Thunder Force IV

Last updated

Thunder Force IV
Thunder Force IV cover.png
Developer(s) Technosoft
Publisher(s) Technosoft
Series Thunder Force
Platform(s) Mega Drive, Sega Saturn, Nintendo Switch
ReleaseMega Drive
  • JP: July 24, 1992
  • NA: January 1993
  • EU: January 1993
Sega Saturn
  • JP: November 29, 1996
Nintendo Switch
  • WW: September 20, 2018
Genre(s) Shoot 'em up
Mode(s) Single-player

Thunder Force IV, [lower-alpha 1] known in North America as Lightening Force: Quest for the Darkstar, is a shoot 'em up video game developed and published by Technosoft for the Mega Drive in 1992. It is the fourth installment in Technosoft's Thunder Force series, and the third and final one created for the Mega Drive. It was developed by the team at Technosoft that ported Devil's Crush to the Mega Drive rather than the team that developed the previous Thunder Force games. Like its predecessors, it is a horizontally scrolling shooter, but it also features extensive vertical scrolling with large playing fields.


The game was considered by journalists as one of the best shooters on the Mega Drive when it was launched. Critics especially praised the game's graphics, including the vertical and parallax scrolling for illustrating the immense environments. Some believed that underneath the graphical sheen, the gameplay was relatively average however. Thunder Force IV was rereleased on the Sega Saturn in 1996 and the Nintendo Switch in 2018.


Battling with a boss Thunder force 4 screenshot.png
Battling with a boss

Thunder Force IV is a horizontal shoot 'em up. [1] The story takes place two years after the events of Thunder Force III . The player takes on the role of a fighter pilot to battle the Ohn Empire, which is plotting the extinction of the human race. [2] The first four stages can be selected in any order. There are ten stages total. [3] They scroll horizontally automatically, [4] and the player can also explore up and down to scroll the screen vertically and reveal a larger playing field. [2] The player can change the speed of their ship at any time for easier maneuverability. [3] Scrolling up and down will reveal different waves of enemies the player can shoot down, as well as hidden power-ups. [3] [5] At the end of each stage is a boss, and sometimes there are bosses mid-stage. [4]

Some enemies will drop power-ups that if picked up by the player will arm the ship with new weaponry, including a variety of missiles and lasers that fire in different patterns. [4] Each weapon has advantages and drawbacks, and are more effective depending on the battle situation the player finds themselves in. [1] The player can hold multiple weapons and cycle through them at will. [3] Other power-ups include shields and satellite ships that revolve their ship and multiplies their firepower. [2] [5] Half-way through the game, the player gains a powerful "Thunder Sword" attack which deal massive damage to enemies. It requires that the player has two satellite ships. [1]


Thunder Force IV was developed in Japan by Technosoft as the third Thunder Force game for the Mega Drive. Only the sound department was brought over from the original staff of Thunder Force II (1988) and Thunder Force III (1990); the rest of the team had previously ported the pinball game Devil's Crush to the Mega Drive. They chose to develop Thunder Force IV when given the opportunity to develop an original game. Having taken the reins for the Thunder Force series, the team felt a responsibility to surpass the quality of earlier series titles. [6] They borrowed code from the previous games, and built upon it using what they learned when porting Devil's Crush. [6] The composer for Thunder Force IV previously worked on Thunder Force III and also composed some original music for Devil's Crush. The sound team staff, lead by Naosuke Arai, were fans of heavy metal, so they worked on finding a method to create an electric guitar sound using the Mega Drive's FM synthesizer. They ran into difficulties and eventually settled on using the system's distortion sound effects to positive results. [7]


Technosoft held a promotional event for the game at a convention in Tokyo on June 7, 1992. [8] The event included a tournament, giving fans an early opportunity to play the game. [8] [9] The game was released in Japan on July 24, 1992, [8] [10] and in Europe and North America in January 1993. [11] [12] Sega of America renamed the North American version to Lightening Force: Quest for the Darkstar[ sic ]. [13]

The game was ported to the Sega Saturn as a part of Thunder Force:Gold Pack 2, a compilation disc released on November 29, 1996 in Japan. [14] [15] [16] The compilation also includes Thunder Force AC (an arcade port of Thunder Force III). [16] This version improved on the original by eliminating sluggish frame rate issues, adding an easier mode which gives the player bonus defensive abilities, as well as adding the fighter from Thunder Force III as a secret playable ship. [1] [16]

