Rolling Thunder (NES) Strategies

This post has a few clarifications from the review that I will edit in, but mostly is focused on some strategies for how to get past harder parts of the final part of the game, Story 4.  These strategies will also be useful for earlier parts of the game, so I’d recommend anyone who wants to learn more about how to play Rolling Thunder should read this regardless of which part of the game you are facing.  I hope the tactics I describe below are helpful.

Edit 4/12/2015: I finally finished the game in Hard!  Geldra went down once again, and the day is conclusively saved.  It feels great.  Few changes were made though, just a few references to that I hadn’t finished it, and one new paragraph about how to fight Geldra I added near the end.

Intro & Concepts

I have been continuing to play through Rolling Thunder in Hard mode since writing the review, and am now up to the final level in hard mode, Story 4-10. The first difficulty is Stories 1 and 2, and the second harder mode is Stories 3 and 4. Each Story is five levels, one half of each mode. Oddly, when the story goes from “1” to “2′ or “3” to “4”, the second number does not reset, so when you beat 1-5 you go to 2-6; that’s how the final level is 4-10. It’s a little odd, but it works. Anyway, I’ve gotten to the final boss, Geldra, again, but this time wasn’t so lucky as to beat him on my first try; I died at him six or seven times before I finally beat the guy, it took several days.  Argh, I feel like it should have been easier, as while tricky Geldra is not the hardest thing about this game, but at least I kept at it and won in the end!

Before I begin with the list of Story 4 tactics, here are some clarifications of concepts I may have referenced in the review, but didn’t cover in great detail:

  • If there are three enemies on screen, enemies who otherwise should spawn won’t. You can abuse this to get troublesome enemies to not appear in some places; read below for an example of this.
  •  If you back up a screen you can get an enemy who isn’t moving much to disappear, and they will not respawn. This is a VERY useful strategy for dealing with those guys who’re standing somewhere where they will kill you if you go to them and it’s impossible to attack them from where you are. Again, more on this below.
  •  In Hard mode enemies are also faster, they don’t only all shoot at you.  They also sometimes shoot a LOT, filling the screen with bullet-fire that can be hard to avoid.  More below.


Hard Mode Strategies

So, I’ve been playing hard mode. I’m going to discuss some of my strategies for tougher parts in the levels in Story 4, the second half of hard mode. I mentioned in the review that all enemies shoot at you in hard mode, but that’s not the only difference. In addition to that, they also move much faster. They really zip around in Hard, and it can make for trouble. Figuring out timing for when you can jump or drop in Hard is a lot trickier than Normal because of how quickly they can move towards you while you are falling/jumping. There are a few places I just have to go and hope I make it based on luck. Luck is a factor in this game, though good play (read: good memorization and execution) will minimize the luck element.

Most of hard mode plays just like normal but with faster, more aggressive enemies, but some parts are made much harder. I’ll talk about a few below.

  1.  I will begin with level 4-6, the first level of the second half of hard mode.  This level has two particularly difficult sections.  The first is a part in the middle, right after the area with doors in midair that drop enemies on you. That bit is easy, but the part after that with a guy who pops out of a door, ducks, and immediately fires low is not!  This guy is really tough.  I only found two ways to get past this guy.  The first way is to jump with perfect timing, bounce of of his rear half while making you land on the rear half of the guy, because if you land on the front you’ll bounce back into his fire, take the hit (remember, two hits and you die), and move forward.  There is a wall right after this on the lower path and a new upper platform appears, so you need to jump up onto the upper platform RIGHT on the edge of it, to the left of the guy up there as he prepares to drop down; that gunner behind you follows you, so you can’t delay.  Alternately, have a bullet on the screen at exactly the right place to hit that guy as he appears, and then fire again before he can shoot so he dies without firing. You need good positioning for the first strategy, and perfect shot timing for the second, but it’s the only way past this bit.The second hard part is near the end, the part that’s also very hard in level 2-6 — a section part with a laser trap and a orange guy right after it that shoots RIGHT along the platform you land on after jumping through the laser beam while it’s not firing. I died lots of times before figuring out how to get past this. I eventually had to resort to good old “backtrack so the enemy is exactly one screen offscreen to make that guy vanish” tactic I mention above and in the review; it worked. Of course you have to be very careful while using this strategy, because backtracking will re-trigger enemies you have fought before but from the opposite direction; when doing this, know which enemies can appear! Here there is a white gunner who can appear if you back up even slightly too far. Getting the distance just right, to make the guy vanish but not respawn the white guy, is tricky but doable. With that I managed to beat the level.

  2. In 4-7, the level is short but hard. Remember, you can drop down from staircases with Down+jump, so long as no enemy is below to shoot at you, of course.  The first half of the level isn’t too bad if you remember it from 2-7; it’s mostly the same.  Use the “go back [in this case forwards] a screen” strategy to get the grenadier guarding the machine gun room to vanish.  Beyond that, the gunner after the checkpoint on that lower platform is a real pain.  Either time your shots just right, or jump into him and take a hit.  Those are largely the same as the first time, though.  In the hard version of the level, the big change are some guys who shoot right along the ground in the final stretch where you’re going down several screens in a multilayer area with lots of staircases.   Those guys are nasty, they stand right where you can’t hit them, but can kill you on sight! “Back up a screen” is very useful here, though watch out for the numerous other enemies which spawn.  Going forward along the floors to get guys on those lower landings to vanish will spawn other enemies.

