Thunderbirds Video Games Roundup!
Prepare to plug in your controllers and boot up your consoles as Ian Coomber guides us through some of the Thunderbirds video games that have been produced in recent years.
It’s fair to say that ever since they were first shown on TV screens in 1965, viewers everywhere have imagined themselves sitting in the pilot seat of the fantastic Thunderbird machines themselves. Real life may not have caught up with Brains’ creations just yet, but thanks to the advent of video games, fans have been able to at least recreate their adventures in the comfort of their own living rooms; something which first occurred thanks to the Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum back in 1984.
Copies of this original game might be considered collectors items today, but thanks to the series’ second revival in the 2000s, it wasn’t the only one to be produced. While a tie-in for the 2004 Hollywood effort was somewhat predictable, the fact that the original TV series had three of its own
video games released throughout the decade, each for a different generation of console, is surely something worth celebrating. It may have been ten years since the last release, a long time in an industry that is constantly inundated with the latest titles, but that doesn’t mean they can’t still be found on the second hand market. For any Thunderbirds fan who may have the right console, even if packed away somewhere, these video games just might be the excuse to dust them off you were looking for….
Thunderbirds (2000) – Game Boy Color
Released in 2000, this had pretty much everything you could want from a game called Thunderbirds. Not only do you pilot all four primary vehicles, but the Mole and FAB 1 are also there for your controlling pleasure.
That said, the number of level styles aren’t as varied; TB4 and the Mole have almost identical controls, and the only difference to TB2’s is that the action is viewed from above rather than side on. It might not be perfect – Thunderbird 3’s mazes in particular can be annoying when you lose a life because of something which isn’t your fault – but the ease in which all of the craft are controlled shows how the simplicity of the console is used to its advantage. A password system that allows you to access later levels where saving a game isn’t an option is also a welcome feature as not only does it give you greater choice than starting from the beginning every single time, but also allows you to pick up where you left off after a game over, essentially giving you as many continues as you need.
The main Thunderbirds theme is still highly recognizable, although can only be described as ‘springy’, and is now heard in such a dated way that it makes you wonder how it was ever considered state of the art.
Despite all the Game Boy Color’s limitations however, for a screen which is somewhat small and pixelated, the recreation of photographic images is much better than you might expect from a handheld console now nearly 20 years old.
Thunderbirds: International Rescue (2001) – Game Boy Advance
Much like the fact it was released on the updated Game Boy Advance (and is also playable on the DS & DSlite), Thunderbirds: International Rescue is essentially just an upgraded version of its Game Boy Color predecessor. Perhaps the most obvious new addition is that of FAB2, as well as the inclusion of being able to play as a fully uniformed member of International Rescue in a traditional run and jump 2D platformer. Certain levels now also include a number of exit points, allowing you to choose who or what you want to control next.
Despite the ease with which the craft continue to be controlled, it’s still advisable to play the introductory levels as some of the more useful features are also the most easily missed; there will be times when Thunderbird 2’s map is indispensable for example, but you need to know to press Select to be able to access it.
One specific change from its predecessor is the change in TB1’s levels from rescuing to just scrolling and shooting, but a non-violent ethos is still maintained in other ways. When your health runs out you will often be told that vehicles merely need to make an emergency landing rather than crashing in an impressive Supermarionation fireball, likewise Gordon will point out the “mechanical” Manta Ray that can be destroyed, and even goes so far as to point out how pretty the other fish are.
The game also features more impressive music this time round, although in game dialogue is still limited to on-screen text accompanied by an image of whoever is speaking at the time. Throughout the game this includes the whole cast, including Jeff, Brains, and The Hood, but is not without its imperfections. The addition of another character from a different Anderson series is a surprising if not wholly unwelcome error (presumably in the mistaken belief of being Tin-Tin?), although an image of Marina does kind of miss the whole point somewhat.
Thunderbirds (2007) – Playstation 2
Not to be outdone in its rivalry with Nintendo, Sony’s Playstation 2 had it’s own game released in 2007. Produced by Blast! who also released a Captain Scarlet driving game the previous year, this is a game that is steeped in nostalgia by design. This time aimed at gamers who would have been introduced to Thunderbirds during its 1990s revival, the game is mostly played in the same style as the critically acclaimed Desert Strike and Jungle Strike, released fifteen years earlier. Thunderbirds 3 and 4 meanwhile go back to an even earlier era, and their missions will be instantly recognizable to anyone who ever played the arcade classic Asteroids.
Although it may not feature the Mole or Lady Penelope, this Thunderbirds does at least offer times where you can choose which craft to control. Thunderbirds 1 and 2 are often interchangeable, particularly when shooting down the Hood’s drones, but do still have their own unique abilities; where TB1 can land in order to rescue those in danger, TB2 can airlift everything from radioactive barrels to cows (yes, really!) away from the danger zone. In addition to this, just as TB2 is needed to launch TB4’s missions, so too must TB1 rendezvous with TB3. A slightly odd feature of finding the spaceship ready and waiting away from Tracy Island, but which at least makes sense in terms of the games mechanics.
Overcoming the handhelds limitations, Thunderbirds here makes full use of a complete TV screen and the game is much more seamless as a result. All the information you need (health, fuel, lives, etc) is right there, and both the map and instructions relayed from Thunderbird 5 are made obvious without ever being obtrusive. It may be a budget game which was never meant to compete with contemporary releases such as Bioshock, or Assassin’s Creed, but its simple enough game play still manages to create a fully immersive experience. Piloting a favourite Thunderbird against the clock to the sound of Barry Gray’s heart pounding score is simply something that no other video games can compare to.
Our thanks to Ian for his thoughts on these Thunderbirds video games. Have you played any of them before and if so, did you you enjoy them? Let us know in the comments below!
A few years ago, our very own Chris Thompson created some concept images for a Thunderbirds video game that he’d like to see. Envisioned as more of a Just Cause-style free-roaming adventure game than the more linear versions currently available, we’d love to see a game like this in future.
Here are a few of the concept images as an extra end-of-level treat!