Bullets flying everywhere! An alien invasion in beautiful retro glory! And only one pilot stands against them all! In this review, we examine if SEGA AGES Lightening Force: Quest for the Darkstar can survive in the modern age of gaming!
In Lightening Force (or Thunder Force IV for some regions), players guide a lone fighter jet through hordes of alien invaders. As per the status quo, the jet comes equipped with weapons that can be upgraded via enemy drops. Guns that shoot backward, guns with free-aim, guns that drop bombs – you’ll have many options to get comfortable with.
With the press of a button, you’ll also be able to adjust your engine power. This allows the jet to move about at different speeds. Moving slower might be critical for snaking through multiple enemies, while going full speed ahead is necessary when bosses chase you around the screen.
Instead of linear progression, Lightening Force offers a level-select system – where players can approach the first four stages in any order. There’s some strategy behind selecting certain stages first, because you can obtain certain special weapons earlier by choosing wisely.
These are the various tricks you’ll need to master in order to survive Lightening Force – because it’s one unforgiving classic.
This is one of those old-school shooters that will kick your butt if you don’t have the compound vision of a housefly. Enemies will ambush you from the background. Bosses have homing attacks that corner you. Stray bullets will destroy your perfect run.
And it was a sublime experience.
I don’t have any particular nostalgia for shoot-em-ups, but it felt great to return for another round after every ‘Game Over’. Each death became a lesson in enemy patterns and boss strategies that honed my reflexes. As unfair as Lightening Force was, I definitely felt like I was getting further in every stage as I pressed on.
If you don’t want your eyes to explode from anger, the SEGA AGES series also offers a ‘Kids Mode’ option. By playing in Kids Mode, you’ll get a shield every time you die, and you won’t lose your weapon upgrades either. The game is still pretty difficult with these concessions – but at least defeating bosses becomes plausible for novices.
Additionally, you get the option to create and load save states – so having limited lives isn’t too harsh.
My main gripe with Lightening Force is that it can feel repetitive at first. While the game has over eight stages, most beginners (such as myself) will find themselves cycling through the first four stages repeatedly without progress. It was not fun to end up with almost zero continues in the later stages (even when using save states) – as the anxiety of starting over began to boil over.
Overall, novices can still enjoy SEGA AGES Lightening Force – at least until the 50th unfair death. Shooter veterans, however, will find a hidden gem here. For $7.99, it’s a decent dip into Sega’s past.
A Fresh Old-Look
SEGA AGES Lightening Force comes with multiple display settings to emulate old CRT televisions. Ironically enough, these grainy filters actually help to reduce the sensory overload of everything flying across the screen – so they’re a great option to have. You can add scan-lines, smoothing, dot-by-dot, and more.
Even without filters, the retro shooter looks great on the Switch’s brightly-lit screen. Most of the stages pop with fantastic colors – and backgrounds almost look like real-life portraits frozen in sprite form. The developers did a great job of translating the game onto sharper HD displays.
Perhaps TOO MUCH nostalgia can be a bit of an issue, however. The game slows down whenever the screen becomes too crowded – just like the original Sega Saturn release did. It can feel a little unpolished, although some old-time Thunder Force fans might love the faithfulness of this processing issue.
Overall, the visual presentation of this SEGA AGES port is a fine example of how to revive a timeless classic.
Lightening Force still holds up today. Its frenetic action feels great even by modern standards, and provides an adequate challenge for the game’s $7.99 price tag. The SEGA AGES display options are fantastic in execution, and ‘kids mode’ is definitely a god-send for games of this caliber. Given that Thunder Force IV (on Sega Saturn) was never properly localized for Western shores, it’s great to see it finally get a chance to shine on the Nintendo Switch.
You’ll have to deal with some tiny cracks in the process, however. The game’s grating difficulty means it can be challenging to get past even the first four stages. Additionally, the inherited slow-down from the original game can be a little annoying when it occurs during critical fights. While small, these nitpicks should be taken into consideration.
In any case, SEGA AGES Lightening Force is a pretty solid retro revival to invest in – for both shoot-em-up enthusiasts and casual novices alike. The only question is whether you’ll be brave enough to persevere to the end of the line.
- The game is so difficult that shoot-em-up veterans will only want to get better.
- ‘Kids Mode” is a godsend, and opens up the game to a more casual audience.
- The game’s visuals still stand the test of time.
- The game is so difficult that novices will want to grind their teeth to dust.
- The game’s first four stages can become repetitive after awhile.
- Processing slow-downs are faithful, possibly to a fault.
Soup Verdict: This soup is bitter, but it’s undeniably timeless.
A review copy was provided by the publisher for this review.