Thunder Cats is another in the long line of cartoon spin-offs. The cartoons have been criticised as being merely adverts for toys, and now computer games, but that doesn't mean they can't be good ones. Mumm-ra the ever-living and his evil Molemen have entered the Cats Lair and stolen the eye of Thundera. The eye of Thundera is a magic jewel that was given into your keeping. As Lion-o you vow to retrieve the eye from Castle Plun-Dar.
There are two versions of the game, one for 128K machines and one for 64K. The 64K version has eleven levels and the 128K has fourteen. Both versions of the game have digitised backgrounds for the levels. The extra memory on the 128K is used to store digitised pictures for the intro, bonus screens, endgame and the "eye" score table.
The route to Castle Plun-Dar is long and tortuous. Each level is a horizontally scrolling corridor which you have to fight your way along. They don't always run in the same direction though, so be prepared to go left or right when you enter a new level. The scrolling is good, but you won't get much warning when some of the creatures appear.
Each of the levels is occupied by a variety of unpleasant creatures which are out to stop you. These include molemen, giant bats, rhino-like creatures, bubbles, fireballs, little men with shields and Mumm-Ra. Collision with any of these causes the loss of one of your six lives. Fortunately you are armed with a sword with which you can despatch your enemies.
The monsters are impressively animated and large, but not very colourful. The most difficult thing about the creatures is the variety in which they come. There are little monsters which can only be hit by crouching down, big ones which can jump over obstacles in pursuit of you, and flying ones. Combine this with the need to jump obstacles and gaps, and you've got some very tough problems. On the levels are some objects which, when hit with your sword, break to reveal a bonus object. These can be lives, swords, guns or bonus points. Swords and guns change the weapon that you are currently using. Guns are a ranged weapon and so you don't have to get as close to your enemies, thereby minimising the risk to yourself.
Three of the levels are bonus levels in which you can get a bonus of 25,030 to your score. These are rescue levels in which you must free one of your comrades. Tygra, Panthro and Wilykit are your three friends and they are on levels three, eight and thirteen respectively. On these levels you only have one chance and being killed exits you from the level with no bonus. Being killed on these levels does not reduce the lives counter.
Levels 4-7 are called the Gardens of Elementals and are occupied by creatures attuned to the levels. The garden of fire is filled with fireballs, the garden of water has bubbles, the garden of air has bats and eyes and the garden of the earth has Mumm-Ra as well as the molemen. The garden of fire also has a flying bike which you can use by jumping into it.
On some levels there are sections of the floor that give way and falling through them loses you another life - good platform game ideas never die. Other levels have holes in the floor which also kill you if you fall through them.
The digitised pictures were originally sourced from a 128K Spectrum and then passed over to the Amstrad. They're good, but I think that if they'd been sourced on the Amstrad then the quality would have been better. The graphics in the game are large and well animated. These too appear to have begun life on a Spectrum and been transferred across, as a result each character is only in two colours. A good musical soundtrack plays, but only on the inter-level screens and title screen; there is no tune playing in the game itself. Sound effects are good and occur frequently enough that there is never silence.
Fourteen levels will keep you occupied for a long time and, since some of these levels are very difficult, you may not be seeing the fourteenth level for a long time. I've seen the cartoon and that really is for youngsters; the game is tougher meat and will appeal to all arcade game players.
I wasn't overly impressed to start with; it seemed like just another simple arcade game. Not so. As you start hacking and blasting your way through the levels it reveals all sorts of subtle touches that make it highly playable: many different creatures, rescue levels, bonuses, different weapons and time limits. All combine to make an addictive, enjoyable and extremely tough challenge.
No problems with green screen hacking.
P. Digitised pictures are a nice touch.
P. Large well-animated characters.
P. Great title tunes.
Grab Factor 87%
P. Great variety of creatures to battle.
P. Gets tough very quickly.
Staying Power 92%
P. Fourteen levels of tough action
P. Once you've grasped the timing and tactics it's impossible to stop playing.
A first rate hack-'em-up.