In 2016, Sega acquired the rights to the Thunder Force series, and announced they were looking to revive Thunder Force IV. [17] Two years later, in 2018, they announced a rerelease of Thunder Force IV along with other Sega games for the Nintendo Switch under the Sega Ages brand. [18] The game was released on September 20, 2018 along with Sonic the Hedgehog (1991). [19] [20] Players can choose between the Japanese and international versions and take advantage of the improvements and other features from the Saturn port. [21]


Thunder Force IV was quickly identified as one of the best Mega Drive shooters when it was released. [2] [4] [26] [22] [24] Critics agreed that the graphics were one of the game's best qualities. [2] [3] [4] [26] [24] [23] Mean Machines called them "state of the art" and highlighted the vertical scrolling for "evoking a sense of vastness." [2] The vertical scrolling also impressed other journalists. [2] [22] [23] Mega wrote that the landscapes were expansive, and appreciated the parallax scrolling effects. [24] The parallax scrolling was also picked up by Mega Drive Advanced Gaming , which called it "the most stunning use of parallax ever seen on the 16-bit Sega." They believed the game pushed the technical capabilities of the Mega Drive. [3] Other visual aspects highlighted by critics included the large sprites and smooth animation. [2] [4] Most critics liked the music and sound effects as well. [3] [4] [22] [23] Mega disliked the music, calling it "aimless, twittery, Japanese meanderings." [24] GameFan called the graphics and sound great quality considering the game was on a cartridge and not a CD. [22] The graphical quality came at a cost however, as some reviewers experienced slow frame rate issues when the screen was busy with action. [26] [23]

The high quality presentation of Thunder Force IV was not enough to cover up some concerns with its gameplay. While most critics enjoyed the game, even calling it "addictive" [4] and "pure adrenaline", [22] some thought the game lacked originality and felt like an average shooter. [2] [3] [24] Mean Machines wrote that it was similar to Thunder Force III and called it ""the best shoot 'em up you'll get on the Mega Drive, but suffers from complete lack of originality. This is the genre taken to its extreme." [2] Sega Force agreed that it was similar to the earlier Thunder Force games. [23] Mega added on to this, saying "beneath the graphical gymnastics of the surface, the game really is...decidedly average." [24] Critics that were more receptive to the gameplay commended the level of difficulty, the ability to pick the stage order, and the variety of weapons and power-ups. [4] [23]

Retrospective coverage

Thunder Force IV continues to be regarded as one of the best shoot 'em ups of its era. [1] [27] [28] IGN rated it as the fourth best classic shoot 'em up, calling it Technosoft's best shooter and "the pinnacle of Genesis shooters." [27] Retro Gamer placed it among their top ten Mega Drive games, praising its sense of scale, exotic environments, frenetic action, and graphical fidelity. [28] In another review, Retro Gamer called Thunder Force IV "Technosoft's masterpiece" and an essential game for shooter fans. [29] Both USGamer and Hardcore Gaming 101 discussed the game's presentation in high regard. [1] [30] At Kotaku, Peter Tieryas described it as "the ultimate adrenaline rush and hands down one of the best shooters on the Sega Genesis." [31] Paul Brownlee, writing for Hardcore Gaming 101, called it one of the best looking Mega Drive games and said of the soundtrack: "it's one of the best on the system from both an artistic and technical standpoint, standing among greats such as Streets of Rage 2 and MUSHA ." [1]


  1. Japanese: サンダーフォースIV, Hepburn: Sandā Fōsu IV
  2. Average of two reviews: 98% and 95%

Related Research Articles

<i>Zero Wing</i> 1989 arcade video game

Zero Wing is a 1989 horizontally scrolling shooter arcade video game developed by Toaplan and originally published in Japan by Namco and in North America by Williams Electronics. Controlling the ZIG space fighter craft, players assume the role of protagonist Trent in a last-ditch effort to overthrow the alien cyborg CATS. It was the eighth shoot 'em up game from Toaplan, and their fourteenth video game overall.

<i>Thunder Force</i> (video game)

Thunder Force is a free-roaming scrolling shooter computer game released by Technosoft in 1983. It is the first game in the Thunder Force series. It was initially released for the X1 computer, and later appeared on the Sharp MZ-1500, PC-6001 mkII, and in 1985 on the PC-8801 mkII. In 1984, it was released for the FM-7 and PC-9801 computers as Thunder Force Construction, featuring an add-on that allowed players to create custom made areas, like a level editor or game creation system.