  3.  4-8 is the second appearance of the game’s longest level. I found my practice from struggling with 2-8 for so long really paid off, and I found this level much easier than it was before! I did die, but it didn’t take nearly as long as I expected, and I actually beat the level the first time I reached that last jumping puzzle with the narrow platforms… though I was helped by the fact that no enemies spawned after the platform with the four consecutive doors on it. I don’t know why that happened, but I presume it’s a glitch (not sure though), but it sure was helpful! I’d remembered the positioning for making the jumps in that last stretch with the very narrow platforms, so I got to the end. Otherwise… same strategies as in 2-8, retreat to a door to fight the flying enemies, wait for them to dive, then pop out and shoot them.  And if the enemies in the last few screens was a glitch and not intentional, well, good luck; that final stretch is much harder with fire-birds attacking regularly.  Just learn where they come from and shoot them down, making sure to not be in the path of their diagonal revenge attacks after you “kill” them unless you are in a position to shoot them a second time you can, to kill them for good and for extra points.

  4.  4-9 is another level that my practice from the first loop was very helpful. This is the level absolutely loaded with laser traps, but just get your timing right and they’re not too hard.  One tip for both the 2-9 and 4-9 versions of the level, in the parts where you’re going down several screens, if that first yellow guy drops off the platform in the beginning of the last stretch down after the checkpoint, if you jump up and then up again from the top platform there he won’t be standing below you when you fall down the space.  It’s a vertical version of the “make a guy disappear by going back a screen” trick.  Anyway, this level was only slightly harder than the first time, but the last stretch did give me trouble, the last screen or two particularly; the fast enemies made the last drop, where you drop from after a double laser trap into a last area in front of the door with three enemies, really hard! Those guys almost never cooperated and got out of the way, and “back off to make them vanish” doesn’t always work when enemies are moving around a lot, it’s more reliable when they stand still. Getting past the end of this was harder than I thought, but eventually I got lucky and managed to get down there without dying. So yeah, just keep at it.

  5. A. 4-10 took me the longest to finish of these stages.  I got to Geldra himself on the day I originally wrote this article, and then beat him several days later, but I’d seen the whole stage before starting this.  There are two tricky points in this level, though I died the most not at either of them, but at a simple “drop down into an area with an enemy below” part early in the stage, right after the first bullet-refill door; there’s no strategy there though, just hope the guy moves away and drop on the far left edge.  Of the areas that do require strategy, first is the same area that’s hard in 1-5, 2-10, and 3-5 — the bit in the middle of the level with the small box pyramid followed by several floating platforms with grenadiers and gunners on them. This time strategies from those three previous versions of this encounter will not work, the more aggressive enemies change everything. My strategy from 2-10 was useless here. See, in that level my strategy was to jump to the top of the box pyramid, shoot the two grenadiers off their platform (backing off if only one was there to make a second spawn), jump up to the platform they were on, jump from there to the top platform after them, and then jump off of that to the box that ends the segment. Several of those jumps required perfect timing, but the strategy worked because with three enemies on screen the yellow gunner on the platform right after the one with the grenadiers will not spawn because of the games’ “only three enemies on screen at once” rule, and with him gone you have a moment to jump up to that top platform before the grenadiers recover. (There’s also a brown+green gunner below, for the third enemy.). However, in 4-10, that brown+green gunner jumps over the box pyramid at you, so there are only two enemies on screen and the yellow gunner spawns. My eventual strategy in this area is to go to that top box as before, shoot off the two grenadiers, jump forward, shoot the grenadier who landed on the ground, shoot the yellow guy with perfect timing the instant he drops down from his higher platform, then be ready to shoot him two more times as he appears on screen, before he can start shooting; he shoots a solid wall of fire, there’d be no way to hide behind a box and pop up in breaks between his shots to shoot at him. With good timing this strategy works reasonably well.

    B. The second hard part is, of course the Geldra room at the end. Now, in the version in 2-10, I never found a safe spot; I had to keep moving around, until I ended up at the left edge for the battle. This time though, enemies drop faster and from different places as before, it seems, and I found a safe spot just to the right of the center, along that line around the box around the area Leila is chained up. I just knelt there and got through the battle without too much difficulty, up until the point where Geldra killed me of course. In 2-10 I remember a guy dropping on me if I tried ducking where I was this time, but not here, so I guess enemy placements are different here or something.  Geldra himself is the same the second time as he was the first, pretty much.  Just shoot when he does, shoot his bullets to stop them, and fire fast to hit him as much as you can.  However, somehow I had a harder time the second time around.  In both difficulties, the key to beating Geldra is to rapidly alternate between ducking and standing while constantly shooting as fast as you can. You need to have bullets on the ducking and standing paths in order to counter Geldra’s shots as they come. I kept going back and forth between my NES Max and NES Advantage while playing this game (and even tried the brick controller for a while, though not for long); each has advantages over the other. The Max is better at rolling from down-forward to down-back for those duck-and-shoot-the-other-way parts, while on the Advantage while doing that sometimes I would accidentally stand up. However, the Advantage is better at Geldra — with the Max, sometimes I’d accidentally move forward instead of ducking, while with the Advantage that didn’t happen. It’s interesting how each is better for different things because of their different designs.

So yeah, that’s it, that’s Rolling Thunder. The more I play this game, the more I love it! Rolling Thunder is amazing, and is absolutely one of the best’ 80s games, and one of Namco’s very best games ever as well. I’d love to see a new side-scrolling Rolling Thunder game.

About Brian

Computer and video game lover
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