Rolling Thunder – An Arcade Classic

Rolling Thunder appeared in the arcades in 1986. Until this time, the arcades were filled with PacMan and Galaga titles. Rolling Thunder was a shot in the arm for the industry, it resembled a James Bond game mixed with a Saturday morning cartoon. You take on the role of a secret agent known as Albatross. Moving through the underground lair of an evil organisation called Geldra your mission (if you choose to accept it) is to stop the launch of Nuclear missiles. The plot is straight from a 1970’s Bond film, the main bad guy is even a scarred, bald guy similar to Blofeld. As you attempt to stop him and his army of hood wearing goons, another agent, Leila Blitz must be rescued.

Rolling Thunder (1986) by Namco - A NostalgiaView | The Nexus

The gameplay is a typical side scrolling action platformer. You guide agent Albatross from left to right, shooting enemies in an environment full of laser obstacles and ledges to leap up and down from. In many ways Rolling Thunder was the precursor to the modern cover shooter. You can hide behind crates and other obstacles to avoid enemy bullets. There’s also the ability to lurk behind doors to grab some much needed extra ammo. The other thing to mention is that Rolling Thunder is extremely difficult.

As soon as you spring into action, the army of henchmen approach you from every direction. Not just from the left and right areas of the screen but also emerging from doors or climbing down from overhanging platforms. Each type of enemy attack you in a variety of ways, some fire at you with pistols, others run at you to give you a good kicking. If Albatross was James Bond, he wouldn’t be the Sean Connery version. He seems to have a glass jaw, a single punch or hit from a projectile will kill him. Its this difficulty which puts Rolling Thunder up there with Capcom’s infamously harsh Ghosts ‘N Goblins.

Rolling Thunder arcade gameplay and ending - YouTubeTo keep the action varied, the game throws a selection of new enemies into the mix. From panthers, hybrid beast men, vampire bats and even enemies who are on fire. In order to defeat them and progress, you need to memorise the layouts of the levels. Knowing in advance where the enemies come from is the key to victory. If you are a first time player, be prepared to lose a lot of money as you are schooled by the game developers.

All of this difficulty doesn’t detract from the games addictive nature. When you pick up the machine gun, for a few glorious moments your character feels invincible. Its the constant difficulty which makes picking up the more powerful weapons exciting.

This is a flawed classic but its one of Namco’s best. The sharp and distinct graphical style mixed with the homages to the greatest secret agent in the world make this worth playing today.


Review Score
  • 8/10
    Gameplay - 8/10
  • 7/10
    Graphics - 7/10
  • 6/10
    Sound - 6/10


Rolling Thunder is one of the Greatest of Namco’s early arcade titles. Addictive and insanely difficult it draws players into the secret world of spies and evil global organisations perfectly. If you fancy an imaginative side scrolling shooter, this is one to try out!


Chris McAuley is a Northern Irish born author, comic book and gaming columnist who has now branched out from talking about comics to helping create them. An acclaimed colourist for 2000 AD and Marvel he has worked on flagship titles such as Judge Dredd, Roy of the Rovers and Hulkverines. Chris also has a commitment to the Indie scene being an inker and colourist for 'The Lang Way Hame' a Scottish comic which is tipped for an award later this year. With close ties to heroes of the industry such as the 'Godfather of British comics' Pat Mills and Spawn creator Todd McFarlene,