One Game, One Trip | Rolling Thunder

Sina Hosseini
5 min readMar 10, 2022


As part of my journey, Rolling Thunder shows how influential the series is.

The trip started with the first Rolling Thunder, with a simple but addictive formula. You control the main character, walk in the doorways to avoid bullets, and duck in certain situations to take cover from enemies’ shots:

With the clock ticking as one of your obstacles, and touching enemies as a dangerous predicament to lose your life, the game is super hard, even in the first level. Your ammo is limited too to make the trip brutal, but thankfully you can find some by entering the labeled doors. Also you can take machine guns by entering some of them, but having a limited amount of ammo applies here as well. However, it’s not a good idea to stay behind doors forever, since you have a limited time, and the enemies will appear right in front of the door you entered, and touching them means to die in a jiffy.

Using two-tiered structure and dual-plane levels, Rolling Thunder uses the space effectively to kill the player anywhere at any time. The worst part is that you can’t change your direction after each jump, meaning that your movement is really inflexible. This fact is against the enemy design and obstacle placement, as quick reactions and versatile movement is needed to overcome the difficulties in the game.

But even with the problems the game has, the formula is addictive enough to proceed to the end, and smooth shooting was the reason that I beat the title.

So what’s the legacy of Rolling Thunder and why is it an important title? First, the cover system mechanic was really innovative at the time, resulting in nowdays-familiar scenes, like taking cover behind some obstacles to avoid dangers; and of course, the game is not as fast-paced as Contra, as you should know your next step to proceed, with a bit of cinematic platformer vibe at its core. Secondly, utilizing two-tiered dual-plane stages, the game became the source of inspiration for many games, like Shinobi. Kurt Kalata from HG101 considers Shinobi to be “a vague ripoff of Namco’s Rolling Thunder”, a harsh explanation of the Sega title.

Now it’s time for Rolling Thunder 2, with the same recipe, but with more colorful graphics and a little amount of details, instead of the same-looking levels of the first title. This time the game has a story, and the journey starts with an animated cutscene. However, the timer is still the reason to create difficult moments, and there are a little more varied platforming scenes:

Also, now the enemies won’t appear in front of the door you entered, so no softlock included. Although, the game is still hard, especially in the last level, in which you’ll notice two important factors: the level is about an elevator at the end (only retro gamers know how hard an elevator section or level can be), and enemies shoot you while ducking many times, and it’s hard to avoid these shots because of the inflexible movements. I mean shooting an enemy while ducking has never been that painful in my gaming life! Thankfully now you can change the direction in the midair, but unfortunately that doesn’t solve this problem.

The game is super obscure, as there is not that much information about it, even about its release date! For example, Wikipedia (cough) says 1991, while segaretro says it’s 1990! This amount of discrepancy is really weird for such a title, making me fall to thinking about the title more… But the arcade title screen just shows 1990, and since the game is originally designed for the arcades, then segaretro can be correct.

And now we have the exclusive title Rolling Thunder 3 for the Sega Genesis. This time you can shoot diagonally and even in the air, and the timer is gone, but in return, bosses are everywhere, missions have destructible obstacles, and if you wait for too long you won’t die, but you’ll be about to die.

Animated cutscenes are still there, each of them between every level, with a really sad ending for a Japanese franchise, even by the standards of 1993, but not as sad as Super Fire Prowrestling Special in 1994. Also there is an option to skip cutscenes automatically through the settings, which amazed me for a Genesis game!

The platforming scenes don’t exist like in the second title, but there is a highway mission stage and another one across the ocean, adding more variety to the gameplay for the first time. Also the music is more remarkable than the past, and the details in the levels (like the Las Vegas level) are decent. Aside from that, you have an arsenal of weapons to select your special gun from, and fortunately there is now a different button completely dedicated to your special arsenal. Even further, among these weapons, grenades or flash bombs exist too in this entry and you have the ability to throw them to one of the tiers of the level you’re playing through.

And there is a subtle feature, with a level taking place in an airplane, as the cover system shows another aspect of itself, since you can hide in backgrounds and shoot in the foreground:

But let’s go back to the second title, I mean the Genesis port which I just tasted, not beat it. And it’s true, both “numerous special weapons” and “hiding in backgrounds” existed in that port, and also between the levels there were some cutscenes (but not animated). That being said, hiding in backgrounds first appeared in the Genesis port of Rolling Thunder 2, and I think the cover system of Blackthorne was inspired by this mechanic (who knows?), a title that was released after the whole Rolling Thunder trilogy:

So this is how the series evolved through time, and there is nothing much to say, since all three titles have a simple addictive formula, with hard difficulty and innovative cover systems. So wait for the next parts of the article, and I’ll bring you another one!



Sina Hosseini

A man with the mission to cover obscure games/topics to add something new to your knowledge of gaming!