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Rolling Thunder (1986) - a look at the game's most difficult level

Some of you may know that I am a big fan of the 1986 arcade game Rolling Thunder. I remember spending countless playing through the game as a kid, both at the arcades and later at home on the ZX Spectrum. In retrospect, the Speccy port is a poor approximation of the original, but I didn't care back then. All I knew is that I had a copy of Rolling Thunder to play at home whenever I wanted, and that was all that mattered.

There was just one thing that I never could manage, and that was make much headway into Story 2. To back up a little bit, Rolling Thunder is a two part game, comprising two stories. Story 1 consists of five levels, called Areas 1 - 5. Story 2 consists of another five levels, called Areas 6 - 10. Story 1 is tough but quite manageable, and I'm able to get through it relatively OK. Levels include: corridor, warehouse, cavern, lava pit and control room. At the end of Area 5 you expect to square off against the game's main antagonist, Maboo (the bald guy seen on the title screen). But he's nowhere to be seen. Story 2 then begins in earnest. The levels are hellish, more fiendish versions of their Story 1 counterparts; they contain more enemies, more traps and more real estate to shoot your way through. At the end of Area 10 is Maboo, finally. Take him down and you've finally won the day.

These days I'm fairly able to get through Story 2 and all its levels, and in a decent time too. But it has taken many, many hours of luck, perseverance, learning the levels and just gut determination to see the job done. And no level is harder, to my mind, in Rolling Thunder, than Area 8. Forget Area 10, that's a cake walk in comparison. Area 8 is where the true test of skill lies. Thought a cavern full of goblins and panthers was bad? Thought a lava pit filled with mutant bats and lava men was tough? Area 8 takes Areas 3 and 4 and meshes them into one long, excruciatingly painful level. If you can beat this level, you can beat anything Rolling Thunder throws at you. In a way, Area 8 is the culmination of everything you've seen, heard and learnt over the course of the preceding levels: it's the ultimate test to see if you've been paying attention. Anyway, I think I've built it up long enough. Let's break down the level step by step.

This is the start of the level. Looks innocuous enough, but take a couple of steps forward and a goblin will jump at you. Shoot it before it does any damage.

Keep walking and enemy maskers will start appearing from behind closed doors. In fact, pretty much every door in this area is hiding an enemy masker. Notice as well a second goblin moving in on Albatross from the right. You'll want to stock up on bullets once all enemies have been dealt with.

The best thing to do next is jump up to the balcony and then over the barrel. This prevents the masker below from jumping up and landing on the balcony with you.

Be careful of where you land after jumping over the barrel. The masker with the purple hood will jump onto the balcony, and if you're directly above him, he'll bump into you, depleting half your life.

Keep moving along the balcony for now. Maskers will continue to appear from behind closed doors. Another goblin will try and attack you. Shoot it dead.

Continue along the balcony, taking down maskers as necessary. Kill the next globin that appears, as well as the maskers that follow.

Jump down and enter the door marked ARMS. Jump over the stump and continue going right.

More maskers will appear from behind closed doors. If you're quick, you'll only have to deal with the solitary one below.

Keep moving forward, killing the goblins that approach (and if necessary) the masker that pops out from the closed door behind you.

Soon you'll come across two stacks of barrels, one taller than the other; behind these are some maskers and a goblin. The masker with the green hood furthest away will start launching bombs at you. In order to dissuade him, you have to quickly jump on the barrels, then quickly jump away.

So, jump on the lowest stack of barrels...

Then quickly jump back. If you're lucky, the masker will take a quick look around then leave, along with his companions.

Jump back over the two stacks of barrels and kill any goblins that appear.

Jump over the tree stump and kill the two mutant bats along with any maskers that appear.

Jump up to the balcony and kill the goblin and any maskers that appear; pay extra attention to the ones that appear from the ground floor and try to jump at you. Enter the door marked ARMS once you've dispatched anything that moves.

If you're quick enough you might see a goblin jump up the stacks of barrels on the right. If you're quick enough again, the same goblin will double back and try to attack you if you jump onto the barrels.

Be careful with the masker in the purple hood when jumping on the stacks of barrels. You can either kill him or try and jump over him.

Continue on your way, ignoring the maskers on the balcony.

However, be wary of the two goblins that spring out at you when you pass the door on the ground level.

Keep walking and you'll come across knobbly stone columns of varying lengths stacked up against each other. As you jump onto these, a panther will suddenly leap onto the highest column. If you're feeling brave you can quickly jump onto the second highest column and shoot the panther as it leaps towards you. Otherwise, your best bet is to stay in the position shown in the screenshot above and wait for the panther to jump over you.

Jump onto the second highest column now and another panther jumps towards you. Shoot it dead.

Proceed to the other side of the columns and two more panthers show up. Kill them before moving on.

Carry on walking and another panther will try leaping from the balcony (and if you tarry, a second panther will try to surround you in a pincer movement from the left). You don't need to kill either of these panthers. Just move quickly towards the short knobbly column seen on the far right of the above screenshot. Neither panther will be able to attack you.