<i>Raiden</i> (video game) Vertically scrolling shooter arcade game released in 1990

Raiden is a 1990 vertically scrolling shooter arcade video game developed by Seibu Kaihatsu and published by Tecmo in Japan. The game's story takes place in the year 2090, when an alien species known as the Crystals invaded Earth. Players assume the roles of the Vanquish Crystal Defense pilot duo, taking control of two state of the art Fighting Thunders aircraft to defeat the Crystals and save the Earth.

<i>Twin Cobra</i>

Twin Cobra is a vertically scrolling shooter developed by Toaplan and released in arcades in 1987 by Taito in Japan and Europe, then in North America by Romstar. It is a sequel to the 1985 arcade game Tiger-Heli. Controlling the titular attack helicopter, the players must fight endless waves of military vehicles while avoiding collision with their projectiles and other obstacles. It was the fourth shoot 'em up game from Toaplan, and their tenth video game overall. It was ported to multiple platforms, with each done by different third-party developers that made several changes or additions.

<i>Gunstar Heroes</i> 1993 run and gun video game developed by Treasure and published by Sega

Gunstar Heroes is a run and gun video game developed by Treasure and published by Sega. It was Treasure's debut game, originally released on the Sega Genesis in 1993. The game's premise is centered around a pair of characters, the Gunstars, in their efforts to stop an evil empire from recovering four powerful gems. The characters can fire guns and perform a series of acrobatic maneuvers to fight enemies across each stage. There are four weapons in the game which can be combined with one another to create different shot types.

Technosoft was a Japanese video game developer and publisher based headquartered in Sasebo, Nagasaki. Also known as "Tecno Soft", the company was founded in February 1980 as Sasebo Microcomputer Center, before changing its name to Technosoft in 1982. The company primarily dealt with software for Japanese personal computers, including graphic toolsets and image processing software. Technosoft's first ventures into the video game market were with Snake & Snake and Feedback, both released in 1982, before seeing success with titles such as Thunder Force (1983) and Plasma Line (1984).

<i>Streets of Rage 2</i> 1992 video game

Streets of Rage 2, released in Japan as Bare Knuckle II: The Requiem of the Deadly Battle, is a side-scrolling beat 'em up video game published by Sega in 1992 for the Mega Drive/Genesis and developed by an ad hoc team of several companies: Sega, Ancient, Shout! Designworks, MNM Software and H.I.C. It is the second game in the Streets of Rage series, a sequel to Streets of Rage and followed by Streets of Rage 3 and Streets of Rage 4.

Menacer Video game accessory

The Menacer is a light gun peripheral released by Sega in 1992 for its Sega Genesis and Sega CD video game consoles. It was created in response to Nintendo's Super Scope and as Sega's successor to the Master System Light Phaser. The gun is built from three detachable parts, and communicates with the television via an infrared sensor. The Menacer was announced at the May 1992 Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago and was released later that year. The gun was bundled with a pack-in six-game cartridge of mostly shooting gallery games. Sega also released a Menacer bundle with Terminator 2: The Arcade Game.

<i>Thunder Force II</i>

Thunder Force II (サンダーフォースII) is a scrolling shooter developed by Technosoft. It was first released in Japan on October 15, 1988 for the Sharp X68000 computer. A year later, it was ported to the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis game console and released in Japan, Europe, and the United States. Thunder Force II was one of the six launch titles for the U.S. Genesis release. The Genesis port was later included in Thunder Force Gold Pack Volume 1 for the Sega Saturn. It is the second chapter of the Thunder Force series.

<i>Thunder Force III</i>

Thunder Force III (サンダーフォースIII) is a 1990 scrolling shooter game developed by Technosoft for the Sega Genesis. It is the third chapter in the Thunder Force series. It was then retooled into an arcade game named Thunder Force AC. In 1991, Thunder Force AC was ported to the Super Nintendo Entertainment System under the title Thunder Spirits.

<i>Thunder Force V</i>

Thunder Force V is a 1997 Japanese side-scrolling shooter video game developed by Technosoft for the Sega Saturn. It is the fifth game in the Thunder Force series. Unlike previous games in the series, Thunder Force V uses polygons to model the larger enemy ships and some of the scenery, in addition to sprites. In 1998, Thunder Force V was ported to the PlayStation as Thunder Force V: Perfect System.

Thunder Force is a series of free-roaming scrolling shooter type video games developed by the Japanese software company Technosoft. The franchise is recognized for its distinctive gameplay, graphics, and synthesizer-based chiptune music soundtracks.

<i>Gley Lancer</i>

Gley Lancer is a 1992 scrolling shooter video game developed and published by Masaya for the Sega Mega Drive.

