THUNDER CROSS / Konami / Arcade
Thunder Cross is surprisingly slow and slacksadaisical for an arcade space shooter; it's not entirely unfair to call this one Babby's First Gradius, at least until around the fifth level where you start being expected to manuever through some seriously narrow tunnels. Unlike many shooters of the era, you're allowed to pick up right from where you died with a fresh quarter. Honestly, I gave this one a spin mostly on the basis of the Kukeiha Club standard-issue epic soundtrack
It's very well-made, though, seemingly as if this was where the Gradius team just sorta free-jazz jammed on some other ideas that didn't end up making the main series. The gameplay definitely has a samey feel, with an extremely similar "option" system and weapon power-ups, though the focus in this one is on choosing and powering up one weapon type fully rather than collecting a whole passel of different upgrades. Same tension as you then try to hold on to those upgrades and not get cheesed by a wandering projectile at the wrong time, having to start right over from scratch again (which does kinda counterbalance the lack of a checkpoint system here to at least some degree).
In the end I think maybe the lower difficulty was due to wanting to show off the then-new multi-layered backgrounds. It does strike me as a good intro to sh'mups for those that are new to the genre, however, especially since you can play two-player co-op. And the soundtrack certainly delivered as expected.