As you move forward, you'll see another panther approach from behind the short knobbly column. Jump immediately onto said column and then up to the balcony above.

Get up onto the balcony and move to the door marked BULLET as soon as you can. Some panthers might try and jump up onto the balcony to attack you. Kill them as necessary, then enter the door marked BULLET.

Proceed right and jump forwards when you're at the second to last bannister.

Procced cautiously and kill the panther that appears.

This should hopefully make the panthers inside the cage move away from the entrance, so go inside as soon as this happens.

Take out the panthers once inside the cage and ignore any that enter the screen from the left.

Keep on walking through the cage and kill the maskers that appear. Please note that both or only one may enter the cage at any time. If one of them decides to wait outside the cage, wait until you exit it to kill them.

Leave the cage via the right-most exit and kill both the masker in the purple and brown hoods.

The masker in the green hood will lob a grenade at you. Move quickly towards him to make the grenade sail over your head, then kill him too.

Keep on moving and you'll be ambushed by maskers on both sides. My tip for this is to move and shoot, move and shoot, move and shoot in very quick succession. The projectiles will leave your weapon first, and after each burst, you'll be able to move in behind them, making it easier to kill the maskers before they can shoot at you.

One more masker will be ready to ambush you at the end of the corridor. He can shoot high or low, depending on what the mood suits him, so be ready to duck or jump at a moment's notice. Kill him and make your way to the end of the corridor.

In Story 1, this is more or less where Area 3 would have finished. But this is not Story 1 and we're not in Area 3. We are in Story 2 Area 8, and we have another section to go, the new and improved lava pit. First, we have to get up these steep stone steps.

Get to the top then leap off the edge.

Land on the step shown in the above screenshot and kill the masker hiding behind the barrel. Turn around and shoot at anything that comes out of the door. We are close to the lava now!

Turn around again and jump onto the balcony. Be ready to deal whatever comes out of the door to the right of the barrel.

Jump over the barrel and proceed until you see a lava man float towards you. Shoot it.

Move towards the fourth bannister from the right.

From there, jump onto the stone column closest to the balcony and shoot the mutant bat immediately.

Jump onto the stone column immediately to the right, wait for the second mutant bat to swoop in to attack you, then shoot it.

From there jump onto the stone platform with the two doors.

Be careful with the maskers that come out of these. You can either shoot them, or if you're brave, ignore them, move to the corner edge.

From the corner edge, jump to the platform with the door immediately to the right.

Keep jumping from platform to platform, there are three in total. If you are quick, you can evade any maskers that come out from each of the doors.

From the last platform, jump onto the raised stone column.

From there, jump onto the balcony and start moving towards the set of doors, starting with the one marked ARMS.

Two lava men will float towards you as you approach the door marked ARMS. Get ready to fire at them.

Pesky maskers will come out of the doors as well, so take aim at them too.

Once they're dispatched, enter the door marked ARMS. You can see another masker exiting from a door.

Come out of the door and shoot him.

Keep walking past the set of doors, keeping an eye out for maskers/lava men as you do so.

Shoot as necessary.

Walk to the end of the balcony, but DON'T jump to the corresponding balcony on the other side of the gap.

Instead, jump to the platform underneath the balcony.

Walk to the other end of the platform, turn around and wait for the masker to exit the door (one always will). Shoot him, but don't worry about the lava men swirling around. They can't hurt you if you're not on the balcony above.

Move left and right to direct the lava men to go back into the lava where they belong.

Jump up onto the balcony once the last lava man has gone back into the magma. Be careful, as more maskers may come out of the door below. Dispatch them for safety.

Jump from the balcony to the first stone column. Dispatch the two lava men that approach you.

From the first stone column, jump directly to the second one. From there, fire a burst of ammo and jump to the two stone columns stacked together side by side.

You can see that the burst of ammo takes care of the lava men that were waiting to take you out before you even landed on the two stone columns stacked side by side.

Land on the two stone columns stacked side by side and wait for any remaining lava men to disperse.

Jump onto the stone column seen in the above screenshot.

Jump onto the platform at the end, then exit the level via the door.

Congratulations, you've successfully completed Area 8!

And that is this hellish level in a nutshell. Not only is it already brutal on its own, but add a timer, and the pressure is really on. You have a huge level to get through with only 180 seconds on the clock. Ammo is of great necessity here, as it is in all Story 2 levels, but entering each door to re-stock uses up precious seconds as well. The idea is to keep a steady pace as you progress and not lose a life, especially right before you hit the midway checkpoint (and at least there is one!), as you'll be sent right back to the start of the level. And even if you do hit the midway checkpoint, you don't want to die near the end of the lava pit area, as you'll be sent right back there. For the record, the midway checkpoint is just past the door marked BULLET where all the panthers are lurking. There's not much more to say really. Play the level, re-play the level, learn it, keep a steady pace, watch out for the many, many enemies, and pick up as much ammo as you can. It may look daunting, but you'll get there in the end.

Thank you so much for reading, I hope you've enjoyed learning about Rolling Thunder's most difficult level. Next time, we'll take a look at the game's most unique level. Goodbye for now.


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