what to expect at this point. There are multiple sound and screen settings, gyro and touch control options, customizable buttons, an optional pre-game “Flight Training,” and a variety of difficulty settings. This remains the gold standard in porting classic games.
As for the game itself, I definitely wasn’t disappointed- even after years of anticipation. Movement in 3D Thunder Blade is fast and fluid, making the technological shortcomings of the Genesis version even more pronounced. Even with the slider all the way up, the fluidity of the game never falters. While I’m not a huge fan of 3D, it is pretty impressive in Thunder Blade.
This is primarily due to the dual viewpoints in the game. In each stage, you switch between your classic Space Harrier / After Burner behind-the-craft perspective and a view from above your copter, in which you can move vertically from the ground to the sky. It’s a perspective that I’m not sure I have seen before, and the way the enemies on the ground scale larger as you get closer still impresses.
One aspect of the game’s presentation I wasn’t as keen on was the music. Much like Galaxy Force II, Thunder Blade’s soundtrack is heavy on slap bass. The funky OST is at odds with the fast action and bright colors; something closer to the driving synth of After Burner would have been a much better fit.
My other fundamental complaint with the game is its brevity. There are only four stages, each of which take only a few minutes to complete. After finishing a stage, you’re able to select it from the start, so you don’t always have to start from the beginning every time. Once you finish the game in its entirety, a “Special” mode is unlocked. I played through this mode (where you DO have to start from stage one each time) and didn’t notice anything dramatically different, at least until I reached the end of the game. Here, after defeating the final boss, instead of getting the “End” screen, the game continued. I was shot down fairly quickly and got a “Game Over” screen.
I’m not sure if M2 added this extra section to the game, or if it was something in the original arcade release that I unintentionally met the criteria for. If anyone knows what the deal is with this, please let me know!
In the meantime, I’ll be returning to the game often. While 3D Thunder Blade may be short, it’s still ridiculously fun to play. The primal, yet satisfying, action is absolutely timeless, and serves as a wonderful antidote to the narrative-heavy “AAA” games that dominate the market today. As someone who adores the artistry behind these classic Sega arcade games, it’s nice to be able to just pull out my 3DS and experience M2’s amazing ports anywhere. The Sega 3D Classics line really is like having an arcade museum in your pocket, and 3D Thunder Blade can sit proudly alongside the other legendary releases in the series.