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RELEASE DATE (NA): April 1990 GENRE: Action/Puzzle
// review by SoyBomb

A genuine blockbuster if I ever saw one.

We're going to have to go back in time and wax poetic in the 90s for this one. Picture it: a young me celebrating my ninth birthday at a casual dining establishment. My parents were there; heck, my grandparents were there, too -- a rare trek for them. The lighting was fairly dim, but we were still able to see our dishes. It is likely I ordered fries, because frankly, as a child, I didn't really want much else. Plus it WAS my birthday. I was subjected to a moderately-sized ice cream sundae while the waitstaff sang to me; such a phenomenon has yet to occur twice, and if it does, I believe heads will roll. But if this is what I must have endured for the sake of ice cream, so be it. On our way out, my grandma handed me a special wrapped gift! By that time, I had become somewhat of a video game afficionado, so I recognized the very shape of the box: it was an NES video game! But which one? Was it a Zelda game? Maybe Metroid? Castlevania? Or perhaps we could finally stop repeatedly renting Super Mario Bros. 3? I quickly unwrapped it to find... Thunder & Lightning? What the?! I had never heard of THAT before! In hindsight, I can most assuredly forgive my grandparents; it's not as though individuals in their late 60s are typically experts in the field of effective video game purchasing. But hey, a new video game is a new video game (a philosophy I still ascribe to even to this day, which is why I have so many duds), so I was happy to receive it.

Fast forward to... well, later that day, when I finally had the opportunity to play this game. It was... different. Here's the scoop: Thunder & Lightning (renamed Family Block in Japan when it was released there the following year) is basically an Arkanoid clone, but with a few nifty twists. We should know the Arkanoid formula by now: you have a paddle on the bottom of the screen, which you used to bounce a ball around and hit bricks, making them disappear. You complete a level by effectively removing all the breakable bricks. Generally, the ball speeds up over time, making it much easier to miss when chasing after it with your paddle, resulting in the loss of a ball (or "life", depending). And there are usually power-ups that fall from above that can also be caught by the paddle to assist in your quest to... destroy all bricks (whatever THAT accomplishes). This is a decent general description of Thunder & Lightning as well, but a few variations were necessary to differentiate it from the herd of blockbusters.

Yes, you have a paddle. But it's not just a paddle. It's a paddle being carried by the gluttonous Mr. Chin! You may remember him from Mr. Chin's Gourmet Paradise on the Game Boy, released a mere one month earlier. ...What? You've never heard of that? Why, I'm... not surprised in the slightest. It wasn't exactly a high-profile release (but for some reason, I actually have it), but it definitely was the beginning of Mr. Chin's short and unfruitful two game career (three if you include the arcade version of Thunder & Lightning, which is similar). He will remain locked up in Video Game Character Limbo alongside Boomer from those bad Asmik World games and Rolan from the Rolan's Curse games. Anyway, the story goes that Mr. Chin, whose goal in life is to eat as much delicious food as he can, stumbles into the Thunder Warrior's territory. He's not too pleased about this development; and forces Mr. Chin to endure the Thirty Walls of Regret. Mr. Chin can only escape his bonds if he can tear down these walls, thereby effectively implementing the Ronald Reagan effect. It's an interesting tale, to say the least, but then again, what other reason would anyone use to break blocks, aside from being a vandal?

It's like thunder... lightning... The way you love me is frightening...

Generally speaking, Thunder & Lightning plays exactly like Arkanoid: you break the blocks on the screen, and you move on. However, there are a few additional elements on the playing field. Sea anemones in certain stages will chomp on your ball (yes, ha ha, get your mind out of the gutter) and split it into two smaller ones. In the underwater levels (which aren't really underwater; it just looks that way), red vases, when hit, will unleash octopi that wish to attach to your paddle and slow you down (and can only be removed when hit by your ball). Stranger yet, in a few stages, turtles will crawl from the ceiling and form additional blocks you need to bust. Some outdoor levels feature a peach bird; hitting it with your ball, will cause it to switch to panic mode and just start flying around, destroying any tiles in its path. Same goes for the Thunder Warrior, who makes several appearances: hitting him will cause orbs to appear around him that destroy bricks, although a lightning bolt will also come flying to temporarily incapacitate you. (This is, by the way, the only aspect of the game that actually has anything to do with thunder and/or lightning. As well, small ships, be they planes, submarines, or even UFOs, fly across every level on a regular basis. Hitting one with your ball will cause a powerup to drop; naturally, you pick it up to gain the rewards. Some are rather useful, such as the three-way, which ensures you always have three balls in the playing field (if one falls off-screen, another will spawn from a remaining ball). The BIG powerup is also nice, allowing your ball to grow significantly, giving it the necessary girth to smash through any type of brick, even the formerly unbreakables. Others include a six-way (though the ball does not regenerate any new ones), the catcher's mitt (for catching the ball instead of having it bounce off), and the missile (for shooting missiles upward to destroy blocks from below), not to mention the lovable 1UP...

The graphics are suitable. I don't have any other word to describe this except for "suitable". For a brick-breaking game, I typically have very low expectations. The majority of stages do, however, have nice backgrounds to look at; the underwater scenes have bubbles, waves, and... uh... sea pagodas. Meanwhile, other stages have strange tiled backgrounds featuring domino dots or card suits. But really, you'll be focusing on the action in the foreground, which looks simple, just as it needs to be. As for the soundtrack, you'd better be prepared to hear the same song for thirty levels straight. That's right, there's NO variation whatsoever. That's just lazy, and I don't like it.

So -- and I speak both to you, the reader, and to the nine-year-old version of myself -- if you enjoy block-breaking games like Arkanoid and Breakout, you'll get a kick out of Thunder & Lightning on the NES. Just be aware that this is no easy feat: you only start out with three lives, and continues are non-existent. A handy two-player mode may save your keister, though, featuring two Mr. Chins at once! Either way, get those reflexes out and prepare for thirty walls... of REGRET! Maybe not regret of buying this game, though.

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