ThunderCats was huge when I was growing up in the 80s.
There was the awesome animated TV show, a toy line, comic books, a TV movie and the series was revived and updated in 2011…though I never watched it.
I loved ThunderCats and would regularly tune in to watch the show before playing with my Lion-O action figure and trying to fill up my ThunderCats sticker album.
Yes, the ThunderCats were everywhere in the mid 80s and seemingly had its name & logo plastered onto everything. I suppose you could say that ‘ThunderCats were on the move, ThunderCats were loose’. But there was one area where the ThunderCats license was lacking and that area was video games. In fact, there was only one ThunderCats game that I remember playing; ThunderCats: The Lost Eye of Thundera. It was the only ThunderCats game based on the original TV show that was ever made and released.
I originally was going to do one of my quick Gaming Overviews to cover this game, but it was while researching for it that I discovered something more interesting. There were in fact other ThunderCats games, but for various reasons they either were never released or they were released but without the ThunderCats licence. So here I’m going to take a look at ThunderCats: The Lost Eye of Thundera and the other ThunderCats games that never quite were…or were but not quite ThunderCats.
ThunderCats: The Lost Eye of Thundera: Developed and published by Elite Systems, released in 1987. Originally for the Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum with ports for the Atari ST and Amiga coming later. The music was by game music legend; Rob Hubbard.
The game’s plot was pretty damn simple and had Mumm-Ra stealing the Eye of Thundera. With you playing as Lion-O who has to traverse 14 side scrolling levels to get the Eye of Thundera back and rescue the other ThunderCats who have been kidnapped.
Lion-O starts the game armed with only the Sword of Omens and has to jump, hack n’ slash his way through the levels. Along the way, you can find a short range laser gun and some levels have Lion-O use a flying vehicle (that I didn’t recognise from the TV show) to get through the level. Each level has a time limit and when that expired an image of Mumm-Ra would appear and he would summon more enemies making the level harder to complete.
All you had to do was get to the end of each of the 14 levels, after which you would be greeted with a disappointing end game screen stating that Mumm-Ra has been defeated and the Eye of Thundera has been restored.
It was all very simple stuff and lacked any really depth of gameplay, yet the game received positive reviews when released. No idea why as it wasn’t very good.
For the longest time, I believed that was all there was in terms of ThunderCats games. As I said, while researching for this, I found some interesting info that other ThunderCats games were made and even released, I even played them years ago without knowing they were supposed to be ThunderCats games until recently. But before I get into those games a little more interesting information…
This game, ThunderCats: The Lost Eye of Thundera wasn’t even originally meant to be a ThunderCats game at all. You see, Elite Systems obtained the ThunderCats license to make games and set about doing just that. However they were unsure they could meet the up coming Christmas 1987 release deadline. So they hired another company (Paradise Software) to develop another separate ThunderCats game just in case. There were two ThunderCats games being developed at the same time by two different companies, one in house by Elite Systems themselves and another by Paradise Software. So which one of the two is ThunderCats: The Lost Eye of Thundera? Neither of them. As that Christmas of 1987 deadline got closer and closer, it became quite clear that neither of the ThunderCats games would be finished in time. As this was the case, Elite Systems brought an almost finished game titled; Samurai Dawn from developer Faster Than Light. They just altered the graphics and released that as ThunderCats: The Lost Eye of Thundera instead. So technically the only official ThunderCats game was not really a ThunderCats game at all.
Which brings me to the official ThunderCats games that were being developed by Elite Systems and Paradise Software. Believe it or not, they were released…just not as ThunderCats games at all. The one from Elite Systems had its graphics changed and Lion-O was switched out with Sir Arthur. The game was then pitched to Capcom as a sequel to the classic Ghosts ‘n Goblins as Elite did the home computer ports of Ghosts ‘n Goblins. They titled the game; Ghosts ‘n Goblins: Beyond the Ice Palace (a reference to the ice palace level in Ghosts ‘n Goblins), however Capcom were already working on a sequel themselves so turned down the game and they released Ghouls ‘n Ghosts in December 1988. So Elite Systems dropped the Ghosts ‘n Goblins name, altered the graphics again and released the game anyway as…
Beyond the Ice Palace: Hit the stores in 1988, developed and published by Elite Systems for the Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum. So if you have been keeping up then this game was originally intended to be a ThunderCats game, but due to time constraints it was altered to a Ghosts ‘n Goblins sequel, that didn’t work out so the whole Ghosts ‘n Goblins moniker was dropped and the game was released as an all new IP instead.
The game shared quite a few similarities to Ghosts ‘n Goblins with collectable weapons similar to those found in Ghosts ‘n Goblins and a lot of the platforming was similar too as were some of the enemies. You could see this as a sequel to Ghosts ‘n Goblins if things had worked out differently. But what about this originally being a ThunderCats game? Well have you noticed the main character in the screenshots?
If that character’s hair was orange instead of blonde and he was wearing blue instead of green…would he not look a lot like Lion-O?
Beyond the Ice Palace was actually a pretty good action/platforming game and certainly a far better than ThunderCats: The Lost Eye of Thundera was. The game got good reviews at the time with scores averaging out around the mid 80% area. So that is one of the previous ThunderCats games explained, but what about the one that was being developed by Paradise Software? Well even that one was eventually released, just not as a ThunderCats game…
Bomb Jack II: A sequel to the home port of the arcade classic. Published by Elite Systems and developed by Paradise Software. Just as with Ghosts ‘n Goblins previously, Elite Systems did the home computer ports of the original and decided to make their own sequel. They took the already developed ThunderCats game from Paradise Software and just tweaked it into a Bomb Jack sequel instead, they didn’t even bother to change some obvious aspects as you’ll find out later…
Bomb Jack II was a very different game to the original as it changed things up quite a bit. I mean, there are no bombs in Bomb Jack II, instead they have been replaced with bags of money. In the original you could fly to collect the bombs while in this one you can only jump from platform to platform. There were several gameplay changes and it was almost as if this game wasn’t even developed as a Bomb Jack game at all…
Because of course it was not developed as a Bomb Jack sequel, this was the second of the two games Elite had in development using the ThunderCats license. Now about those obvious aspects they didn’t change. Here are a few minutes of gameplay from Bomb Jack II on the Commodore 64…
Notice anything slightly ‘ThunderCats’ about any of that? How about the in game music, that is the ThunderCats theme tune. Or what about ‘Jack’ himself? He looks nothing like Jack from the first game, in fact with his orange hair, blue outfit and if you look closely at the character’s hand, you can almost make out he is wearing something like a gauntlet… like the one Lion-O wore in the TV show.
Yes, that is not Jack in Bomb Jack II but in fact it is Lion-O from ThunderCats. So Bomb Jack II was originally meant to be a ThunderCats game then which explains why it is so different to the original and why it has ThunderCats elements to it.
So there you go, the mystery of the ThunderCats games all solved… expect there was one more. A ThunderCats game for the NES was planned as you can see from this box art.
That is the same artwork as used in the original ThunderCats: The Lost Eye of Thundera game from 1987 but with the official Nintendo seal of quality logo that was plastered onto NES games back then. Very little is known about this game as it was cancelled early in development, but from all I can find it was just going to be a NES port of the original ThunderCats: The Lost Eye of Thundera game.
So there you go, there were ‘technically’ more ThunderCats games made and released than I originally thought. I know there were games released based on the rebooted TV show from 2011 too. But just like the show itself, I never got into them either.