Review by invalidname

Reviewed: 04/01/01 | Updated: 04/01/01

Crappy TV makes good game? Who knew?

Thunder in Paradise

Philips P.O.V and Mass Media, for CD-i, requires digital-video card

PROS: Fast shoot 'em up action, varied game-play, good production values

CONS: Insipid source material, long-term playability questionable

CUT TO THE CHASE: Not the bungle in the jungle you'd expect

When you see the name of a movie or TV show on a video-game, it's usually best to keep that $50 in your pocket. More often than not, the designers slap the characters and art into a standard platform game or beat-em-up, figuring the familiar locations and characters will make up for the lack of innovation, artistry, or challenge. Surely anyone who's played a video-game with the name ''Batman'' in it can attest to this fact.

So Philips has taken an important step forward by moving backwards -- selecting an utterly wretched TV show on which to base one of its few 1995 game titles. Not for nothing has ''Thunder in Paradise'' disappeared from your local late-night TV line-up. If the episode included with the CD-i disc is any indication, it's the worst kind of laughably bad, inane action-adventure nonsense.

But that doesn't matter, because you don't have to ever put disc 2 in your CD-i. So let's cut to the chase... the game segments of ''Thunder in Paradise'' are some of the best twitch-and-shoot action we've seen on the CD-i.

The title is based around three ''encounters'', which you can either play individually, one after another, or integrated together with clips from the TV show as a sort of ''interactive television'' (ewwwwwww...).

If you play them in order, the ''Thunder Encounter'' is first. ''Thunder'', of course, is the high-tech speed boat that is the star of the show, presumably the bastard child of the car from ''Knight Rider''. It talks, it shoots missiles, and when the heroes are in a hurry, they hit the ''hyper-speed'' and the guys in editing speed up the beauty shots of the boat so they're really fast.

In the encounter, you're trying to shoot down an assault by missiles, planes, aircraft, flying drones, etc. You see out one side of the boat -- with a nicely-animated moving water effect -- and have a radar screen at the bottom right that shows you threats on all four sides. To switch sides, you press button-two to rotate clockwise, or hold button-two and press the joypad to pick a side.

Your basic weapon works like the cannons in ''Missile Command'', by creating a brief explosion that destroys anything that flies into it. Given the speed at which missiles approach you, leading your targets is essential. You also have a limited number of long-range missiles that take out threats on the outer ranges of the radar, and a smart-bomb that elminiates everything close to the ship.

That you'll take some hits is a given. What this game is about is resource allocation. Shields on all four sides will protect the ship until they're gone, and even regenerate if they're defended well, so you can compromise a healthy shield if one side of the ship is exposed. It takes a little more thought than the average shooter, but it makes things more interesting. The sprite animation is surprisingly good for a CD-i title -- it makes you wonder why Chaos Control had to use MPEG for everything.

The other two segments, the ''Island Encounter'' and the ''Lab Encounter'' are virtually identical to each other. You walk around a terrain that looks suspiciously like a stock location at DisneyWorld, with a set of on-screen cross-hairs, blasting the baddies as the pop up from behind various objects.

It's more than a little like Mad Dog McCree or Escape from CyberCity, but far more playable. Instead of dying when you get hit, you lose health / energy / hit points / whatever. That allows the designers to stock the locations to the gills with gunners, put them in tricky locations, etc. The action is fast and furious -- it makes ''Mad Dog McCree'' look like ''The Babysitters' Club''.

The only thing that keeps the action from being really wild is that your first-person video stops moving and the cursor turns purple whenever you're about to be attacked. Sure, this takes away some of the suspense, but when three guys pop out and start shooting at your, it won't matter.

Remarkably, the nasties aren't actors in same-place-every-time MPEG video. They're actually objects animated by the CPU, meaning they can show up in different places, a different order, or not at all, each time you play the game. And the animation is good enough that you can hardly tell it isn't MPEG. Gunners jump into the frame, roll out from under their cover, etc. And when hit, they don't just stand there smoking (hint hint, Infogrames!), but disintigrate in a white-blue implosion. This technical feat alone is worth the price of admission. Nice that it makes the game more playable too!

OK. There's the matter of the ''interactive television''. Yeah right. The story doesn't make any sense unless you suffer through the TV episode, and even then it's pretty implausible. The story is called ''The M.A.J.O.R. and the Minor'', but doesn't have anything to do with the Ginger Rogers movie. Instead, the M.A.J.O.R. is a cyborg warrior, sort of a ersatz Terminator, who can't tell right from wrong. So they try to ''download'' the memories (tee hee) of Spence, the ex-Navy SEAL played by Terry ''Hulk'' Hogan, into the M.A.J.O.R. But something gets scrambled and the cyborg goes off to recover Spence's daughter, thinking she's his daughter, while a superfluous villain named Rampike schemes with the evil-but-almost-sexy-genius-who-does-all-her-lab-work-in-an-aerobic-bodysuit to recover the M.A.J.O.R. and use him for their evil purposes... bwah hah hah hah!

This isn't ''interactive television'', since no information from the TV show matters in the gameplay. The TV segments exist only to justify the action segments: the M.A.J.O.R. takes over a radar dish and aims military weaponry at Thunder, so we play the ''Thunder Encounter''. The Annoying Kid® tracks down the M.A.J.O.R. in DisneyWorld's Typhoon Lagoon... oops, I mean ''Rossiter Island'', so you play the ''Island Encounter''. For something to be ''interactive television'', I'd like to interact in some way other than shooting scores of baddies. Whatever its storytelling failings, Kingdom is far more worthy of the term than this.

Another bit of interaction -- after you lose the ''Thunder Encounter'', you get to use Thunder's computer. This is a pretty pointless option, since your options include getting specs on the aircraft you just shot down (and won't see again until the next game), and watching a 3-minute bikini cheesecake-fest called ''Rossiter Island Download''.

But fortunately, you don't have to watch any of that nonsense. And you probably won't. You'll be playing the game segments instead. Thunder in Paradise is no Doom or Rebel Assault, but it is genuinely fun, and one of the best no-brainer twitch-and-shoot games for the CD-i. If Chaos Control and Mad Dog McCree are your kind of game, save your pennies on both by buying this title instead.

Just keep disc two, the TV episode, as far from your CD-i as possible!
©1995 Chris Adamson

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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