Rolling Thunder is a side-scrolling arcade action game, developed and manufactured by Namco in 1986.
You take control of Codename “Albatross” – a highly-agile secret agent and a member of the “Rolling Thunder” espionage unit. Your mission is to rescue your partner, Leila Blitz, from a secret society called “Geldra”, and who are holding her against her will somewhere in New York City.
Rolling Thunder is split into two ‘stories’, each one comprising of five different stages, making ten stages in total. The stages in “Story 2” are essentially harder versions of those seen in “Story 1”, with different enemy placement and more traps, which is a little disappointing. At the end of the game there’s a battle with the Geldra boss, Maboo, to free Leila. Getting there is quite a task, though, because if you lose a life during any stage you have to start at the beginning again. There are no ‘waypoints’ or ‘save points’, and there’s also a time limit on each stage, so you can’t dawdle.
Codename Albatross starts out with a bog standard pistol and can upgrade weapons as he goes. All the way up to a fully-automatic machine gun that fires continuously if you hold down the fire button. Ammo is strictly limited though, so you can’t just go blasting away willy-nilly. You can however replenish your ammo in special doorways that say “bullet” on them. Simply stand in front of one and push up.
The most memorable thing about Rolling Thunder is the animation of the main character. It’s very Japanese, very distinctive, and very dynamic. With his pointy shoes and flares – rockin’ that mid-Eighties look… Kind of a cross between Sonny Chiba and James Bond. That animation style has been noticeably influential on other games over the decades though.
Like a lot of old arcade games, Rolling Thunder is extremely challenging. There are a variety of enemies – all colour-coded in different outfits and each behaving differently. Some fire guns, others throw grenades; the lowest common denominator henchmen simply have their fists to rely on. There are also weird ape-like monsters that leap around like crazy, and some surprisingly laughable bats. In later stages the obstacles start getting trickier (like the tyres, for example) and you then have to be more careful with your moves. Thankfully you have a ‘Life Bar’ so at least you don’t die with one hit, but even so: Rolling Thunder is not easy.
Rolling Thunder is still playable enough to be enjoyable today. It might be hard, but at least it’s fair. And still looks reasonably stylish. A sequel followed four years later, and a third game three years after that.