<i>Hellfire</i> (video game)

Hellfire is a 1989 horizontally scrolling shooter arcade video game originally developed by Toaplan and published in Japan by Taito and North America by U.S.A. Games. The first horizontal shoot 'em up title to be created by Toaplan, the game takes place in the year 2998 where a space matter known as Black Nebula created by robot dictator Super Mech spreads and threatens to engulf human-controlled galaxies, as players assume the role of Space Federation member Captain Lancer taking control of the CNCS1 space fighter craft in a surprise attack to overthrow the enemies with the fighter craft's titular weapon.

<i>Thunder Cross</i> (video game)

Thunder Cross (サンダークロス) is a horizontally scrolling shoot 'em up arcade game released by Konami in 1988. It used a "layered scrolling" background, a new 2D graphics technique at the time. The game spawned a sequel, Thunder Cross II, in 1991. Owing to several similarities, Space Manbow (1989) may also be considered a spin off.

<i>Fire Shark</i>

Fire Shark is a 1989 vertically scrolling shooter arcade video game developed and originally published by Toaplan and Romstar in Japan, Europe, and North America. It is the sequel to Flying Shark, a game released in 1987 on multiple platforms. Set in the year 1991, the game focuses on a mysterious armada launching a worldwide attack from a small island in the Mediterranean Sea. Players take control of the titular biplane to counterattack the enemy forces.

<i>Elemental Master</i>

Elemental Master is a top down shoot 'em up video game developed by TechnoSoft for the Sega Mega Drive and released in 1990 in Japan, and in 1993 in North America by Renovation Products.

<i>Thunder Force VI</i> 2008 shoot em up game

Thunder Force VI is a 2008 horizontal-scrolling shooter video game developed and published for the PlayStation 2 by Sega. The game places the player in the role of a starship that must eradicate the Orn Faust empire before they destroy all of Earth. The player must complete each stage by shooting down enemies and avoiding collisions with them and their projectiles, using an arsenal of powerful weapons to destroy them. It is the sixth and final entry in the long-running Thunder Force video game franchise, and the only one to not be developed by series creator Technosoft.

<i>Ginga Fukei Densetsu Sapphire</i> 1995 video game

Ginga Fukei Densetsu Sapphire, commonly abbreviated to Sapphire in English, is a shoot 'em up developed by CAProduction for the PC Engine CD-ROM² System. It was published in 1995 by Hudson Soft exclusively in Japan. The story follows an all-women police force in 2092 traveling through time to intercept terrorists committing crimes across the past and future. The player takes on the role of a police officer and controls their spaceship through waves of enemies and powerful bosses.

