Thunder Wolves is from a simpler time, a time where all a game needed to be was a little fun, and all other aspects of it were so much frosting on the cake. While the criteria for excellence has changed quite a bit since those days, I’m here to report that just being fun to play is still enough to be a worthwhile experience.
Thunder Wolves is a story of a band of mischievous mercenaries and their hunt for the criminal mastermind known as the “Serpent”. If the main villain being named “Serpent” wasn’t enough of a hint for anyone, this is not a game that takes itself very seriously. Rightfully so; it’s created as a throwback to the old school arcade shooters which were ripe with campy one liners and over the top scenarios. While there is a small briefing before the start of each mission, most of the story is told in-game through the constant back and forth between its colorful cast of characters with nicknames like “Blister”.
While it serves to set the stage for the mission at hand, it all fades into the background and becomes more or less inconsequential as players will be too busy blowing up bad guys to pay attention to anything else. Some might claim that to be a fault, but I would say it’s a good thing as the narrative manages the bare necessity and gets out of the way, allowing the best of what the game has to offer to shine.
We often hear the term, “arcade” when it comes to describing a type of game play but it’s usually ambiguous as to what that means. In the context of this review, the term “arcade” is being used as the opposite of “simulation”, where many liberties are taken with the mechanics to provide a different experience. For example, the helicopters in Thunder Wolves all come equipped with a turbo that can accelerate the aircraft in any direction for a short burst of speed. It also features regenerating health, missiles that recover over time and even a machine gun that never runs out of ammo or overheats. To say that its mechanics are far removed from reality would be an understatement, and the experience is all the better for it.
Dropping flares and dodging a barrage of missiles with a quick turbo burst is exhilarating; toggling between various missile types as they recover to rain hellfire down on a city block filled with enemies is a joyous moment worth celebrating. It’s a good thing Thunder Wolves is filled with those moments, as it joins in on the celebration to cheer on the player like a drunk, enthusiastic frat boy yelling encouragements like “hella sick!” and “all you bro!” While the camp level is off the charts, it’s all very endearing and fits the tone very well. Speaking of the tone, the soundtrack to Thunder Wolves is an epic symphony of rad guitar riffs straight from the 90s and I honestly could not think of anything that might be better. However, all is not rainbows and explosions, as there’s some turbulence in the air in the forms of length and needless mini games.
The importance of variety is apparent as even the most exciting activity in the world can become monotonous with enough repetition. Thunder Wolves tries to add that all important spice by adding a bunch of little mini-games that move away from piloting the helicopter. Unfortunately, while some of the different activities provide a pleasant change of pace, many others serve to do nothing more but kill the pacing and annoy the player. On rails shooting is one of the laziest of the lazy ways to add game play variety and occur way too frequently. In one moment, I’m in full control of my aircraft, dodging missiles and returning fire with a variety of weapons expertly aimed for maximum efficiency. Then in the next, all that control is taken away while I’m forced to shoot only the machine gun and nothing else.
There are also some horrid sniper sections which served to highlight exactly how terrible the character models look outside of vehicles. These segments feel tacked on and the experience would’ve easily been better without them. Luckily, not all of the distractions were bad. One mission even had me controlling a tank that was a lot of fun as I drove in a serpentine manner, dodging tank shells and air strikes alike. Variety is a great thing, it just needs to complement the overall experience, not detract from it.
The other major problem is that it’s over way too soon. There are only 13 missions, each only lasting a few minutes. In fact, I was able to finish on normal mode in just a little over three hours. Given the asking price for Thunder Wolves is $14.99, three hours seemed like a rather short campaign. The game houses plenty of unlockables in the form of new choppers and skins, but while the vehicles come with their own missile load outs, they weren’t quite different enough for me to favor one or the other. There are also secrets in the form of special targets and hidden pickups, but I only managed to assassinate one special target while playing through the campaign and that was by accident. There’s no indicator of where these secrets are or even what they do, so I really had no motive to actively hunt them out. It feels a bit peculiar that they would go through the hassle of putting secrets in the game for players to hunt and not say anywhere just exactly what the point of them are in the first place.
Lastly, Thunder Wolves features an interesting take on co-op where one player is the pilot and the other is the gunner. It’s more interesting in theory than practice, as I was surprised at how bored I was getting just piloting the vehicle while my partner did all the shooting and essentially, for him, it was just one giant on-rails stage. It feels rather essential to have control over both mechanics to feel thoroughly involved with the game and just doing one or the other felt flat.
In the end, Thunder Wolves is a game that does one thing,”be a fun arcade shooter where one pilots a helicopter and blows up bad guys.” To its credit, it does that very well and is genuinely fun to play throughout the whole of its short campaign. It’s an easy game to recommend to those who really enjoy arcade style shooters, but to everyone else, the short length and a few missteps with the mini games makes me think it might be worth checking out after a price drop.
Fun Tidbit: There are zero Thunder Cats jokes in this review. Yes, I’m proud of myself too.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.