Rolling Thunder (video game)

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Rolling Thunder
Rolling Thunder game flyer.png
Japanese arcade sales flyer
Composer(s)Junko Ozawa
SeriesRolling Thunder
Platform(s)Arcade, Commodore 64, Amiga, Nintendo Entertainment System, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, ZX Spectrum
Genre(s)Run-and-gun shooter
Mode(s)Single player, multiplayer (alternating turns)
Arcade systemNamco System 86

Rolling Thunder[a] is a run-and-gun shooter action game produced by Namco, originally released as a coin-operated arcade game which ran on the Namco System 86 hardware in 1986. It was distributed in North America by Atari Games. The player takes control of a secret agent who must rescue his female partner from a terrorist organization. Rolling Thunder was a commercial success in arcades, and was released for various home computer platforms in 1987 and the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1989. The original arcade game has also been included in various classic game compilations as well. It influenced later arcade action franchises such as Shinobi and Time Crisis, which borrowed mechanics such as taking cover behind crates.


Screenshot of the arcade version

The player takes control of Albatross, a member of the WCPO's (World Crime Police Organization) "Rolling Thunder" espionage unit. Albatross's mission is to save a missing female agent named Leila Blitz from a secret society named Geldra located in New York.

Albatross must travel through two different segments or "stories", each composed of five stages, for a total of ten stages. Depending on the DIP switch settings, the player has the option to start the game from any point in "Story 1" (allowing the player to skip any of the first four stages if desired). On each stage, the player can enter doors to hide and take cover from enemies, and can also use crates or other obstacles to take cover from enemy fire.[4] The player can also jump over crates,[4] or jump up to higher or lower floors with rails, including stairs. The stages in "Story 2" are essentially harder versions of their "Story 1" counterparts, featuring more traps and different enemy placement. At the end of each stage, scenes from Leila's capture and ensuing torture are shown on a large monitor screen.

The player begins the game armed with a standard-issue pistol, which can be replaced with a sub machine gun (that appears based on the distinctive real life Beretta M12 SMG) that allows for continuous firing by holding down the shoot button. The player can find ammunition for either weapon by entering doors which are marked "bullets" or "arms". If the player runs out of machine gun ammo, they will switch back to the pistol. However, if the pistol runs out of ammo as well, then the player can only fire a single slow "chaser" bullet on-screen at a time until more ammo is acquired. Despite the presence of a life meter, the player can only take two physical hits from the enemy; a single hit drains half of the meter and the player is killed instantly when struck by a projectile attack such as enemy bullets or lasers, the time reaches 0, and when they fall at any part of an area/level without a floor.

The main enemies in Rolling Thunder are hooded soldiers known as "Maskers". Maskers are dressed in various outfits and colors, which determines their strength and attack pattern respectively. Some Maskers do not shoot, but throw grenades instead, while others will shoot their gun while kneeling. Other enemies includes ninjas, mutated bats known as Gelzos, panthers, shrieking yellow creatures known as Blogas and lava men. At the end of the final stage, the player must battle the Geldra leader Maboo to rescue Leila and complete their mission.


Upright arcade cabinet

The game was released in Japan in December 1986.[3] Namco debuted the game internationally outside Japan at the 1987 Amusement Trades Exhibition International (ATEI) show,[1] held at Olympia London in January.[5] The game was then released in North America by Atari Games.[3]

In 1988, U.S. Gold released home computer versions of Rolling Thunder in Europe for ZX Spectrum,[6] Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, Amiga and Atari ST. These five computer versions were developed by Tiertex. Only the Commodore 64 version had some different colors for the outfit of the Maskers: in the Amiga, Atari ST and Amstrad CPC version the Maskers have all the same outfit colors. ZX Spectrum version was almost monochrome, but only this version had fast gameplay. Slow movements, even slower answer to the controls, jerky scrolling, bad music and many other missing things affected all the versions. The Commodore 64 version was even harder than the original game.

On March 17, 1989, Namco released a home version of Rolling Thunder for the Family Computer in Japan. This version was localized in North America by Tengen, which released their version of the game for the Nintendo Entertainment System as an unlicensed title without Nintendo's approval. The Famicom/NES version features a few minor changes and additions from the arcade version, such as a password feature, hidden bonuses, and a harder second mission accessible by inputting a password given to the player for completing the normal mission. Namco's Famicom version of Rolling Thunder also uses a different sound chip from Tengen's NES version that made use of the extra sound channels featured on the Famicom's cartridge slot.

