Nick DeMarco

TURN TO CHANNEL 3: NES rolled out a decent spy action game with ‘Rolling Thunder’

TURN TO CHANNEL 3: NES rolled out a decent spy action game with ‘Rolling Thunder’
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Ah yes, July – a month of heat, fireworks, and tons of summer fun, so that’s why we are going to look at some explosive action games here on Turn to Channel 3 and see if they still pack a punch all these years later.

We begin the month with the Nintendo Entertainment System adaptation of the arcade classic “Rolling Thunder” and all its secret agent action!

“Rolling Thunder” (NES, 1989)


It seems when any game made the jump from the arcades to a home console, sound quality was definitely affected, and that makes sense because home consoles always had hardware limitations to their bigger, flashier brothers in the arcade world. This incarnation of “Rolling Thunder” doesn’t quite pack the same wallop in the way of soundtrack, which is a shame because what’s there is definitely on the cusp of being something great, but the limitations of the NES hardware are fully apparent.

Sure, the sound effects are still pretty good – the whizzing bullets, the explosions, all of that is great – but that soundtrack is definitely missing the impact and adrenaline rush of the arcade version.


While the graphics are not super detailed by any means, they definitely have a very Saturday morning cartoon, almost animated “G.I. Joe” show feel to them. I really liked the title screen as a throwback to the days of seeing the supervillains looking at their scanners while predicting the demise of their foes.

The levels might not seem like anything super spectacular, and the fact that they are revisited in the game doesn’t help, but I still found them to be pretty stellar in comparison to other NES action games of the time. The enemies largely look too much alike, but for a mid-to-late-‘80s title, you really can’t expect too much.


Fast, furious and, at times, relentless, “Rolling Thunder” is about as action-packed as an action game gets on the NES. While it can be frustrating to have to remember enemy patterns, that is the name of the game for this time period. While I do wish the game had actual bosses (there’s only a final boss), the enemies and their patterns get ever more difficult to read, and having to replay the game a second time (with even more difficult enemies and tough spots) in order to actually beat the final boss is a bit of a pain, but it was always challenging and fun.

“Rolling Thunder” is one of those games that nearly perfected the side-scrolling action game, with others copying such a pattern later on (Hi there, “Code Name: Viper!”).


“Rolling Thunder” is far from a perfect action game, and the home console version pales in comparison to the tight, crisp gameplay of its arcade brother, but on the NES, it is still a marginal action title that, while it isn’t the most lethal weapon in the arsenal of such games of the time, can still be a blast to play despite the frustrating enemy patterns and lack of bosses. At $8, it is an affordable romp through what feels like a digital version of a 1980s action B-movie.

Enjoy some real explosions in the sky this Fourth of July weekend or hang out where it’s quiet, beat the heat, and game on!

Tune in to NEPA Scene’s gaming column, Turn to Channel 3, every Thursday for new perspectives on retro gaming as well as fresh twists on the classics from the owner of Nick D’s Video Game Vault in Mayfield. All ratings for Turn to Channel 3 are based on a scale of 1-10.