Thanks to Qubyte for the review code
Title: QUByte Classics: Thunderbolt Collection by PIKO
System: Xbox One
Release Date: 08/04/2022
In this pair of vertical shooters… I, uh… I don’t know. Thunderbolt “1” has an intro that explains next to nothing, and Thunderbolt II just throws you into the action. Yet again, another set of Piko games being wrapped by QuByte, these two both being bootleg titles from Taiwan. Not like that’s always a bad thing, for several unlicensed games from Taiwan I actually found myself enjoying, such as Water Margin and Brave Battle Saga.
Same Qubyte Wrapper as always, so the same filters/clunk/options apply, with yet again no attempt at any bonus features. This is especially glaring for reasons I’ll note later on.
Immediately, it must be noted that when I noted these were bootleg titles, I mean they were bootleg as bootleg can be. The “first” game, Thunderbolt on NES, is a very basic looking and inoffensive clone of the Star Soldier series, and visually, it doesn’t really look that great or awful, outside of a very goofy looking intro that makes next to no sense. But the music, my god, the music is your typical droning, repetitive loop that’ll drive you up the wall in seconds. Not a single track in this game is good, and I’d argue if there was a way to mute the BGM and play with only the basic sound effects, the game would be a bajillion times better. Still, the game looks average, even if it sounds awful.
Thunderbolt II cannot earn the same forgiveness. This was a Genesis game released a few years later, and to be ultimately honest, it’s not even an original game. Yes, NES Thunderbolt was a clone of Star Soldier, but Thunderbolt II is an outright ROM Hack of Namco’s Dangerous Seed port for the Genesis. I didn’t really think much of it at first, but upon seeing some Japanese impressions, and digging between the two games myself… Yeah, it’s very blatant. Outright copypasta’d explosions and some poorly edited sprites, similar level backgrounds and designs (just shuffled around), and a very similar UI lead to the game being an outright rip-off in all the worst ways. There’s a difference between some sprites and SE being yoinked, and then an entire game basically being reskinned.
Nothing about this game looks or feels good, and the audio is even worse than before, with horrible sounding shots, catchy music in all the wrong ways, and just bad, bad sound design. The backgrounds and enemies here are actually pretty awful to look at, especially with how out of place a lot of them are, likely due to the nature of this cobbled together hack of a game. Literally, steaming trash.
Compilation time, usual drill. Nothing to say on the Collection aspect, since this is just the two games thrown in the same QuByte wrapper we’ve all seen many times before, with NES/Genesis games, akin to the Immortal. Shame none of these are as fun. Considering the weird legacy of these games, the high rarity of physical material, and the fact that even these horrid games could have a very cool story to tell with tons of history, it’s absolutely insane that not a single bit of archival material was included, since of all games to be put in a Classics set so far, these I’d argue deserved something like Digital Eclipse’s work the most: at the very least, it’d be worth your time more than actually playing these.
Anyhow, onto the two experiences.
Thunderbolt (Famicom)- A Star Soldier clone with three stages, with a variety of powerups copied right from the aforementioned series. Barely anything to say here, outside of how the input lag in this wrapper is especially bad, and the game is an inoffensive clone that somehow manages to suffer from several major sins which bring the whole experience down.
Yes, while shooting and moving is as basic as can be, somehow this game manages to screw up the task of fighting enemies! Multiple times, enemies will just spontaneously pop in from the center of the screen, or in spots that give you next to no frames to even react properly. They really don’t come in naturally, just spawning like a blip out of nowhere, meaning there were plenty, plenty of times where I died due to the enemies deciding to fly in from the center of the screen, right where I was. Absolutely abhorrent.
Yet somehow this game manages to commit the biggest sin for a shooter of any kind, let alone one inspired by the Hudson Soldier series, and that is the fact that Thunderbolt has no scoring system at all. Zero. No points, no bonuses, nothing. Unsurprising considering the bootleg heritage and shoddy nature of this game in general, but the fact it couldn’t even get what ports on the Atari 2600 had, is just bewildering, practically making the need to shoot anything down in this game at all completely meaningless. You could dodge all the enemies and their wild spawns, and get the same amount of satisfaction as bothering to shoot them with your lame, stolen weapons.
ThunderBolt II (Genesis)- The Sequel to Thunderbolt! …Not really, since in Chinese, both of these games share the same title. Fooled you! It’s also akin to RAIDEN II’s kanji title, but sadly, this doesn’t play anything like that godly shooter, being a horribad hack of Namco’s Dangerous Seed that can’t even stand out as its own.
And no, I am not joking when I call it a hack. As mentioned in the presentation roundup, a lot of level assets, backgrounds, and more are straight-up copied and shuffled from Dangerous Seed, and while yes, the sprites are (horribly) reskinned, the music is completely original, and the game plays a bajillion times worse, ThunderBolt II is a travesty. By some miracle though, it at least has a scoring system, bombs to use in a pinch, and some semblance of satisfying progression, but this game is still pretty shoddily made, with enemies yet again blipping into existence and ramming into you with poor thought in terms of design.
Somehow better than the Famicom game in terms of playability, but worse in nearly every other way and a game that’s arguably so bold in what it was meant to do that it’s a horrible idea to even consider reissuing this without so much as a history lesson on why this thing exists to begin with..
In conclusion, these are easily, absolutely, the worst quality games I have ever played in a bundled compilation, and that is no exaggeration. The literal lone positive of this set, besides the addition of achievements on consoles that support them (not the case on Switch), is that the games look decent enough due to the display options, but that’s commonplace for all QuByte games, and yet again we have input lag and clunky menus that don’t even make that all great.
When one of the games in the set is a ripoff of a home port that’s already on Arcade Archives for the same damn price, you might as well just drop everything and buy Dangerous Seed over this compilation, as you’ll get a far, far better time for sure. You can believe me on that when I say you’ll miss literally nothing by never touching these games in your life, and the fact this wrapper has not been improved one bit, and that this compilation didn’t even attempt to give these two weird games some semblance of preservationist care to make it feel like anything but a quick buck license bundle, is just really sad.
I try to have an open mind, and I’d definitely have preferred Water Margin being given a QuByte Classic release if they wanted to bring out some of the Taiwanese stuff Piko owns, but seriously, who is this compilation for? After an hour of trying to force myself to even beat the short Famicom game before quitting in disgust, I cannot answer that.
I give QUByte Classics: Thunderbolt Collection by PIKO a 2 out of 10.