An Atari Lynx conversion of Rolling Thunder was also announced in an official Lynx catalog published. The Lynx version was announced with a scheduled May 1992 release date, but was later canceled.[7]

The original arcade version is featured in Namco Museum Encore for the PlayStation, Namco Museum Battle Collection for the PlayStation Portable, in Namco Museum Virtual Arcade for the Xbox 360, and in Namco Museum 50th Anniversary for PlayStation 2, Nintendo GameCube, Xbox, Game Boy Advance and PC. The arcade version was released for the Wii's Virtual Console in Japan on July 21, 2009, and as part of the Pac-Man's Arcade Party 30th Anniversary arcade machine in 2010. In March 2012, Rolling Thunder was added to the Namco Arcade (iOS) app. Rolling Thunder is also included on Namco Museum for Nintendo Switch.


In Japan, Game Machine listed Rolling Thunder among the country's most popular arcade games in February 1987.[8] The arcade game was also a commercial success in Europe.[9]

Upon release, Clare Edgeley wrote a very short review of the arcade game in Computer and Video Games. She wrote that the gameplay in Rolling Thunder is "rather slow" and that she wouldn't recommend it to anyone "keen on a bit of fast action".[1]

Your Sinclair magazine reviewed the ZX Spectrum version in February 1988, giving it a highly positive review and rating it 9 out of 10.[9]

In 1996, Next Generation ranked the arcade version as the 43rd top game of all time, noting: "A controversial choice, we know. But what separates Rolling Thunder from lesser side-scrollers is the fact that everything gels together perfectly: the long-legged characters, the wonderfully designed levels, the weapons, the use of panthers as enemies, your character's ability to duck behind boxes, the constant need to jump from the floor to raised platforms, and some great, great music".[10]


Rolling Thunder was followed by a sequel for the arcades titled Rolling Thunder 2 in 1990. A port for the Sega Genesis and Mega Drive was released in 1991, followed by a Genesis-exclusive sequel titled Rolling Thunder 3 in North America in 1993.

A theme based on Rolling Thunder, featuring several characters from the game is featured in Pac-Man 99, as special DLC.

Ryan Lambie, writing for Den of Geek, considers Rolling Thunder to be "the precursor to the modern cover shooter" due to how the player can hide behind crates, doors and other obstacles to avoid enemy fire. Rolling Thunder established the "walk-and-shoot" template later used by Sega's Shinobi series, which borrows a number of similar mechanics, such as jumping on crates, taking cover behind crates, and jumping up to higher levels. Lambie also considers Namco's Time Crisis series to be a spiritual successor to Rolling Thunder, citing similarities like how the player can "take cover behind crates, shoot multi-colored goons with a pistol, and gradually make your way through a villain’s lair in search of a damsel in distress".[4]


  1. ^ Japanese: ローリングサンダー, Hepburn: Rōringu Sandā


  1. ^ a b c d Edgeley, Clare (February 1987). "Arcade Action". Computer and Video Games. No. 65 (March 1987). pp. 92-93 (93).
  2. ^ a b c Akagi, Masumi (October 13, 2006). アーケードTVゲームリスト国内•海外編(1971-2005) [Arcade TV Game List: Domestic • Overseas Edition (1971-2005)] (in Japanese). Japan: Amusement News Agency. pp. 52, 111. ISBN 978-4990251215.
  3. ^ a b c Lambie, Ryan (March 15, 2019). "Rolling Thunder: Namco's Hidden Arcade Gem". Den of Geek. Retrieved April 11, 2021.
  4. ^ British Business. H.M. Stationery Office. 1986. p. 4. 1987 LONDON: Amusement Trades Exhibition International: 19-22 January. At Olympia.
  5. ^ Rolling Thunder at
  6. ^ "Upcoming Games: Rolling Thunder". Grey Matters. Vol. 3. Atari Corporation. 1992. p. 26.
  7. ^ "Game Machine's Best Hit Games 25 - テーブル型TVゲーム機 (Table Videos)". Game Machine (in Japanese). No. 301. Amusement Press, Inc. February 1, 1987. p. 21.
  8. ^ a b Snout, Philip (February 1988). "Rolling Thunder". Your Sinclair. No. 27 (March 1988). pp. 18–9.
  9. ^ Next Generation 21 (September 1996), p.55.

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