I first heard about Thunder Jaws on the Retrogaming Roundup's "It Came From MAME" segment.
The show's host, So Cal Mike described the the game as being 'a sequel to "Rolling Thunder" with big boobed lizard girls'. Being a big fan of Rolling Thunder I decided that was worth checking out, so I booted it up in MAME last night.
Wow, this game, let me tell you. It does have big boobed lizard girl mutants:
|Thunder Jaws Level 1|
|Rolling Thunder First Level|
I mean, just look at that. The character design and animation is fairly poor in Thunder Jaws compared to Rolling Thunder, but the similarities are hard to ignore. Rolling Thunder is a Namco game and Thunder Jaws is an Atari game. But they are so similar that I thought, maybe the license changed hands and this is a spiritual successor. Unfortunately there isn't much information online about Thunder Jaws, but since Namco continued to make rolling thunder sequels and ports it is likely that the Atari game is simply a derivative knock off.
I contacted an old colleague of mine who used to work at Domark. Domark, was basically the UK arm of Tengen or Atari or some such, it's a bit convluted, but the long and the short of it is that Domark produced several of the micro computer ports for Thunder Jaws. The Amiga port actually looks pretty sweet:
According to him this game was worked on by developer Rusty Dawes who worked on a slew of classic Atari arcade games including Cloak and Dagger, Paperboy, and I Robot. So I did some digging and although I don't see any explicit references anywhere on the net it appears to me that Thunder Jaws is running on the same hardware as the same as the hardware used in the rushed to market Batman tie in game also released by Atari. The similarity is remarked upon in this video review of Thunder Jaws:
But for a quick reference here is an animated gif of Batman levels:
You can note that the stage design, character size and UI are almost identical to Thunder Jaws.
But really, Rolling Thunder isn't just an iteration (or a derivation) of Batman. Both games share a lot in common with the aforementioned Rolling Thunder as well as Sly Spy (known as Secret Agent in Japan and Sly Spy: Secret Agent in Europe). In fact Sly Spy had it's own water level:
complete with scuba divers and sharks, and of course a huge robotic shark boss:
So yeah, looks like these sorts of game have lots of tropes. Another trope is the 2 level playing field allowing the player to jump from the lower level to the higher level at will. Even the idea of enemies coming out of doorways is shared between all these games. This sub genre of the side scrolling shooter has been labeled a "walk about" shooter, but could also be called a "bi level side scrolling shooter" and can be seen in evidence in several games including Konami's Sunset Riders:
As well as Sega's' Shinobi:
and to a lesser extent, Sega's Altered Beast:
Earlier games also had split level action used ladders to allow the hero to move from bottom to top. Good examples, include Capcom's Ghosts and Goblins :
And Konami's Rush N Attack:
So as you can see Thunder Jaws was basically the end result of several well worn arcade tropes blended together with a healthy dose of T & A and a dash of Californian surfer dude mentality that dominated the Atari arcade group in the late 80s. I'm going to try to track down some more specific information about this herky jerky fever dream of a game, but until then I will leave you with this great box art from the Atari ST conversion published by Domark: