The 80s Arcade: Rolling Thunder

Codename: Albatross

Rolling Thunder is a game I remember well at the 80s arcade. As a matter of fact, I remember it being at a local restaurant as well as the local arcade. Remember those days when it seemed like every restaurant had a couple arcade machines? You would walk in the restaurant, scope out the arcade games, sit down at your table, order, and then it was begging dad or mom for a couple quarters to play while your food was being prepared. Rolling Thunder is one of those games I associated with waiting for food. I remember it being a pretty difficult game so it was easy to burn threw those couple of quarters. And that laugh. That stupid laugh from the Green Goblin (or whoever he was) when you met your demise. Games that laughed at you when you failed made me want to punch the screen. I still enjoyed it though and remember a point in time where it was my "go-to" game.

Produced by Namco and distributed by Atari Games, Rolling Thunder was released to US arcades in 1986. It was a side scrolling run-and-gun action game that I would describe as "Shinobi with guns and no magic." Your objective was, of course, to rescue a girl. Secret agent code-named Albatross of the World Crime Police Organization set out to rescue female agent Leila Blitz from the evil terrorist organization called Geldra. "Maskers," ninjas, and creatures attempt to foil your mission through the New York streets and underground in circa 1960. Make it through the mayhem and you'll set the stage for a final showdown with Geldra leader Maboo.

Guns were the key to victory in Rolling Thunder. The standard issue gun was practically a pea shooter which allowed one shot on screen. Luckily, you began the game with a pistol that could fire multiple times. Using the doors conveniently marked with "bullet" or "arms" signs was the key to retrieving more ammo and also upgrading your pistol to a machine gun. With some of the "maskers" requiring multiple shots to put down, keeping a healthy supply of ammo on hand was essential. Rolling Thunder never became a huge hit but still managed to produce over 2,000 cabinet units according to the Arcade History database. In 1988, home computer versions were released to Amiga, Commodore 64 and others. A year later Namco would release the NES console version that was actually an unlicensed title without Nintendo approval. Several subtle changes were made including the addition of password capabilities and hidden bonuses. Over the last several years, Namco Museum titles for Xbox, Playstion, and PSP have featured Rolling Thunder. It can also be found in the Namco Arcade iOS app.

Two sequels were produced for Rolling Thunder, known primarily as console-based games. The arcade cabinet for Rolling Thunder 2 was allegedly never released outside of Japan. Sega Genesis and Mega Drive consoles released the sequel in 1991 which featured cooperative play using both Albatross and Leila characters. The gameplay was also updated to modern times with elaborate backdrops and scrolling text to lead players through the story. A soundtrack album was also released the same year titled Namco Game Sound Express Vol. 5 Rolling Thunder 2. In 1993, Rolling Thunder 3 was released exclusively for Sega Genesis which included a two-button firing capability. Players could now choose between nine different secondary weapons (besides the standard pistol) before each level including a shotgun, a flamethrower, and grenades.

Although Rolling Thunder's history is not as heralded as other run-n-gun action games, I believe it is a classic and definitely deserves a spot in the 80s arcade.

Thanks to Arcade Museum, Arcade History, and Wikipedia for article info.

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  1. Definitely one of the more difficult games for me as a kid yet I kept dropping quarters into it!

    1. I wish I had realized you can go back to the ammo doors and refill if you don't get to far past it. Read that somewhere when I was researching.


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