<i>Ranger X</i>

Ranger X is a side scrolling run and gun shoot 'em up video game for the Sega Genesis. Developed by GAU Entertainment and published by Sega, the game was released in 1993.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Brownlee, Paul (April 17, 2008). "Lightening Force". Hardcore Gaming 101. Archived from the original on July 21, 2018. Retrieved July 19, 2018.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 "Mega Drive review: Thunder Force IV" (PDF). Mean Machines. No. 24. September 1992. pp. 104–106. Archived (PDF) from the original on July 21, 2018. Retrieved July 20, 2018.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 "Thunder Force IV" (PDF). Mega Drive Advanced Gaming. No. 2. October 1992. pp. 24–27. Archived (PDF) from the original on July 21, 2018. Retrieved July 20, 2018.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Rand, Paul; Boone, Tim (October 1992). "Review: Thunder Force IV" (PDF). Computer and Video Games. No. 131. pp. 36–37. Archived (PDF) from the original on July 21, 2018. Retrieved July 20, 2018.
  5. 1 2 Lightening Force instruction manual (PDF). North America: Sega. 1993. Archived (PDF) from the original on July 21, 2018.
  6. 1 2 "『サンダーフォースIII』はいかにして『セガ3D復刻アーカイブス3』に収録されることになったのか? 元テクノソフト新井氏を交えてのスタッフインタビュー". ファミ通.com (in Japanese). October 8, 2016. Archived from the original on April 29, 2018. (Translation Archived June 30, 2017, at the Wayback Machine )
  7. Manent, Mathieu; Mellado, Fabien; Latour, Franck; Clerc-Renaud, Antoine (2014). "Naosuke Arai". PlayStation Anthology. United States: Geeks Line. pp. 193–194. ISBN   9791093752327.
  8. 1 2 3 "Be-Mega Hot Menu: Thunder Force IV" (PDF). Beep! Mega Drive (in Japanese). August 1992. pp. 44–48. Archived (PDF) from the original on July 21, 2018. Retrieved July 20, 2018.
  9. "Software and Hardware News: Thunder Force IV" (PDF). Sega Mega Drive Advanced Gaming. No. 2. October 1992. p. 9. Archived (PDF) from the original on July 21, 2018. Retrieved July 20, 2018.
  10. 1 2 "サンダーフォースIV [メガドライブ]". Famitsu . Enterbrain Inc. Retrieved July 27, 2018.
  11. "Jahresüberblick 1993" (PDF). Play Time (in German). January 1994. p. 133. Archived (PDF) from the original on July 21, 2018. Retrieved July 21, 2018.
  12. "Software Calendar" (PDF). Electronic Gaming Monthly. Vol. 6 no. 1. January 1993. p. 42. Archived (PDF) from the original on July 21, 2018. Retrieved July 21, 2018.
  13. "Seven of the Stupidest Videogame Titles of All Time - GameZone". GameZone. May 4, 2012. Archived from the original on April 23, 2015. Retrieved July 19, 2018.
  14. "サンダーフォース ゴールドパック2 [セガサターン]". Famitsu . Enterbrain Inc. Retrieved July 27, 2018.
  15. "セガサターンソフトレビュー" (PDF). Sega Saturn Magazine (JP) (in Japanese). Vol. 22. December 27, 1996. p. 271. Archived (PDF) from the original on April 1, 2016.
  16. 1 2 3 McFerran, Damien (September 20, 2016). "Feature: The History Of Technosoft's Thunder Force Series". Nintendo Life. Archived from the original on July 20, 2018. Retrieved July 19, 2018.
  17. McFerran, Damien (September 19, 2016). "Sega Has Acquired The IP Of One Of Japan's Most Underrated Studios". Nintendo Life. Archived from the original on September 26, 2017. Retrieved July 21, 2018.
  18. Tucker, Kevin (April 14, 2018). "Sega Ages Lineup Bringing Classic Sonic, Phantasy Star and More to Nintendo Switch". Shacknews. Archived from the original on April 29, 2018. Retrieved July 21, 2018.
  19. "SEGA AGES サンダーフォースIV". SEGA AGES(セガエイジス) (in Japanese). September 22, 2018. Retrieved September 22, 2018.
  20. Craddock, Ryan (September 20, 2018). "Sega AGES Finally Launches In The West, Sonic And Thunder Force IV Available Now On Switch". Nintendo Life. Retrieved September 22, 2018.
  21. Wong, Alistair (July 19, 2018). "Sega Ages Sonic The Hedgehog And Thunder Force IV To Come Out In August". Siliconera. Archived from the original on July 19, 2018. Retrieved July 21, 2018.
  22. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "Viewpoint, Thunder Force IV" (PDF). GameFan. Vol. 1 no. 1. October 1992. pp. 6, 18. Archived (PDF) from the original on July 21, 2018. Retrieved July 20, 2018.
  23. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 "Reviewed!: Thunder Force IV" (PDF). Sega Force. No. 10. October 1992. pp. 54–56. Archived (PDF) from the original on July 21, 2018. Retrieved July 20, 2018.
  24. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 West, Neil (October 1992). "Game Review: Thunderforce IV" (PDF). Mega. No. 1. pp. 48–49. Archived (PDF) from the original on March 5, 2016. Retrieved July 21, 2018.
  25. "Saiu no Japao: Thunder Force IV". SuperGame (in Portuguese). No. 18. Brazil: Nova Cultura. January 1993. p. 12.
  26. 1 2 3 Captain Squideo (August 1993). "Genesis ProReview: Lightening Force" (PDF). GamePro. No. 59. p. 66. Archived (PDF) from the original on July 21, 2018. Retrieved July 20, 2018.
  27. 1 2 Buchanan, Levi (April 8, 2008). "Top 10 Classic Shoot 'Em Ups". IGN. Archived from the original on August 22, 2017. Retrieved July 21, 2018.
  28. 1 2 "Top Ten Mega Drive Games". Retro Gamer. January 7, 2014. Archived from the original on March 12, 2017. Retrieved July 21, 2018.
  29. Thorpe, Nick (May 7, 2016). "Thunder Force IV". Retro Gamer. Archived from the original on September 24, 2016. Retrieved July 21, 2018.
  30. "The USgamer Community Reflects on Sega Genesis". USgamer. October 25, 2013. Archived from the original on December 20, 2017. Retrieved July 21, 2018.
  31. Tieryas, Peter. "Thunder Force IV Was One Of The Best Shooters Of The 16-Bit Era". Kotaku. Retrieved January 31, 2021.