ROLLING THUNDER / Namco / Arcade
Growing up, Rolling Thunder was one of my favorite arcade games. The production values were kickass for 1986, the gameplay had a unique feel to it, the heavy use of cover was novel at the time, and it had badass atmosphere. I still think it holds up pretty well today and it's still a nostalgic favorite, but as with contemporary Shinobi, I do acknowledge that it has significant flaws my childhood self was willing to overlook and probably doesn't deserve a terribly high rating.
In Shinobi, the issue was complete bullshit level design in the later reaches. With Rolling Thunder, it's simple brevity. There's just not enough GAME here!
The vibe is a unique combination of 1960s spy movies meeting a much more dark and gritty sort of 1970s sci-fi aesthetic, with the result managing to be campy yet atmospheric and kind of badass all at once. We play as Agent Albatross, smooth superspy hero sent into the underground base of alien/terrorist organization GELDRA to rescue the captured Agent Leila and just go ahead and burn the whole thing down while we're at it. No gadgets or debonair impersonations, however, we're basically just kicking down the front door and marching down through levels until we find the control center. From which we get between-level updates on the capture and apparent torture/rape of Agent Leila, though the game is actually more restrained with this here in the original version than some of the console/computer ports were.
Anyway. So it seems a fairly standard shoot-fest initially, except slower, precision moves and anticipating the enemies and prioritizing threats is key. There's also heaps of crates and such to both jump on and use as cover, and you can pop in and out of background doorways to refill ammo or just duck away from the enemies for a bit.
It all works pretty well, but there's only five levels and they're not long. There's also a level select that I think was on by default as I remember seeing it on all the cabinets I came across as a kid (a lot of arcade owners couldn't be stuffed to mess with DIP switches). I'm convinced it was left in by the designers solely due to the giant bats in level 4, real bastards that swarm you from both sides and are the only super-challenging thing in the game. So you've got maybe 20 total minutes of gameplay time and a good chunk of that is on the easy side.
When you beat the game, you get to loop again through a slightly more challenging version of each level ... not much more challenging though. Even so, what's here is really enjoyable ... level 5 introduces two background layers you can move between a la Mario World, and that and the general level complexity gives you a tease of what this game COULD have been had it just been longer. Instead we got a couple of weird sequels that weren't as good. C'est la vie.
* Gameplay Video